January 15, 2015
Online Journal - Technology: A Blessing or a Curse?
Chris Dupuis, Principal, Sandy Lake Academy, Bedford, NS

I have been greatly troubled by a book I read recently where Ripley (2013) describes how the top three countries who are viewed as having the best educational systems in the world do not emphasize or hardly use technology in their classrooms. Additionally, Richtel (2010; 2011a) wrote a series of articles for the New York Times where he describes the drawbacks of introducing technology into the classroom at an early age.  One article even states how Silicon Valley executives are choosing to send their children to schools that are technology free so that they can learn to be creative first before being exposed to high tech devices (Richtel, 2011b). Then when reading the peer reviewed research, I was amazed how little exists that establishes a clear connection between technology use and academic achievement. So why is it that schools everywhere seem to be embracing and implementing technology without the proper study given to see if it is even beneficial? 
 
The realization that there isn’t a direct link between technology use and academic achievement was very troubling to a person who has always loved technology and one who has pushed to integrate more of it into every school where I’ve taught. Since technology is not moving out of our classrooms anytime soon, I will share with you a few of my thoughts that might provide clarity on how to get the most out of your current or future technology purchases.

1. Have a clear understanding of what your goal is with technology.  Many schools will purchase new computers, tablets, interactive whiteboards, and other technology without a clear implementation plan. Simply purchasing new devices will not help your school achieve desired academic outcomes without a plan for how they will be used. Many schools have technology that sits unused and dusty in a closet somewhere in their school because of a poor implementation plan.
 
2. Provide sufficient training on the new technology. Many times schools will purchase new devices and a few people (like me) are enthused about the new shiny technology all the while other educators on staff are feeling nervous with using it. In-service is vital for training as to how to use the new purchase, and, if it is done well, it also presents an exciting vision on how it can be used in the classroom to reach as many different learning styles as possible.

3. Ensure Infrastructure supports the new technology purchase. The biggest deterrent to effective use of technology is not having the proper infrastructure to support the technology. For example, you make a major purchase of tablets for your school but do not consider whether your Internet service or wireless network is set up to handle all the new demand.  Nothing in my experience deters teachers from using technology more than when it does not reliably work when they are using it to teach. Technology needs to work as seamlessly as possible for the people who are not enthusiastic about the implementation as you might be.
 
4. Make sure stakeholders are accountable.  Imagine that your school is fortunate enough to purchase all the teachers new tablets or interactive white boards.  If the teachers who are technophobic are not encouraged to use the technology and they don’t, the whole implementation will have been a big waste of money. To combat this and to raise the accountability for all teaching staff, have a spot on your staff meeting agenda for them to share with their colleagues what they are doing in their classroom with the new technology. Make sure they share the good and the bad so both experiences can be used to improve the learning that takes place at your school.
 
5. Remember technology is a tool, not the teacher.  I have seen more times than I care to mention where I have observed technology being used as a time killer rath
er than a teaching tool. At its best, technology helps to reach those students who might not be reached through any other traditional teaching method. Furthermore, when we simply play games on tablets or computers or just watch movies on our interactive whiteboards, we reinforce the notion that technology isn’t for learning but rather for entertainment.
Technology can be a wonderful way to bring your teaching practice alive and reach many different learning styles if used in the correct manner.  All it takes is some careful planning, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn and try new things.
 
References:
  • Richtel, M. (2010, November 21). Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/technology/21brain.html
     
  • Richtel, M. (2011a, September 3). Technology in Schools Faces Questions on Value. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html
     
  • Richtel, M. (2011b, October 22). At Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, Technology Can Wait. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html
     
  • Ripley, A. (2013). The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Simon & Schuster.