I have written a bit on this before, but my recent readings in my Masters class and some careful observation of my classes in past weeks have really helped me distil some of the more effective ways I believe I am finally getting through to some of the tougher students who resist technology. It is not always the low achieving students who lack skill with technology, and I often find myself with the greatest resistors as students who have grown up completing their work one way, and being quite successful with it in school, who don’t want to learn new skills in technology for my class.
So here are five ideas geared toward getting teens to use educational technology effectively, or at least more effectively than they tend to first walking into our classes!
- Ensure that the technology fits the task. Look, I love the iPads for all of the things that they can do, but there are certain things that they will simply not be able to accomplish in an effective way. While I am now fairly adept at adjusting the learning activities to meet the abilities of this technology, I also realize that there are times when bringing in a class set of laptops will just end up better for the students and the outcomes we are trying to reach, so I do. Likewise, there are days when the students do not need the iPads, as the smartphones and paper they already have will do the trick. Don’t force technology where it clearly will not work, and don’t force students to complete a task in an unnatural way simply to make use of technology.
- Practice the task before you give it to students! This is an essential component of the learning process for you as a teacher, and for your students. Too often I have found that an app that reads well in the app store is far less than functional in the classroom. Create a student account (not an admin account) on the technology and software you will use, and try to complete the task as a student would. This is the only way to know how difficult it will be for the students when you set it in front of them. Often, you will find hurdles you didn’t expect to be there, and you can create tutorials or mini-lessons to support students at that stage. This saves the frustration technology can bring to students who get lost or confused when everything doesn’t work out the way they planned.
- Be present when the students are working with the technology. It makes me smile now when I hear teachers talk of how we are going to be replaced by technology, as I have yet to teach a lesson using technology where there wasn’t some student support required. We cannot think for a moment that technology ‘frees us up’ as teachers, unless you do want to eventually give your job to a machine. The best technology teachers are constantly engaged with their classroom, working through tech issues, dealing with higher level questioning and assignment concerns and generally engaging with students as they work, not supervising them as they work. Being engaged in the classroom environment is the single most important aspect of teaching, without it, there is no foundation for learning to occur. Classrooms that have major ‘discipline’ issues with technology often are relying on unsupervised technology use, where a teacher is relying on the technology to be the ‘connection’ students have to the learning. That is our job, and cannot be passed to technology, or anything else (movies, worksheets, etc.) as the students need and deserve our undivided attention while in our care.
- Respect students’ personal technology, but demand they respect the learning environment. Instead of confiscating phones, have students put them face down on their desks. Tell them your expectations for technology use, and explain to them that in the relatively short time they are working in your classroom, they need to maintain focus. If the phones are on the desks, they are in the student’s possession, but you can see if they buzz, ring, or if the student picks them up. This is the most equitable and effective management tool I have found for phones, though I rarely use it anymore as with the iPads, students tend to remain focused enough on the task at hand. Any method of managing technology however has as its precursor the other points in this post, and if we are not effectively learning with our students, they will turn back to their technology over and over.
- Have a positive outlook on technology. Students are no fools. If they know that you are ‘just hanging on’ with technology, and you would rather throw your computer out the window than use it, they will read it like a book. In order to effectively draw positive learning with technology from students, we must ensure we are not promoting an anti-technology sentiment in the classroom. That means not voicing frustration when things don’t turn out as expected, and not abandoning work students are doing if a roadblock comes up. I have had my moments with technology that make me wonder why I don’t just stand at a chalkboard to teach Shakespeare like English teachers of the past, but I truly believe my students and I are better for bringing our learning to life using technology. This is a belief you must hold and stay true to if you are going to present to your students the value in educational technology.
There are a multitude of other strategies out there, why don’t you comment below and add your strategies? I’d like to learn from what you are doing in the classroom as well! Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!