TESOL, Technology, and EdTech

Technology in Education

Using Technology to Support Teaching

This article is based on the introduction to the book I'm working on Every Teacher's Guide to Technology. I hope to have the book out in early 2020. As I put the finishing touches on it, I'm going to discuss some of the topics here, in a bit more depth than I go into in the book.

Every Teacher's Guide to Technology is for any teacher who wants to use technology to improve student outcomes. It is not about using technology in the classroom, or edtech in general. Technology is just one more tool in teachers' toolboxes; technology by itself does not automatically improve teaching or learning. Check with all the districts that implemented 1-to-1 programs without proper training, or appropriate curriculum modifications, for a real-world example of how more tech does not automagically mean better outcomes.

(For those who don't know, 1-to-1 programs give a computer to each student in a school. In theory, teachers can plan on everyone having a computer to use in class and at home. Results seem to be mixed, so far, for basically the reasons I'm talking about here — just having technology does not automagically mean better outcomes.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against technology in the classroom. I am just saying we need to use it with clear educational goals and an understanding of how exactly the technology will improve student outcomes. Also, of course, we need to know that the time, money, and effort that went into using a technology could not have been better spent on something else.

Unfortunately, quite a bit of research shows that there is huge waste and under-usage of traditional edtech in K-12 education. Districts and school buy licenses for web sites, apps, and software that teachers and students end up not using, or not using as much as is required for expected outcomes. Thus, rather than waste more time and money on yet another edtech web site, app, or program, I believe that teachers can and should get more bang for their buck by learning to use the tech that they already have, more effectively.

I think most teachers would better off immediately, if they learned to use technology more efficiently and effectively do the many daily tasks that they do to support their own teaching — tasks such as making worksheets, guided notes, readings, and other handouts, as well as tests and quizzes and the such. The tech that they already have is software like word processors, graphics software, even the lowly file manager!

For example, imagine two teachers, otherwise equally skilled with similar students. One, we'll call her Maria, has templates set up for new readings and worksheets that go with the readings. Her styles are all set up, so differentiating is easy and fast. Maria knows how and where to find good graphics for her worksheets, and how to modify those graphics to best match her instructional goals for the worksheets. She can go from zero to 3 completed, high-quality, differentiated worksheets in about 30 minutes.

The other teacher, we'll call him Mike, is more of a typical computer user. He spends some time looking through his worksheets from last year. He finds one that is sort of similar to what he needs this year. He makes a copy of it, and removes a lot of the unnecessary content from it and starts putting in the new content. Then, he puts in some generic clip art to make it more appealing. (The clip art doesn't, and the worksheet isn't, but Mike doesn't realize this. To be fair, neither does his principal. The instructional coach might be pulling her hair out in frustration, though.) Then he starts to differentiate, by going back and making all the changes by hand (changing fonts, font sizes, line spacing, etc.) After about 60 minutes, Mike has a couple of okay worksheets. They aren't bad, mind you — Mike is a good teacher and knows what he is doing in terms of pedagogy. But they aren't great, and it took him at least twice as long to make them. This is because Mike doesn't know what he is doing in terms of technology. Unfortunately, he doesn't know what he doesn't know.

Is learning to use a word processor (and other teacher tech) more effectively really going to improve student outcomes? Well, my hope is that if teachers have a better idea of how to use technology, they will create (or find and modify) better materials, more quickly, with less stress. In our example, Mike spent twice as long as Maria and in the end had a worksheet that wasn't as good. Maria got to spend that extra 30 minutes or so either relaxing or getting other things done. Mike either lost some relaxation time or he still has to do those other things. Honestly, if better materials and less-stressed teachers can't increase student outcomes, I'm not sure what could. Also, when teachers know more about technology, they can make better decisions about when and how to use technology with their students. That, too, should improve outcomes.

Every Teacher's Guide to Technology shows teachers how to use regular technology such as the humble word processor more efficiently and more effectively. Next time, we'll look a little at computer interface metaphors and how they can help you understand what the best tool is for the job you want to do.

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