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Philosophy of Technology in Education

Five basic teaching questions
Making the most of technology
1. What is to be taught? 1. Getting technology
2. How is it to be taught 2. Staff development
3. How is learning best organized? 3. Implementation
4. What is the role of the teacher? 4. Evaluating technology investments
5. What is the role of the learner? 5. Continuing review

ConclusionIntroduction

A solid philosophy of technology in education is of crucial importance in helping teachers teach, and in helping schools make informed decisions on the purchase, evaluation and upgrading of technology, and associated services and training. The five questions that I will use to structure this philosophy come from what I have read in the literature of teaching English as a second language. These five questions are a window into what a teacher's philosophy of teaching is and can help educational institutions hire teachers that "fit" into their teaching communities. The five areas I have outlined above, dealing with how to make the most of the investments schools make in technology, come from my concern that school districts, administrators, and teachers are equally guilty of making costly investments in technology that are not used fully or appropriately

Five basic teaching questions

BackWhat is to be taught?

Curriculum should be taught as defined by national and state standards. The core curriculum requires that students learn to read, write, do math, learn to organize projects and present them in reasonably good standard English. It also requires that students learn to be critical thinkers, good problem-solvers, effective communicators and life-long learners, to name just a few of the many goals educational institutions set for themselves and their students. In sum, schools aim to produce well-rounded individuals that can be positive, constructive citizens of a highly technological society.

There are virtually millions of software programs, but there are some clearly discernible types of programs that kids should learn to use. These include programs for:

• drawing and painting • reference materials
• word processing • internet browse and e-mail
• spreadsheet and database • HTML editors and multimedia

Students in primary levels should also use whatever quality programs are available for learning the basics of computer use, math and reading, ordering and classifying things, doing puzzles, learning about music, etc.

BackHow is it to be taught?

The use of technology in a classroom should be an integral part of the work that is done in class. In my experience I have seen many classrooms in which computers, scanners, video in and out cards, modems and other costly items sit idly in the corners of rooms collecting dust. In some cases, only the teacher uses the technology because the teacher feels that the kids are not up to using it and fear, justifiably in some cases, damage to the computer and to the teacher's files.

When one is using technology in education, it needs to be shared by everyone in an organized and responsible fashion. What this entails is more training of kids to do what they should do when they are using the technology they have available. It also involves giving kids much more responsibility for their own use of time and resources.

As far a the teacher is concerned, possibly the hardest thing to do will be the gradual process of allowing students to take control of their own learning while working on technology. I found this out when I installed a lab for my ELD class in Visalia. Letting go of some control means much more movement in the class, higher levels of noise, albeit good, constructive noise, and a truly facilitative role for the teacher.

A very difficult set of tasks that need to be set up uniformly across the school include organization of the equipment, the peripherals and software, networking issues, regular maintenance, well laid out procedures for use, fair use policies, and a clear set of negative consequences for not following the procedures taught or for violating the fair use policies that have been established by the school. These tasks should be completed before the equipment is set up, let alone used.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen, so you end up with teachers, librarians and staff struggling to do their jobs while dealing with all the issues involved with using technology in the classrooms, libraries and media centers. In the end, things end up working themselves out to the detriment of the equipment, the mental and physical health of all involved in the use of technology and to the detriment of uniformity of standard practices in the use of technology across the school.

BackHow is learning best organized?

Learning is best organized in a technology classroom using a progressivist-humanist philosophy of teaching in which the teacher is a facilitator most of the time.

The first tool that students should probably learn to use is and art program such as KidPix. Once they have learned how to use a mouse and make pictures they can graduate to a word processing program such as AppleWorks or Word with which to learn to type the words they learn. Eventually, they will be writing sentences, paragraphs and papers in hypertext markup language based programs such as HyperStudio and HTML WYSIWYG programs.

On their road to writing papers students should be taught to use spreadsheets and database programs as well as programs designed to create and manipulate images such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Draw and others.

BackWhat is the role of the teacher?

The role of the teacher in a technology-using classroom must be that of a facilitator. Teaching from the front of the class works best in the classroom when it is kept to a minimum even if there is no technology available. But it is especially important to keep lectures to a bare minimum when there is technology that can be used to access much more information in a myriad of much more interesting ways than even the best of teachers can possibly hope to provide in a lecture. Another thing that needs to be kept in mind by the teacher with computers and scanners and other interesting technology in his or her classroom is that kids, by definition, see most teachers as boring. In a classroom with computers, very few, if any teachers, stand the test or being more interesting than getting on the computers to do some work.

In my experience, I found that it was quite difficult to get myself out of the up front, walk around style of teaching. I felt like I always had to have very strict control of everything that was going on in the classroom. Although I still had to control what was going on in my classroom, I found that most kids ended up being a lot more focused on what it was that they had to accomplish. The classroom was a lot noisier than when I had complete control, but the payoff was the high level of involvement of the kids what they were doing.

Yes, it was hard to get used to this change of attitude from the "I-am-the-Boss" type of teacher to that of being more of a "What-can-I-help-you-with" type of teacher, but the payofffor my kids was immense.

BackWhat is the role of the learner?

The role of the learner in the technology driven classroom should be that of an avid explorer who is eager to share his or her discoveries. Students should be allowed to do things in different ways and to share what they have discovered with their peers. That is not to say that they can do anything they want, but within the framework of a well laid out project, students should be given true choices in the way thye want to proceed and should feel free to explore.

From my experience, I found that students really have a hard time listening to a teacher show how a program works in order to spend very limited amounts of time using the equipment. Teaching kids how to use software in small incremental steps and then letting them use what they have learned and expand on it by exploring other ways of doing what they need to do seems to work best.

