August 17, 2012
Can You Teach Without Technology?
Posted by John Spencer
On some level, the answer is simple. Teaching is inherently relational and can be done pretty much anywhere. Socrates taught in a classroom without walls or texts in a time without the pencil. Same goes for Jesus and both were great teachers (who, in the long run, had terrible evaluations by those in charge).
I can teach without a whiteboard, without iPods, without a computer, without paper, without the curriculum, outside of my classroom. It's what happens on field trips, after all. And the quality of the teaching is less reflective of which tools I have available and more about how well I can ask questions, provide answers, listen, observe and provoke inquiry from a student.
So, yeah, it's possible to teach without technology.
And yet . . .
Technology still makes a huge difference. I'm in my eighth day in the classroom and my students have just begun the process of using Chromebooks, Kindle Fires (that are now essentially Android tablets) and brining in their own iPods. I'm already beginning to see a difference.
It starts out small. My monolinguals can translate words faster. Students can edit writing on their Google documents without dealing with hand-writing drafts. I can modify lessons on the spot without worrying about lesson planning. I can choose texts at differentiated levels. Students can post work and start a conversation in the blog comments section. Conversations are now podcasts, where they can hear themselves speaking more complex grammatical structures.
At this stage, technology isn't truly transformative. It's simply a faster way to do much of what we would already be doing. I could do most of this with paper and pencils. Many of my students are adjusting to a different style of teaching (more constructivist, with more critical thinking) while also adjusting to new technology skills.
For all the talk of Digital Natives, my students are still used to seeing these as consumer rather than creative devices.
However, it won't be long before they begin modeling mathematical processes, using spreadsheets, creating concept maps and editing one another's work in writer's workshops. Over time, they will film documentaries and work collaboratively with students in another city (and perhaps another country). They'll see the power in expressing their collective voice to a global audience and working with people in another social context.
Technology will be transformative, because, ultimately, technology isn't simply doing paper and pencil better. It involves learning in a way where information is readily available, repetitive tasks are minimized and interactions aren't tied to one location. It provides a platform to be creative in ways that once would have required a dark room and a film studio.
True, we can teach without technology. Good teachers always have. However, I know that technology has opened up possibilities that weren't available a decade or two ago.
photo credit: waferbaby via photo pin cc