For years, I’ve believed that technology in the classroom – laptops, tablets, you name it – were merely tools that should be used when helpful to further students’ content knowledge. I felt that today’s computer technology should become like the pencil: ubiquitous, used when needed, but never the focus of our attention or instruction.
The recent New York Times article describing the “new digital divide” between low-income and high-income students has changed my mind on this issue. In that article, data is presented that shows that although access to technology has become more prevalent and equitable across all income ranges, the way that technology is utilized varies greatly. To summarize their findings: High-income students tend to use technology much more frequently for educational purposes, while low-income students tend to use technology much more frequently for entertainment purposes.
So what does this mean for us as educators? To me, it suggests that we do need to be intentional about helping students to understand how to use technology effectively as research tools, communication and collaboration tools, and creativity tools (as opposed to merely devices from which entertainment can be consumed). We need to help students gain basic digital literacies and an understanding of the power and permanence of the “digital footprint” they are already beginning to create. We need to teach students effective online research strategies, ways to present information more powerfully with digital tools, and ways to connect with subject-matter experts through technology. Simply put, we must teach educational technology use directly as an important standard in and of itself instead of solely using technology as a tool to enhance our teaching of other subject matter.
Access to technology still matters, so we should work to make sure that all students do in fact have significant access to technology during their school day. But access alone is not enough: we must also teach those same students how to use technology as powerfully and educationally as possible.
Perhaps computer technology is still very comparable to a pencil – after all, we do spend time talking about proper pencil grip and usage in the very youngest grades. It’s only later that we assume the students will automatically know how to use the pencil as an educational tool. I humbly suggest that our teaching of technology should take a similar approach.
About the Author:
Mark Pullen has been an elementary teacher for 13 years, currently teaching third grade in East Grand Rapids, MI. He’s an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group, a leading provider of laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance for schools and universities: http://www.worthavegroup.com/education