by Christian David Borges
The pace at which technology evolves in our modern information-driven world can seem nothing short of overwhelming. The way we communicate, interact and understand the world around us seems to change moment to moment. Very often it is young people—our students, who are the first to understand, adopt and fully exploit the vast potential that comes with new technology. As educators, we are placed in a unique position where we must try to appreciate how our students are transformed by this constant evolution, at times regulate the extent to which students engage with these tools and at least in a very rudimentary way connect with them through the use of the technology. Yet as educators, we are often hesitant or even unsure of how to integrate this ever-evolving transformative technology into the classroom. Moreover, we are often at a loss as to where to begin. As teachers we cannot miss this opportunity to engage our students and adopt new approaches to delivering curriculum. The integration of technology ensures that all students, no matter their abilities, strengths or needs will be able to participate in and have an active role in their academic lives. The question then becomes, how? What follows are basic approaches any teacher can use to begin the process of integrating new technological tools into their already existing practices and routines. More than explicit instructions on how to use specific technology, software, tools, or how to assess what type of technology is appropriate for a particular student, the following offers some basic ideas and approaches to adapting new tools into established programs and classrooms.
Technology as a tool
Once an educator has made the decision to regularly integrate technology into the classroom and the tools are accessible, there are several fundamental ideas to keep in mind in order to ensure the successful and meaningful incorporation of it into the classroom. From the onset, it must be stated that the use of technology in the classroom is not an end unto itself, neither is it a panacea. Using mind-mapping or text-to-speech software, ebooks or an online learning environment will not “cure” a student with behaviour issues, improve grades or teach students specific content. At least not without a sound program already in place. What technology provides is an opportunity to involve students in the learning process in innovative and exciting ways, allowing them to work with their strengths and accommodating their learning needs. When combined with good teaching practices, a flexible approach, well established routines, engaging lessons and a multifaceted approach to teaching that takes into account the strengths and needs of all students, technology allows all students to participate in rich and meaningful learning experiences and demonstrate wide-ranging forms of success. Technology should enhance and augment our sound and successfully established teaching practices.
To be successful and significant, the use of technology must become part of the everyday, regular routine in the classroom. Access to computers, interactive whiteboards and other equipment and software should not be seen as a reward or special event usage which students must earn. Instead, technology, like textbooks, pencils and manipulatives should be understood as other tools for learning. Like “traditional” tools, technology must be integrated into the everyday experience and environment. Our students must come to understand the technological tools we use in the classroom as just other tools used to understand new concepts and processes. So then, when we are discussing physical equipment it makes sense that the integration of technology into the everyday begins with the decisions we make in the placement of material when setting up the learning environment.
Technology in the classroom layout
Consideration of where equipment is placed in the physical layout of the classroom is an important factor to consider when adopting technological tools into our programs. Teachers must ask themselves questions such as, What role will this technology play in the everyday routine? Is the equipment to be the focal point of the classroom? Will students have access to it throughout the day and can they access it on their own? While classroom set up is often a reflection of personal choice, consideration of what message the placement of equipment sends to students must be taken into account. When technology is placed where it does not occupy a place of prominence, where it is seen as part of the classroom as much as desks, blackboards or other tools, the closer we are to normalizing the role of technology into the everyday experience of our students. Teachers should ultimately strive to create an environment where we emphasize the idea that technology is not the teacher of our lessons or the answer to all difficulties, but rather technology is a tool to advance and deepen our teaching practice and student learning. For instance, the placement of an interactive whiteboard adjacent to instead of in front of an existing set of chalkboards may serve to illustrate that while we have access to the technology, we also emphasize already established teaching practices. Once environmental considerations are taken into account, we must consider how we incorporate technology into our everyday lessons, practice and assessments.
Technology doesn’t replace good teaching practices
A common fear of teachers who are beginning to use technological tools in their daily routine is the perceived amount of time required to plan and integrate technological tools into their daily lesson plans. There is a misconception that teachers will have to rewrite much of their existing lesson plans to adopt these tools and must set special time aside each day for the use of technology into their lessons and student’s practice. If educators accept that technological tools are not meant to replace good teaching practice but in fact augment and add to already existing approaches to teaching, then we do away with this misconception. Begin by asking how available technological tools can enhance or better reinforce our current lessons and activities.
Begin the implementation of technology slowly at first. Aim to adopt one type of technology into one lesson. Reflect on how that went and then decide if that would be the way to go. Eventually, as teachers become more comfortable with using technology themselves, its integration will become instinctual. The ultimate goal of using these tools successfully is to build them into our lessons in such a way that their use is “seamless” with what is going on around the class. Eventually, after teachers become comfortable with the use of these tools, it will become second nature to build the use of these tools into our lessons, student practice and assessment. Just as we would employ manipulatives or other tools, using text-to-speech software should be a daily choice based on a given situation and a particular student’s needs. Beyond planning the use of these technologies in our routines, it is important to understand that, like many accommodations to our lessons and activities we already make use of in our classrooms, technology can be employed at any given moment and curtailed to a given situation and to a specific students needs.
When planning the use of technology into lessons, practice and/or assessments it is important to understand that with these tools comes variety and versatility. Each type of technology can be used in different ways and it is important to understand that not all students approach the use of technology in the same way. The beauty of technology is that it is ever evolving and varied. Students will come with their own comfort level and experiences. Allowing students choice in the type of technology, the extent to which and how that student will use it will go a long way in providing a rich learning experience.
Understanding the use of technology in the classroom:
- Technology allows us to engage our students while at the same time working with their strengths and address their learning needs
- When combined with good teaching practices, a flexible approach, well established routines, engaging lessons that take into account the strengths and needs of all students, technology allows all students to participate in rich and meaningful learning experiences and demonstrate wide-ranging forms of success
- The placement of equipment in the classroom directly reflects and has an impact on the way technology is adopted into the everyday routine
- We can spontaneously integrate technology as we go. As we become more comfortable with and understand the potential of the different types of technology we employ in the classroom, we can plan the use of technology into our lessons, activities and assessments.
- Begin slowly at first by aiming to implement one type of technology into already existing lessons and routines
- Because of the breadth and ever-evolving nature of technology, each teacher and student will approach the use of different technology individually based on comfort level and a given situation
Providing opportunity to fully engage
The ultimate goal when using technology in the classroom is to provide all students no matter what their abilities, strengths and needs, with opportunities to fully engage in their learning and become active members in their education. Students will become empowered and more importantly confident in their abilities. Technology in and of itself is not an end. Rather, the gradual integration of technology that becomes part of the everyday classroom experience not only enriches the learning environment but will allow all students to more fully participate in their academic lives. If we miss this opportunity to engage students in their own sphere—the sphere of technology—we are missing out on vital and robust learning opportunities, particularly when we are challenged with creating an inclusive and differentiated learning environment. The integration of technology into the regular experience for all students provides a rich learning experience and in the end will provide almost limitless learning opportunities, limited only by the teacher’s and student’s imagination.
Christian Borges is a Special Education Teacher for the Toronto District School Board in Ontario. For the past eight years, Christian has been actively promoting and training other educators on the integration of assistive technology and technology into the everyday learning experience of students. You can visit his classroom internationally recognized website at http://mrborges.edublogs.org.