Why does it always surprise me?

I’m blogging from TCEA (Texas Computer Educator’s Association) this week. Yesterday, I spent the day at a pre-conference for Discovery Education, learning some great ways to digitize my classroom. The keynote speaker, Hall Davidson, had two interesting videos to show as a comparison of teachers and administration to show us who needs to be convinced about the need to go digital.

The teacher video showed rows of teachers in a session at a conference – all of them with laptops on, some of them with iPhones working, some with both going at the same time. Backchannels, networking, oh my! 

The administrator video showed a room full of well-dressed individuals. In the entire room, there was one netbook and a whole slew of laps with notepads (and I mean the paper and cardboard type), hands gripping pens busily taking notes.

This morning, I sat in a room full of people waiting to hear about Web 2.0 tools. I looked around and realized that there were only about 4 people, in a room of about 100, who had laptops. Unbelievably, the presenter started out talking about handouts. I had to stop and wonder – is this really a technology conference?

A person next to me, when she heard where I teach said “oh, that’s the paperless school!” She was all excited about it – the comment sort of depressed me. Although we were built to be paperless, actually getting every single teacher in the school to go paperless has been daunting and in fact, we do have copiers in our school, which is evidence that we have not gone paperless.

Even a presenter in the afternoon who is supposedly a 21st century leader in education talked about the fact that we would never be able to get rid of books altogether. Really?

What will it take for us to be able to let go of the paper?

What is it about mushed up, watered down, then dried out wood that makes us so dependent upon it? Is it the toasty warm feeling we get when we throw it in the trash after a class of students leaves the handouts lying on the floor? Is it the hefty weight of it in a backpack that we love to condemn our students to? Is it the chuckles we get from reading outdated information and pointing it out to students in the hopes they won’t believe everything they read in their textbook?

Why is it that we feel so compelled to give students something in their hands to read? Why can’t we let them find information on their own on the web?

Are we afraid they’ll read something that isn’t correct and take it to be fact? Then teach them how to discern.

Is it that we are afraid of them not being able to recall the chemical symbols for the first 20 elements on the periodic table on demand? Then teach them how to access the information another way.

Is it that we are convinced that if textbooks are found to be obsolete, so will we? Then learn how to teach without a student in view.

Anthony Robbins once said “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” It’s time for the education world to forget what they’ve always done and strive to do something they’ve never attempted. If I can’t find people who believe this at a technology conference, where can I find them?

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3 responses to “Why does it always surprise me?

  1. I like the concept that you present. But I think it is unfair to indict all teachers when most of us only have classroom access to computers on a very limited basis. I work in a school of over 3000 students in which about 2300 of them are expected to share 3 computer labs (That’s 90 computers) and a few mobile laptop carts to share between each department.

    Do you really think the funding will ever exist to give CONSISTENT access to all students in order to realize a paperless educational system?

    And even if it did…I don’t think I like the students that we are creating that are totally technology dependent that they are losing basic cognitive skills. Just because technology can, doesn’t mean it should.

    I like implementing technology into my classroom. I like to it to be authentic. But I don’t think that paper-based activities should be treated as if they have no value. There is something about placing pen to paper and creating something that technology can’t touch.

    Let’s find a middle ground between the two.

  2. I like your post. I’ve wondered myself how to effectively teach paperless (or almost completely paperless anyways). As a 1st yr teacher, I’ve struggled with just getting through the week (or the day!) and being high tech wasn’t always a priority. But the more technology I use, the more I feel that I can’t teach without it. Sometimes I hope I never have to leave the Academy.

    Yet at the same time, use of technology in the classroom drives me insane. When my students are working on their computers, I HAVE TO spend the ENTIRE time monitoring in order for them to get at least the minimum amount of work done. They don’t just have their 20+ friends in the classrooom to distract them. They 300+ on GTalk. And I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t be more fun (oops, I should’ve used the education word “engaging”) than their friends.

    And I can’t blame them. I don’t think I ever had a teacher that was more interesting than my friends. If I did, then that’s the 27th confirmation that I am genuinely a nerd. 🙂

    I guess laptops comes with angels and demons attached to them. But I think education was always that way. Technology is better than paper, but it is not the answer to all of our problems. I also don’t know what those answers are.

    Also, I’ve had several students say that they don’t like to do everything on the computer. Somehow, due to the way our brains are wired, I think that when we learn we will always need to do and write with our hands sometimes. I can’t really explain, but it technology doesn’t hit the “spot” sometimes.

    But then again, this comes from a bias view. I grew up in a developing nation and I never even touched a computer until 5th grade. I rarely used a computer in high school (US) and in college (UC Davis)… well, I had to write a couple of essays on Microsoft Word a couple of times.

    It’s different with my kids, I know.

  3. mrscj – I see your point and, in fact, am known to be in the copier line at school from time to time because I haven’t figured out a good way to give kids practice with Chemistry problems that doesn’t involve paper. I guess my main point is that we all need to be working towards not using paper when we have options. It’s when I see everyone using paper for things that have an accessible and logical electronic alternative, that I wish things would change.

    Ed – I think you raise a good point when you say the students don’t like doing everything on the computer. It’s true, there are students who leave our school saying what they wish had been different was actually having less technology, not more. They feel like they’ve lost some interaction with their teacher. We have to, as a group of teachers, come up with that happy medium. Where our technology lessons are engaging, relevant, and the best way to present that topic, and where our interactions with our students do not become limited to Blackboard announcements or email blasts. As science teachers, we know the value of standing in front of a classroom with a bag of tennis balls and four students to demonstrate bonding – we can never lose lessons like that, which involve no technology, but is the best way to teach that topic.

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