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How to Avoid The Technology Trap

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Technology is supposed to make out lives easier right? In many ways it has, but we must remember that technology is only a tool and it can be used for good or for bad. You can probably think of several ways, right off the top of your head, that technology has improved your life. Smart phones help us to be more organized. Facebook connects us with long lost friends. Online banking makes balancing a checkbook easy. But there are also ways that technology has negatively impacted our lives as well.

The first thing I think of is automated phone systems. Hours of my life have been lost in the virtual mazes of the customer service systems of my banks and insurance companies. Another example is what I like to call the “GPS effect”. This is when people rely so heavily on their technology that their forget how to think for themselves. I once gave a family member simple directions to the store near our house (less than 2 miles- two right turns and then you’re there). Instead of following my directions he got into the car and put the name of the store into his GPS. Unfortunately, it did not direct him to the correct store and we got a call an hour later saying he was completely lost. SMH. Finally, technology can make us feel connected virtually, without truly connecting with anyone. We can exist in a virtual world without experiencing the amazing things going on in front of our eyes. As a parent I must be particularly conscious of my tendency to plug in when I’m around my kids. They are only young once and I need to unplug my eyes from my phone and plug in my heart to my kids.

As a teacher I can see many ways in which technology can improve my classroom, but as in everyday life there are pitfalls that we must avoid. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are mistakes we can make as teachers and some ways that I think we can avoid them.

1) Disconnecting from assessment. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. There are lots of tools that we can use to make grading and assessment easier. Some are old and some are new. Scantrons have been around as long as I can remember. When I started teaching I immediately starting using scantron testes because I was overwhelmed by the shear number of exams I had to grade. I just have to feed the tests into the machine and it calculates the grade and the class average and gives me a report on which questions the class struggled with. The problem with this approach is that I don’t see how each student answers the questions. I don’t know if they simply got mixed up between two similar concepts or if they just wildly guessed. I can spend time analyzing each exam, but it is easy to just spit back grades at my students without paying attention to what the grades mean. This can happen with all types of technology- classroom response systems, online homework programs, multiple choice tests, etc. We must be intentional about looking at our student assessment and using it as a guide in the classroom, making adjustments to our classes as necessary, not just as benchmarks as we proceed through the semester.

2) Disconnecting from the students. In this age of email and electronic communication it is easy to walk in to the classroom, lecture and never actually talk to my students. This world is already so impersonal. Let’s not make it worse. Students who feel cared about will be more engaged in the material and more likely to succeed. Learn your students names. I average about 100 students a semester. It takes me most of the term to learn their names, but I know that they appreciate it when I do. Talk to them about things outside the class. Get to class a little early. Spend five minutes talking to students about their other classes, their families, politics, whatever they are interested in that moment. Get to know them a little and let them get to know you. We can use technology to do this as well. Set up discussion boards in Blackboard/WebCT/Desire2Learn etc that allow students to introduce themselves and create a sense of community.

3) Letting technology be a distraction.  I know that I have done this. I’ve been excited to try a new tool, but haven’t completely learned in before introducing it into the classroom. I’ve been known to spend 5 minutes at the front of the room tinkering with the computer. I went to a seminar last week where the presenter said that he has a 90 second rule. If he can’t get technology to work after 90 seconds, he proceeds without it. I think that is a good rule of thumb. I think it is also important for us to learn the best ways to use a particular tool before trying it out. Take the time (I know, who has the time these days) to really train yourself on a new tool. It will pay off. The better prepared you are, the more you will get out of using a particular technology. Again, it’s not what you use, but how you use it.

What are some pitfalls that you see with using technology in the classroom and how do you avoid them?

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