What I really wanted to know was what it looked like on the ground floor. Will students learn more efficiently given technology? Will this present new problems that will not outweigh the benefits? Am I expected to be a computer troubleshooting expert in addition to a classroom teacher? Teachers are on the front lines of any major decision that is passed, and I needed insight into what that front line actually looked like. It was difficult to wrap my head around something that would so drastically change the day to day structure of my lessons. My perspective represents specifically high school students in a social studies classroom; as I look back on the journey from proposed idea to complete integration, I can now answer the questions that I had at the beginning.
- What does this look like day to day? Like any other norm in a school, it largely depends on the procedures that are developed and how consistently they are enforced. Students get accustomed to carrying around the laptops, making space in their bags, and customization on their devices (if they are allowed) very quickly. Establishing rules as a school such as “go half down with screens when I am giving instructions” or “open up Canvas as soon as you enter the room” become very normalized if they are enforced consistently. Anytime that I get lax about allowing students to stray from the norm, it quickly bounds out of control, and not in the fun discovery learning sort of way! When students are given consistent, sensical instructions that do not waver based on the day, they almost always fall into that line. Upon reflection, anytime that students have had serious violations could potentially have been because I was not clear or consistent with my expectations.
- Am I expected to be an expert when it comes to these devices? NO! Some of the best interactions that I have had with students have been when we problem solved together. As with any activity, there will probably be a bottom 5% that will continually balk given the slightest hurdle. However, in my experience, there are many, many more students that are excited to help troubleshoot. Students are quick to help solve an issue involving lost files, buttons that I don’t understand, or a new flash player update. Being vulnerable and honest enough to say, “I don’t know how to fix this, do you guys have any ideas?” gives a fabulous model to them for how to confront problems. If we give up quickly, react in anger, or simply blame the problem on the existence of technology, then we are not showing them the proper ways to handle issues similar to this in their own lives. At the end of the day, we are modeling behavior, problem solving, and attitude as much as we are teaching our content.
- Do I have to make all of my lessons technology based? Absolutely not. My classroom uses laptops almost everyday and for every assignment and test, but that does not mean that everything I am doing is based on students looking at a screen. Adapting paper materials to digital materials is the first step. If a lesson involves reading a passage, discussing the bias in the piece, and giving evidence, then this can quickly be converted to a digital copy of the text, some guiding questions attached, and perhaps partner assignments at the front of the class. Students still engage with each other verbally, work together as partners, and converse (sometimes very excitedly!) about what they have found or feel. Personally, I lived in this stage for quite some time. I did not feel wholly comfortable making completely tech based lessons until I really got a hold on what it would look like in the classroom. Once you pass this stage, you can begin to make more immersive lesson where students learn new web tools, discover their own research, or create resource libraries with several different sources. It is important to go at a pace with which you feel comfortable. Students love when you try new things, but if you are incredibly uncomfortable with the tools that can read negatively as well. Every teacher is responsible for finding their own comfort level.
- Will this increase learning in my classroom? This will depend entirely on the teacher and the effectiveness of implementation. I, like many others, used to believe that the classroom would look completely different with all laptops. Mindless staring at screens would be my fate day to day. This, however, is not the case. Students are still students, and our attitude and effort towards lessons and day to day norms makes all the difference. Increased technology is tool, not a teaching philosophy. Providing students with options and giving individualized assignments and assessments was possible with all paper tools, and it is certainly possible with one to one technology. I have found that giving feedback to students on their work and my own grading process has become exponentially more effective, largely due to the technological aspect of the class. I have also found that I answer the question “Can I plug in?” about a hundred times a day. It’s all a balancing act, and with new solutions come some new problems as well. As long as learning and rigor are the focus, the technological issues can certainly be surmounted.
- Extra Thoughts: At the end of the day, students will rise to the expectation and behavior models that we set for them the vast majority of the time. Having a good attitude when it comes to new tools goes a long way. Students will take away your willingness to problem solve and persist long after the material from the lesson has faded. I would encourage those who are just beginning to adjust to a one to one model to adopt this mindset. When the wifi is down, the tablets are broken, or the outlets are all taken, you can still connect with your students on a continued and inspirational basis.
Ashley has taught at West High School in Knox County Tennessee for the last five years. She has worked as an Economics, U.S. History and Personal Finance teacher. She has served as Senior Class Dean for the past three years and worked on the Upper House Small Learning Community’s Leadership for that duration. She has served as Leadership Team Secretary and Professional Development presenter in Economics for Knox County for two years. She has also served as a Lead Teacher and Instructional Support Team member. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2011 and her Master of Science in Teacher Education from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2012. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.