Monday, May 12, 2014

To Tech, or Not To Tech?

I try to do a lot of things with tech in my classroom - everything from simple replacement of paper worksheets with online documents to completely transforming how my students use technology to learn. It's a lot of trial and error, but I love the challenge and I honestly believe it's a direction we teachers have to move in.

But I understand, too, the reluctance a lot of teachers have to move in this same direction. I'm not immune to the frustration teachers who are not familiar with technology feel as they work to implement even small technological advances into their classes.

A perfect example is what happened this past week. (Yes, this is a tech rant.)

Thursday, as a part of a lesson on nuclear energy, I set up a class on so my students could do a Gizmo on the different kinds of nuclear decay. Setting up the class and Gizmo was easy - a few clicks and I was done. Bob's your uncle. (Right?)

With the computer lab and the mobile netbook cart booked, we relied on students using their own laptops, of which only about half the students in the class had. No problem - this activity is a good one to collaborate on, so I had students pair up, making sure each group had access to a laptop.

With about 20 minutes left to go in class, just as the online activity was being introduced, the Internet conks out. With ten minutes left in class, the Internet gets reconnected, so I encouraged students to at least log in and make sure they could get to the Gizmo. Only about half of them could - the other half didn't have the right Flash Player plug-in enabled... a few of them said they'd try to download the right update, otherwise we would leave it until the next day.

The next morning, during my prep period, I negotiated with the teacher who had booked the netbook cart to borrow four of the laptops to supplement what tech my students had in class. Anticipating that my technology woes were not yet over, I went to check and make sure the netbooks had the right plug-in that gave my students grief the day before.

The first one I opened had Chrome's default language set to Japanese (a hilarious prank, as no one at our school speaks Japanese). Regardless, I could still get to the Gizmo to check for the plug-in, which was not there (couldn't just install it though, as I didn't know what to click because everything was in Japanese). Booted up another netbook so I could work through the Chrome menus to figure out how to change the language, however the one I picked didn't even have Chrome installed.

Long story longer, it took me 20 minutes to find four netbooks with a browser that accepted the correct plug-in, change one netbook's Chrome from Japanese back to English, and get one netbook out of eternal hibernation mode. That's 19 minutes longer than it would have taken me to just photocopy a worksheet. Add to that the 20 minutes spent in class the previous day trying to get things up and running.

I'm sure when teachers who don't use a lot of tech look at those of us who do, they often see everything going right. But then when they go to try something, they sometimes experience frustration at having to troubleshoot on the fly. The troubleshooting, finessing, fiddling and fixing that seems inherent with implementing technological initiatives takes time and adds to the everyday stress of trying to get it all done. 

So why put so much effort into changing things up tech-wise? With the sheer number of devices, apps, platforms and student entry points it will likely always be a lot of work. And it will likely always be easier to pull a worksheet out of a binder, or assign textbook questions. 

But seeing the students collaborate, discuss out loud while pointing at the giant class periodic table, exclaim their understanding as they watch and control the animations of atomic nuclei decaying, and ask to take turns working the interactive, reaffirms with me that there are so many better options than just a worksheet. The time spent fiddling? Annoying at times, but worth it.

And look on the bright side. I now know how to change Chrome's default language to Japanese.

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