The challenges of Technology in the Classroom

As is true of most of you, I wear quite a few hats at my school. They all pose interesting, and different, challenges. Tonight I want to think out loud about my role as the chair of a digital learning committee. I work with our lower school colleagues on this committee. Three years ago we decided to move toward 1 – 1 implementation in our middle school (grades 5 – 8 here) and we decided – after a great deal of deliberation – to go with a modified BYOB plan. Many of our middle school teachers are Mac proficient and use quite a few of the applications and programs native to the Mac environment. Our BYOD options are Macbook Pro, iPad, or another PC laptop. Parents were encouraged to consider the Apple products since our teachers had more hands-on experience with those. We introduced this program with a required device for 5th grade students during the 2012 – 13 school year. For this year, we require a device for 5th and 6th and we expect to continue to roll forward. As is to be expected, change produces some discomfort. Discomfort for our network as more and more machines are tapped in. Discomfort for our students as they try to balance the fun and distraction that technology introduces with the responsibilities of being a focused student. Discomfort for our faculty as they try to navigate technology glitches in a classroom packed with young students and packed with curricular expectations. We are doing a fine job of helping each other out and sharing our growing pains, but I know that we can improve our focus and do a better job. This, of course, is a perpetual feeling with any aspect of schooling, isn’t it? As I began preparing mentally for our next meeting I ran across the following blog post from Sean Nash . I urge you to flow that hyperlink. It’s an eloquent and thorough discussion of the patterns behind failed technology initiatives. I especially appreciate his telescope/microscope image. This is probably because I use this language to discuss problems students have in their study of calculus. Students struggle and the tighten up and focus in on little details (look through the microscope) rather than step back and really try to get a bigger picture (look through the telescope) of the binding themes of their study of the calculus.

This post has now been shared with my committee members and I am optimistic that it will generate some powerful conversation and help us to keep our focus.


2 thoughts on “The challenges of Technology in the Classroom”

  1. I have always envisioned BYOD to be a good solution for schools at both ends of a “spectrum” of financial status. On the far left end, where we have schools with few resources, BYOD is a way to at least bump up the number of web-connected devices in a classroom. It isn’t ideal, but when you can’t afford to outfit every student with a device, it is an interim solution.

    For the vast majority of schools in the middle of that spectrum, 1:1 with a common device is a great solution. I say this because most schools can figure out the finances of this given that it is a priority. It is also a solid solution in terms of professional development, because with a common device, your time to getting up & operational is smaller. Regardless of the size of your support team, with a common device, teachers can do a great deal of sharing as well. Most public schools fit this option best, in my opinion.

    For schools at the other end of the spectrum, BYOD becomes a great choice once again. If you are in a position where it is feasible to require families to make their own purchase, then your only concern is the professional development of teachers to the level that the see “beyond the device” to the ultimate outcomes of learning. This requires a great deal of student choice and teacher flexibility. I believe it is quite possibly the best endgame if you can get there.

    Also, if you’re not spending funds for the devices, you can be sure to focus on infrastructure: bandwidth, etc. All of the “discomforts” in your list are predictable things. Students do need to work through the self-regulation required by this new environment. Teachers do need to work through the adjustments required by a completely new set of tools and potential work products. Those are adjustments that have to happen regardless of your plan. The tech “glitches,” however… are the one thing in you mentioned here that you can fix by writing a check. Think about it. If network glitches are the problem, this typically means one thing: upgrade. Buy it. Affecting change in human beings is far messier with little guarantee of the same return on the dollar. I suppose that’s why I love working in staff development. I dig gray areas. 😉

    I appreciate your attitude of perpetual improvement: that things -no matter how good- can always be better. Good luck to you and your program. I’m glad there were a few reflection-worthy things in my post. Stay in touch and let us know how things are going…


    1. Sean
      Thank you for such a detailed response. Your point about bandwidth is well-taken but it is a sensitive point. As with most institutions (I suspect) we feel that we are investing quite heavily in the financial burden of bandwidth. More spending is rarely a popular suggestion, is it?

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