Will Richardson asks a very interesting and pertinent question in this post. What he wants to know is why most teachers simply see technology as a vehicle to communicate assignments and work to their students rather than seeing it as a tool which can be used to develop professionally (and hopefully, personally). I think what his question really comes down to is an inquiry into the reasons that many teachers view themselves as complete rather than as lifelong learners. As teachers, seeing technology as a tool that allows all of us to develop our understandings of the world is the most effective way for engaging our students in it as well. If our kids see us regarding tech as nothing more than a frivolous communication tool or a sort of appendix to the “normal” course of study, they will begin to regard it that way as well.
Richardson states that one of the types of questions that he usually gets when speaking about the role of technology in the classroom is something like: “‘how do we keep our kids safe with this stuff?’ or ‘if I want to put up my homework for my kids, is it better to to use a blog or a wiki?'” If the technology is seen is such a pedestrian light, why would the students view it any differently?
Many of the teachers that I have spoken with feel that they want to use the internet more prominently in their teaching, but they really have no idea how to do it. They came up in a time when the internet was called “books”, and they have no problem letting you know that. In other words, despite the fact that these teachers hear about how cool technology can be in the classroom, they tend to fall in line with the way of thinking that it is more of a distraction than anything else, and not worth the effort of becoming proficient with.
In the schools that I observed in, and in the schools that friends of mine teach in, there is also the question of access. First off, access to computers is limited and strictly monitored. (Gotta make sure those kids aren’t using Facebook or looking at Texts From Last Night!) Yet more than just the feeling of disdain that many teachers have for internet use in the classroom or the feeling that computers pose a threat of distraction to “real teaching”, there is also the very real issue of money.
Funding for computer technology is hard to get when administrators and teachers have a difficult time explaining the uses of said technology. I recently observed at a local middle school that had just added several new computers to their collection. They were terribly proud of the acquisition, and there was even a glowing review in the paper. “Praise God! The educational system is saved! Such and such middle school used used %1 of their budget to buy four computers!” (Seriously, it was a big thing, according to who you spoke to, that is).
When I arrived, my host teacher and several other ELA teachers took me to where these new computers had been set up: an internet cafe off the edge of the main cafeteria. The room smelled of fresh paint, and it was well lit and clean. Here, students could come on their free periods or after lunch or during recess, and use the computers or simply sit in one of the five or six bean bag chairs and read. (There were large cabinets that had been brought in and painted with fun little designs of bookshelves on the front of their doors. The problem was, the cupboards were empty and those fun little doors were locked with padlocks!). There was a Keureg single brew coffee machine on a shelf in the corner next to a couple of vending machines. (What a great idea: 14 year olds drinking espresso! That should work wonders for the classroom management). The computers, four or five Dells, hummed quietly on the other side of the little cafe.
The teachers I was with then proceeded to verbally trash the room as a waste and complete misuse of funds. Their main gripe, and I have to agree, was something like: “why is it that I have no computers in my classroom but we have need of an internet cafe?” or “I can’t even get a working smart board but in here there’s an espresso machine!”. It was a perfect example of window dressing. Don’t get me wrong, the cafe was nice, very nice, but completely useless. To me, it is a perfect analogy for what Richardson is trying to get at, especially the locked cabinets with nothing in them; if educators and administrators can’t see how the use of technology benefits their own educations, which should be continuing throughout life, then including technology in the classroom is really nothing more than ornamental.