One of my favorite Radical Readers is Bob Schuetz. Bob regularly pushes my thinking by leaving provocative comments, and that’s something I really, really dig.
A few weeks back, Bob left a comment arguing that all too often, classroom technology — iPads, Chromebooks, BYOD devices — become nothing more than “glorified notebooks with onboard cameras.”
(click here to view original image and credits on Flickr)
That thinking is rolling around in my mind today. Here’s why: Outside of the purpose driven learning work that I do during our schoolwide enrichment period, most of the technology work being done in my classroom probably fits into “glorified notebook” status.
My kids take pictures of notes that I write on the board and store those pictures in dedicated folders in their Google Drives. I hand out and collect digital versions of handouts using Google Classroom. Videos and still shots of lab experiences are captured and incorporated into final products, replacing the hand-drawn observations that students used to complete in required lab reports.
And while those uses have made life infinitely easier for both me and my students, there’s nothing revolutionary there.
A part of me feels a sense of shame about that. I’m a pretty progressive teacher who has been experimenting with technology in teaching and learning for almost 15 years. Why the heck haven’t I figured out something better, right? How can I be progressive while simultaneously creating learning experiences that are nothing more than digital versions of the same tasks my students were completing a decade ago?
But a part of me wants to remind everyone that nothing has changed about the curriculum that I’m being asked to teach or the outcomes that I’m being held accountable for.
My state standards are still massive, covering more content in one year than is truly reasonable. Worse yet, the end of grade exam that I am required to give is nothing more than 35 fact-driven multiple choice questions covering isolated details from that massive set of state standards. Finally, our end of grade exam carries incredibly high stakes: Student results become a significant part of my annual evaluation.
All of those realities influence the choices that I make as an instructor, y’all.
Of course I’m going to have my kids keep a detailed digital notebook. Collecting evidence and information (read: completing fill in the blank handouts that are organized by unit and never lost because they are automatically stored in Google Drive) is essential in our state. Students need something to study from for the end of grade exam.
And there’s no way I’m going to find the time and space for self-direction and investigation in my room. Self-direction and investigation take time that I don’t have. Getting through everything that is required is already darn near impossible — and getting through everything that is required becomes a priority when you are held accountable for nothing more than the number of isolated facts that your kids can remember at the end of the year.
So I get it. Schools really DO need to change. And technology really CAN help us to transform learning experiences.
But let’s not pretend that teachers can drive that change in spite of their required curriculum. Our classrooms and our learning experiences are a reflection of the expectations set by our state standards and end of grade exams. Until THOSE change, our classrooms are going to look a lot like they always have.
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