Technology in Education: A Reality Check, Part 2

In his 1999 book, High-Tech Heretic, technologist Clifford Stoll argues against computers in the classroom. He points out many strong arguments: financial, time away from learning, cyber versus actual learning, movement towards information gathering at the expense of thinking skills, etc.. All the points are lucid, well thought out, and easily digestible. However, Stoll’s argument fails in the end. Why you ask? Because, computers can benefit students, increase scholarship, and give more opportunities to demonstrate knowledge. Below you will find ideas and tips that answer many of complaints that Mr. Stoll makes regarding computers, especially PowerPoint.

Good penmanship is no less important today than it was 30 years ago. Study after study shows the benefits of cursive writing. Not just in its readability, but how the physical act itself helps brain development, long-term concentration, and deeper/longer connective thoughts. However, I admit that like any teacher the eyes get tired and concentration wanes grading one paper after another. For myself, I am a much more consistent and fairer grader when the papers are typed in the same font. In order for my students to get the most beneficial education I require that a handwritten rough draft be turned in to me before a typed final copy can be started.

Being a social studies teacher, I see the potential and the pitfalls that Clipart presents. After some trial and error I have come across a quite workable solution. It is based on the same principal that many teachers have regarding photocopies. Any map, illustration or graph that can be hand drawn or traced (for those like me who lake any artistic ability) must be done that way then scanned into the document. In this way by taking the time to draw/trace the picture some form of kinesthetic learning is taking place. I realize that large classroom populations can make this a daunting task. One solution I have employed is having the students also use the digital camera to take pictures of larger drawings, leaving the scanner fort the smaller images.

My school just started working with PowerPoint last year. I quickly found myself dealing with the same issues Clifford Stoll complained about in High-Tech Heretic. First, was the kids sitting down and creating slides on the fly. No plan, no road map as to where they were going. That was easily solved by creating a worksheet with slide boxes that were to be filled out before getting on the computer. Next, was the inordinate amount of time spent searching for clipart versus writing bullet statements. Two, rules were put in place, the first being the clipart rule mentioned above. The second rule is that no artwork can be placed in the slides until all writing is finished and grammar has been corrected. I place a numbered sticky on the iMac to confirm that the slides have past my inspection.

The third issue I struggled with all year, it wasn’t until my latest reading of Stoll’s book did I have an answer. He complained, rightly so I add, that too many PowerPoint presenters just read each slide and occasionally add a tidbit of anecdotal information. My students with rare exception had fallen into that trap. So, as of this year, I am requiring students to write up a speech to use when making their presentation. For bullet I am going to require a minimum of a full paragraph. In this way students will practice one of the great life skills, the ability to expand and explain a coherent thought into a complete and complex statement.

A few years ago in this E-zine I stated a firm rule of my classroom, it goes simply, “Don’t Whine, Solve!”. I have tried to use this statement in writing about High-Tech Heretic. It is always easier to shout from the stands the problems of the day. It is much more difficult, and far more rewarding to come up with a workable solution. Hopefully, some of my answers will help in some way other classroom teachers as they look for ways to embrace technology properly into the classroom.

In this day and age when educators are forced to run their classrooms like businesses, in addition to playing social worker, psychologist, and surrogate parent on top of the base duties of educating children, I believe we must not lose sight that getting to the end of a unit is not as important as it is to teach the correct process. It does the child no good to lead them from A to Z if they don’t learn how to get there themselves. That is why it is called education, and isn’t that the foundation that all true teachers are called to this noble profession.

Mark Marcantonio

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