Friday, July 6, 2012

From Chalkboard to SMARTBoard

Chapter 7 of Technopoly might be the most challenging chapter for me in the whole book. By this point, I'm starting to feel like Postman is not only a critic of society (which he surely is, in the finest sense of the term--he critiques the culture in a reasoned way), but also a bit of a whiner. But maybe that's just the Technophile in me rising to the surface.

In Chapter 7, Postman sets his sights on computer technology, and releases a diatribe against the way computers have taken over culture--leading to Technopoly. Again, I was amazed as I read this--he wrote the book back in the early 1990's, as desktop computers were really just taking off and becoming typical fixtures in schools and homes. And now, I sit at my desk banging out a (somewhat disgruntled) response (20 years later) on my computer. And I can scarcely conceive of my teaching practice without it.

As I'm reflecting on this, I'm feeling a little incredulous. When I started teaching in the fall of 1998, I did not have a computer in my classroom. I taught junior high math for two years--with no classroom technology other than a chalkboard (a chalkboard! A green one, with yellow chalk!) and an overhead projector (the kind with transparencies and wet-erase markers that stained the heel of my hand blue.) What a difference it made my third year of teaching, when I was given a cast off laptop that had been donated to the school by a local business that was updating their whole fleet. That brick of a laptop (must have weighed about 10 pounds) wasn't exactly an instructional tool, but it simplified my planning, and my grading.

When I moved on to another school and became a junior high science teacher, I was amazed by the tech tools I had in my classroom: an iMac and a video projector. PowerPoint and streaming video ruled my classroom presentations for the next couple of years!

Throughout this time as a science teacher, I kept a balance however, between hands-on science activities and technology enhanced presentations of content. Looking back, I know when this began to shift a bit. It happened in 2004, when we got a mobile computer lab: 25 laptops on a cart that could come to my classroom. Suddenly, how could I not use computers to teach my science classes?  We still did the hands-on activities, to be sure, but a shift happened nonetheless. Instead of me presenting so much material via PowerPoint, I got the kids busy using the tech tools themselves. My students were suddenly word processing all their papers, they were creating PowerPoint presentations, we began experimenting with iMovie and GarageBand to create multimedia projects...the kids were as infatuated with the tools as I was!

In 2009, I became Technology Coordinator. Suddenly, it was my job--spelled out in my job description--to set the vision for how our school would incorporate technology into classrooms. What an awesome responsibility! Under my tenure, we started plans to put a SMARTBoard in every classroom, and we got rid of our last computer lab of desktop computers, replacing them with a cart of iPads. My whole approach was to get the tech tools into the classroom as much as possible, where they would--in theory--be integrated as closely as possible into regular classroom practice, allowing my colleagues to enhance their teaching with tech tools easily at their disposal. I even blogged about this change in our tech vision. You can read about it here and here.

As I think about this progression--from chalkboard and overhead projector to SMARTBoard and iPads--I'm amazed. This all happened in a short 14-year span.


Could I still teach junior high math, without all the tech tools and bells and whistles? I think I could teach it...but cynically, I wonder if students would be as engaged by my weird story-telling approach to teaching math, without a touch-enabled iDevice in sight. I love tech tools (and toys.) I have a definite preference for teaching with technology.


Is teaching with technology always the best way to teach? I would say--along with Postman, I'm sure--not. I am recognizing that the tech tools I had available to me shaped my teaching practice. Postman reminds me: "It is important to remember what can be done without computers, and it is also important to remind ourselves of what may be lost when we do use them." (p. 120) So, what I'm wondering about now--painfully--is what did I give up by embracing technology in my classroom in this way?

So here's my burning question of the day: What have we given up by embracing computer technology in our classrooms?

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