Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mythbusters: Technology in the Classroom

I recently had the good fortune to hear Rick Riordan speak (he's the author of the Percy Jackson series...plus many, many more amazing books for middle level readers). Of course, when you mention Rick, one can't help but think about myths as those are the foundation of all of his books. His keynote was about the "Myths of Reading." This got me to thinking about the myths that many educators believe regarding technology in classroom. This is 2013 and I think that sometimes we get caught up in the minutia of our teaching and non-teaching responsibilities and forget that the world around us is changing. If we want to remain relevant for our students, then we too must adapt.

Here are the five most common myths regarding technology in the classroom that I hear from teachers. Let's bust these myths.

Myth 1: I don't know enough about technology to use it with my students.
Many of us grew up and were educated during the time where the teacher was the disseminator of information. The teacher was considered the content expert within the classroom. Once we begin to teach, it is easy to fall into the mindset that we must know everything and be able to answer all of our students' questions.
Yes, we are the content specialists and strategists in our classrooms, but students no longer need us to just deliver content. They have access to content 24/7 in the palms of their hands. They need us to guide them in how to use and apply this knowledge to create, collaborate, and critically solve authentic problems.
How do we overcome the fear of not being the classroom expert in technology? We change our mindset. Yes, we need to have some basic understanding of how a tool is used. However, the most important aspect is not how a tool works, but how a tool supports the learning needs of our students. My students learn how to use tech tools much faster and more efficiently than I do. Nevertheless, they understand that a tool is just that, a tool to support their learning. I am honest with my students and let them know that we are all learners looking for new ways to strengthen and grow as individuals. This takes the focus off of me (the teacher) and places it on the students and their learning.
Myth 2: Technology is an "extra" in the school day.
Believe it or not, I hear this one quite frequently. Often technology is treated as a separate entity where students go to a computer lab or the classroom computer/iPad to play games as a reward. Is that really the role of technology? Absolutely not! Technology is fully embedded in their daily lives. We need to embed technology seamlessly into our lessons and into their learning activities in a meaningful way. It's a tool, just like a pencil, a book, a globe, or a microscope. We only pull those tools out when they are relevant and meaningful for the learner. Technology is no different, but is a part of their lives; it cannot be ignored. As their teachers, we need to provide them with the opportunities for harnessing these tools to safely support their learning.
Myth 3: It is time consuming to teach students tech tools.
I agree that if I did a mini-lesson on all of the tools that my students use throughout the school year, it would take an enormous amount of time. That is why I spend very little time focusing on the tech tool. When we begin a project, we focus totally on the content standards and learning goals. We do not ever mention their mode of publishing (the tool) until they at the point of publishing. Then students select the tool that they feel will strengthen their voice in this project.
Many teachers ask how they know what their options are. There are several ways that I expose my learners to the different options for publishing their projects. First, at the beginning of school, we have an online scavenger hunt where the students search through our different school websites, wikis, and blogs. Through the scavenger hunt, students will see many different projects that past students have published. They may not remember the name of all of the projects, but they do remember what the final product looked like. 
Secondly, my students are connected with their global peers through projects like the Global Read Aloud. On these projects, they collaboratively work with other students and learn from them different tools and manners of publishing their work. Because they want to find something new to share, often my learners go searching for new tools and apps on their own and bring it to me to share how it will support their learning. When I find a new tool, I'll share it with a couple of students and have them explore it and review whether or not it would fit into the projects on which they are working.
These methods take very little class-time, but they put technology where it belongs in the learning environment...it is there to support, not be the driving force in the learning.
Myth 4: My students don't have keyboarding skills.
Quite frankly this one surprises me. However, many teachers equate technology with typing. Let's face it, today's students usually have an email account, but they rarely use it. They spend a majority of their time using a smart phone, tablet, or iPod Touch. Although these have keyboards, they are not traditional keyboards. They are very adept at using their thumbs/fingers to type on these devices. Should their ability use technology to support their learning be hindered by the fact that they are not using the traditional typing methods on a desktop or laptop? My 5th grade students have never been taught formal keyboarding skills. Would it be helpful for them to learn? Probably, but when given the choice of taking valuable school time to teach them keyboarding or giving them time to collaborate and create with their peers, I will always choose the latter. I think what we really need to focus upon is how these devices are helping them grow as learners rather than whether they fingers are on the correct keys when they are typing. 
Myth 5: Technology will motivate students.
When a teacher says this, I always wonder how long they expect the motivation to last. Students are exposed to so many technology gadgets at such a young age, if this is the sole source of motivation, you run the danger of desensitization.  I call this "Christmas Morning Syndrome." All kids are thrilled on Christmas morning by all their new toys. All they want to do is spend time playing with them. But, where are those toys in July? Usually sitting on a shelf or in a closet. Toys and gadgets only give a brief moment of motivation; the more students are exposed to these tools, the quicker they lose interest.
How do we avoid this in the classroom? We must evaluate what truly motivates students for the long term. When students are given the opportunity to make decisions and take ownership of their learning, levels of enthusiasm skyrocket. Today's learners want to connect and collaborate with others applying their knowledge in meaningful and authentic ways. They want to know how what they are doing in class affects their lives today...not some vague, undisclosed time in the distant future. Our learners have high expectations for what they want out of their education. Is technology present? Yes! Technology is the medium we can use to provide all of these aspects for their education, but technology is not what will motivate students for the long haul....student-directed learning is.
I know that this is not an exhaustive list of educational technology myths, but these are the ones I hear most frequently. What myths do you hear? I'd love for you to share some ways for busting common myths for technology in the classroom.

photo credit: marksmotos via photopin cc


  1. As a responsible subscriber of an Australian broadband service provider, I should see to it that I guide my kids with proper technology usage.

  2. I would add to this list: I'm too old to learn about new technology. As a technology integrationist in my district (a brand-new position this year), I hear this one the most often. You'd think we have dinosaurs working here! This statement couldn't be farther from the truth. Educational technology has less to do with age and more to do with attitude and philosophy.