One issue that I have had to deal with is the fact that most boys seem to be more adept at the role of explorer of technology that girls. So much so, that if a girl is as interested in learning about technology she is often pushed aside by the boys or is constantly bombarded by boys telling her what to do and how to do it. The end result is that many girls who might be interested in using technology in the classroom are often turned off on technology due to the attitude of many boys.

What I ended up doing is making sure that all boys and girls got equal time to use the computers. I also came up with ways of making every member of a group be responsible for doing a part of the work and getting to know whatever it was that they learned well enough that they would not mind being quizzed about it formally or informally. I also leaned on some of the more aggressive boys to allow girls their space to do their work, and helped girls be more confident in their ability to use the technology they had available creatively.

Making the most of technology

BackGetting technology

Getting technology is getting easier to do everyday. Getting the amount of technology that is needed in our overcrowded classrooms is quite another matter. Whatever the method chosen to get the needed technology, it is imperative that there is a real effort to get as many staff members, parents, students and community leaders involved in the process as possible. Doing this ensures that there is a high buy-in of all stake holders in the future of the kids so that the implementation stage can be successfully completed.

During the planning stage, I have found that it is best to get professional help. I was not able to get it, but I am convinced that if I had had access to a qualified consultant and a technology curriculum planner, all my purchasing decisions and the educational issues that went along with them would have been made much easier.

 

BackStaff development

Staff development is the most important element needed in creating successful technology oriented schools. After all, if teachers do not know how to integrate technology in their teaching, then they are open to all kinds of problems stemming from the technology, the kids, the and the school's administration.

Setting a staff development program, in my opinion, entails setting up a set of training experiences that are eminently practical to overworked teachers with very little time and patience. Ideally, when teachers attend such an in-service, they leave with two, three or more activities that can be done the very next day or within a weeks time. Holding sessions like this then turns into a way to save time for busy teachers.

Deciding what to teach is important. To do this organizers need to find out what teachers already know, what they want to know so they can be more effective teachers and what they might want to know as individuals. All three of these areas are critical to making interesting sessions. Once all this information is gathered it needs to be analyzed to decide what to teach, at what levels of difficulty and when to teach it so staff can attend. Training could come from staff members who are well versed in technology and who are also recognized school leaders. In-services could also be conducted by an expert from outside the school community who knows his or her stuff but who is also able to teach in a non-codescing way. Those staff members who are interested in more advanced training could get it either through staff run in-services for them or through the hiring of an outside expert.

Lastly, any and all in-sevices, regardless of who does them, need to be evaluated. This is for the benefit of the organizers, who need to know what and who works, for the teachers who can voice their opinions on good, mediocre and bad presentations, and for the presenters who can use the feedback to improve their presentations and teaching styles.

BackImplementation

Implementation of technology, for the most part, is the easiest part since all it involves is setting up what should already have been planned. If it is a network, most of the wiring, routers, switches, repeaters, hubs and software involved in making the network run should have been thought through. Classroom setup should also have been given meticulous attention.

Unfortunately, schools rarely ever do this due to a large extent to the way money is made available for technology. There are long dry spells and then the school is allowed to spend tens of thousands or even a million dollars all at one go. What this means is that planning for technology in schools needs to be an incremental affair, with technology being added gradually as money is made available, and most importantly, where some funds are always kept on hand for upgrading equipment and software that need it and repairing and replacing damaged or obsolete equipment.

Professional development is another area where things will need to be done gradually as outlined above as technology is made available.

BackEvaluating technology investments

For some odd reason, I have yet to see a comprehensive system in place at a school to evaluate the real value of technology investments. My impression is that equipment is purchased, placed in classrooms and labs and then is left there for the teacher to decide if they are going to use it or not.

My opinion is that there should be clearly though out criteria established during the technology purchase planning process that can be used to evaluate the actual value that kids and schools get from the use of technology. These criteria would evaluate initial cost, depreciation of the equipment, time equipment is used (up time) versus time it is not used versus time it is not used (down time) due to repairs. Programs that track computer and other technology use should be installed on all computers that will accurately log use. These programs can track the time a piece of equipment is used, what it was used for, etc and would free teachers from having to do yet another thing that they do not have time to do.

Technology needs to be reviewed for the total cost incurred by the school over time and for the time that it is actually used. In this way, arguments over which equipment or computer platform would be preferable to use would be neutralized and decisions can be made in a much more informed way leaving teachers to get on with their work.

BackContinuing review

In order to ascertain how well technology is working for the teachers, learners, school and community, continual evaluation of the technology and its use is essential. More essential, however, is that the criteria and the instruments used to evaluate the performance of technology be continually updated to better measure the how well the technology is working in helping students learn and teachers teach.

Conclusion

A solid philosophy of technology education should not only include the use of technology in classrooms by teachers. It should also include well thought out planning, staff development, incremental implementation, evaluation of the cost effectiveness of technology and continual review of the criteria and instruments used to measure this cost-effectiveness. From everything that I have been able to glean from the reading that I've done in the use of technology in classrooms, the focus is on teaching and learning. But teaching and learning cannot be done effectively if things are not planned well, if in-services are boring and useless, if suddenly a whole bunch of technology is dropped into our classrooms and if the choices that are made as to the platform that will be used are based on preconceived notions of which is better for the kids instead of a thorough examination of the pros and cons and cost effectiveness of the use of the technology with criteria that are constantly reviewed for accuracy. Concentrating only on what teachers do with technology leaves too many people off the hook that can make or break a good program for a technologically oriented school.

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Antonio Santamaría
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Maestro de español en Wilson High School, Long Beach, CA
4400 E. 10th Street, Long Beach, California, 90804 - 562 433-0481 Ext. 6857

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