Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Technology Changed Teaching and Learning: A Personal Observation

My observations are not based on scientific research or the writings of experts in the field. Rather, I am speaking from my experience in fifty-nine years as a student or teacher in public education. It goes without saying that I have witnessed amazing changes in the use of technology in the classroom. I am not so sure that students and teachers have changed so drastically.

When I was a child, we did not have a television until I was in the fourth grade; I was the last kid in my
 class to get a television. Before and after we got a television, I was an avid reader. It is interesting to me that kids of today are criticized for spending too much time on a computer and not getting enough exercise. No one ever criticized me for reading books instead of playing outside! I still do a lot of reading, some websites, some books, books on my iPad.

In grade school, we sometimes watched movies or filmstrips, but most of our information came from our textbooks or the teacher. If we did research reports, we usually depended upon the World Book Encyclopedia which were often out of date. Sometimes students would plagiarize by copying the encylopedia article word for word. I guess it at least took more effort than copying and pasting from wikipedia. When we got bored in class, we would often pass notes (rather than text), but our teachers did not take away our paper and pencils!

I took typing in high school using a manual typewriter. I was terrible at it and made many errors that could not be easily corrected. We were often not allowed to use erasable bond typing paper (a great innovation in the 1960’s)! Papers would be entirely written by hand and only typed as the final draft. The same was true for typing papers for my college classes. I would often have to start over several times in order to type a paper with no errors.

I have always been interested in the power of multimedia. When I taught junior high social studies in the 1970’s, we created slideshows with 35 mm slides. I purchased a little gizmo that would take close up pictures from a book. We would then have to wait until the slides were developed to assemble the slide show. Background music was added later by playing a record during the presentation. Perhaps that experience makes me more appreciate PowerPoint, SlideRocket, Voki, and numerous other tools.

During the 1980’s, I taught research papers to high school juniors. Students were limited to the resources we had in the library. Books that we had on current topics were often outdated. Even though students learned to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature to locate magazine articles, our library did not subscribe to all of the magazines. Sometimes back issues of the magazines were lost or damaged. A few students would go to public or college libraries to try to find more information. I encouraged students to type their papers, but most of them ended up having their mothers type them for them. I often think of that when people today say that computers make people lazy!

Does technology make it easier to learn? I am not sure. Technology makes many resources available. Technology gives us tools that make it possible for students and teacher to incorporate information and multimedia relatively easily. But technology does not make it possible to magically transfer knowledge into the brains of students. Whether students are listening to a lecture, reading a book, reading information from a website, or watching a multimedia presentation, they still must think and relate to the information in order to learn. Technology is a tool that must be used effectively by humans in order to be effective. However, it does not make sense to me why students and teachers would not be eager to take advantage of all the resources that are available. In my opinion, the goal of education is to produce life-long learners. Technology provides unlimited opportunity for people to make use of new skills to learn about whatever is interesting or important to them.

My Decision to Start a Blog

As I was finishing my end-of-school work for the forty-fifth time, I made a decision. No, I am not ready to completely retire, but it is time for me start blogging!  I have seen many things change in education since I entered first grade in 1952.  I have also seen many ideas and "innovations" come full circle resulting in little real change. I have listened to several generations of teachers and parents complain about the younger generation's bad attitudes and disregard for education. I have watched several generations of "typical" teenagers grow up to become productive members of society and effective parents. This blog will be my chance to state my observations about the state of education, discuss those who influenced me, and share some memories of my years in the classroom...both as a student and as a teacher.
Yearbook Pictures from 1968 and 2013