Saturday, September 21, 2019

Classroom Tech and Engagement

Continuum of Engagement

In the 2016 article, Are Classrooms becoming too dependent on technology?, the following questions are asked:
Is it all just too much? The concept of a human teacher standing in front of a group of students and delivering a lecture on a specific topic is still typical in many schools.
What if we did things differently? 
The students listen, take notes, and discuss the material afterward. 
Is there a need for dozens of different permutations of technological devices? In spite of the apparent advantages of virtual trips and online encyclopedias, some educators believe that too much tech is harmful to students.
It's hard to imagine that we're at a point now that there's TOO much tech in the classroom. When I started my career in Cotulla ISD (Apple //e and IBM 8088) and Edgewood ISD (IBM 8088), there wasn't enough tech. I didn't have a computer in my classroom in Cotulla (I remember carrying my IBM 8088 clone in its HUGE box around in the backseat of my car. Sheesh) but students were able to move back-n-forth to the one computer lab (setup for faculty). It was there they typed in their poetry to create an anthology of writing. It's a far cry from instant publishing available today.

In Edgewood ISD (Mac TV! No, I don't know what I was thinking) and, later, Mt. Pleasant ISD (Mac TV), I had to push to have technology accessible in my classroom. There were only a handful of programs to work with (e.g. word processor, HyperStudio, Inspiration graphic organizer). Yes, believe it or not, it was slim pickings. Times have changed.

Just Too Much

In the article from EdNewsDaily cited above, various reasons are given as to why tech is just too much:
  • Screentime is bad for children's eyes. But, you know what, so is reading books. I can attest to that. Thank goodness for Lasik, otherwise, I'd be even blinder.
  • Decrease in attention span. I can agree with's easier to read on a single purpose device (e.g. old fashioned book or Kindle) than it is on my phone given all the distractions. No such thing as multi-tasking, either.
  • Rural and poor communities who can't afford tech are left behind when instructional strategies rely on it so much. 
  • Minimal human interaction. Amazing, huh? Spend too much time with devices, you forget how to connect with others.
  • Spend too much money on tech, teacher professional learning suffers. After all, there's only so much funding to go around. If we're spending it all on expensive tech, it's less likely to be spent on professional learning that is effective and makes a difference.
Wait, wait, we still love tech. It's so much fun to use, make communications and collaborations at a distance much easier. It helps us be more efficient, effective when we take the time to learn how to use it.

But if that's the case, "Why hasn't it transformed education?" I get this question all the time. 

It's time to reconsider how we are "doing tech in classrooms," and focus on making systemic adjustments to our education system and what we actually do in classrooms.

You know, it's been forever since I taught without digital tech in a lesson. I can't imagine facilitating a workshop, or teaching, without it. The question, was my teaching more effective before or after I started using technology? One way that people answer is, "Technology is more engaging that paper-n-pencil activities." I won't disagree with that, however, I have seen engaging lessons without tech. It's possible, just tougher.

What Kind of Engagement

When people talk about technology, engagement always pops up. "Kids are more engaged with technology in the classroom." Are they?
Authentic engagement means that students do more than just answer a question during a session of "sit and get." It means that they have dialogue with us, and ask questions at the same time they're engaging in giving us an answer. It means that students are talking as much as we are. (Source: Student Engagement: Is It Authentic or Compliant?)
In the article on Student Engagement, the author (Peter DeWitt) makes this point:
Hattie's research found that classroom discussion (equal parts talking by students and the teacher) has an effect size of .82. 
Discussion is a great way to understanding whether the engagement is authentic or compliant, and it also helps the teacher focus on formative assessment so they can change their instruction to meet the needs of students 
True learning means that there are times when the teacher and students are learning at the same time. That takes authentic engagement. 
Peter DeWitt says, "We set up a dynamic to truly engage students through strategies like flipping our classrooms, metacognitive activities, using engaging short video clips, setting instructional goals with students, providing time to go through questions with a small group of peers, and providing time where students get to ask questions of us as much as we ask questions of them."

Engagement can be powerful when there's classroom discussion like what Hattie describes. If it's lacking, then not so much.

No Clear Answers

It's clear that in many classrooms, technology isn't being used in engaging ways Peter DeWitt defines authentic engagement. When we aim for engagement through stuff, we have to be careful we're not spending money fruitlessly. It's important because what we do in the classroom has to change, both getting rid of ineffective strategies and coming up with cost-effective ones.
We have to figure out how to do it for much not much more than we are spending now, because there simply is no more money. We know this can be done because most of the countries that have been outperforming us have been spending less than we do. Source: Marc Tucker as cited here
The point is simple. If we can't figure out how to use technology in line with effective instructional strategies, then we are wasting money that should go elsewhere. We know that technology can be impactful, engaging...when paired with instructional strategies that yield results. Classroom discussion appears to be one of those.

Are we using tech in such a way that aligns to what works?

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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