I consider myself pretty technologically savvy, and that thought process started at a very young age. I have always liked playing with gadgets and getting the latest devices—when I could afford them of course! I recently bought an Apple iPad, and then an iPhone. I also own a laptop computer, iPod, camera and other gadgets that I find “techy”. At 22 years old, in my family, I am considered the “tech guru”. When my family has computer problems, I am called; when the phone isn’t working properly, “Call Alyssa!” I have no problem being this person for my family; it has been a long time coming.
My love for technology started as soon as I was able to create my first email address and screen name on aol.com. I remember the first computer my family had, it was a giant grey box, and IBM computer to be exact, and that computer took about an hour to boot up and get just to the login screen. At the time I didn’t know that was slow, I had just become accustomed to it. Once I was signed onto the computer, signing onto the internet was the next task. Dial-up internet was the latest and greatest in internet technology in the 90’s! Everyone knows the beloved noise that the computer made as the phone line was taken over, and the internet began to load. Being as I didn’t ever receive any phone calls, losing the phone line wasn’t a major factor for me. However, the amount of time I spent on the internet doing research, chatting on AOL Instant Messenger, and using Encyclopedia Britannica certainly got on my parents last nerve.
I clearly remember the computers with giant towers. Carrying around my five or six floppy disks—yes, I said floppy disks—to and from school every day, in order to save files and bring them back to my computer at home. I had a Walkman when I was younger; all the cool kids had them, didn’t they? Yes, I was technologically savvy back then, or so I thought. Little did I know that in just the time it took me to figure out how to use a floppy disks, flash disks, email, GoogleDocs, blogs, external hard drives, and file sharing would all become available to students and teachers in just a short amount of time. Over the next phase of my education, as the new flash drive came out, I wanted it. As email no longer needed a phone line and twenty minutes to connect, I changed my cheesy middle-school-girl-email address to something more suitable for the 21st Century. I no longer had to save to flash drive, transport that device home without losing it, and upload to my home computer. Doing the same thing in reverse the next morning before school started so I had the most recent file to work on at school the next day. As technology advanced, so did I; I became more literate and able to function in school and at home more easily and a simple process of saving became less of something I didn’t look forward to.
Now, in the 21st Century, education systems, school districts, and administration pride themselves with the fact that we live in a technological era, yet when students walk into classrooms, they are told to put away cell phones, iPods, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and personal tablets that could potentially be a “distraction” to their learning. No music, no YouTube videos, nothing. A teacher saying no is one reason students decide to tune out—pun intended—to what we are saying. When we say “No, no, no”, students feel that when they want to learn something via technology, we aren’t listening to their thoughts and opinions.
As much as students are disappointed when teachers say no, it is also a disappointment when the technology services provided by the school building say no. Dian Schaffhauser, author of The ABC’s of BYOL (2011), describes a classic scenario in her article that each teacher has without a doubt experiences. She paints the picture of the teacher that wants to use technology in a lesson, or the mobile labs, but they have to be reserved weeks in advance; that teacher comes to find out that there aren’t enough computers, or the computers that do work take the entire period to boot up only to be shut down ten minutes later (p. 22). For the amount of technology that is available, we don’t take advantage of it. But technology costs money! Yes, this thought has crossed my mind, and money is always an issue when it comes to education, especially in South Dakota. However, when schools are still using mobile labs and desktops that are at least 10 years old, it makes doing 21st Century tasks very hard to complete. Ten years ago, I was in 8th grade and the computers were slow then. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting on technology when it is a crucial part of the lesson.
My vision for my future classroom consists of resisting that urge to fight the technology that will be brought into my classroom whether I want it there or not. I want students to be able to bring those devices in, but know when it is appropriate for them to be out, and for the students to be using them. I want to be able to say yes to questions like, “Can we watch this video on YouTube?”, “Have you heard this latest song?”, or “Can we go on UrbanDictionary.com?” I want to say yes, but I won’t just give a yes to please my students and “mess around” for the day. There are unavoidably going to be days where the lesson planned is not what specific class periods need. Hopefully, however, using these sites and many more just like them will become an integral part of my classroom environment.
Featured writer, Alan November, raises a really good question in his article that was published in Curriculum 21. November says, “What if we were to transform the culture of teaching and learning to adapt the power of these tools?” (November, 2010, Chapter 11, Rethinking Control in Our Classrooms, para. 5). He follows that question with the thought that our students are growing up digital natives; when they want information, they get in instantly and don’t have to wait for it. Also, all these apps, sites, blogs, online resources, etc. are all free to our students, and anyone for that matter.
If we say yes, think about all of the on-task time there would be in the classroom. Think, we say no, no, no, and the students sneak their phones anyway. They break the rule because there is one to break, and they know that phones aren’t allowed. Typical 21st Century student, see a rule they don’t agree with it, so they break it. If we can say yes, maybe that would cut down on the texting under the desk, in the pocket, behind the book behavior that enters the classroom on a daily basis. There wouldn’t be a need to sneak the devices because they know it is accepted in the classroom as long as they abide by the rules set out.
Research is something that has, in my opinion, gotten a bad name over the years; when students hear that the yearly research project is coming up, all teaches hear are the simultaneous moans and groans by the students in each class period. What they don’t realize is that all the sites they use on a daily basis outside of the classroom, can all be citable sources in the 21st Century. YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, Tumblr, etc., are all sites that should and have the capability to be used as primary sources if the students are shown the proper ways to search for their information, and weed out what they know is relevant and what isn’t.
As quoted by Carol Booth Olson (2011) in her book The Reading/Writing Connection, authors Underwood and Pearson say, “Many scholars and teachers have been at work trying to expand our notion of what counts as texts, extending the construct to imaginal texts, electronic texts” (p. 259). As a future English teacher, this is essentially what I hope to accomplish, and what the overall vision for my paper is. What we consider primary sources for research needs to be expanded to more than just books from the library, articles from school databases, and magazines. With the amount of information that is available via Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, blogs, wikis, and countless other sources, students should be allowed to look for information, texts, and alternate reading material using these sites and 2.0 tools that they know so much about.
These sites not only will help with alternate ways to research information, but they can also connect classrooms around the world. Think about the great experiences that the students could have if they were able to communicate with a classroom outside of their four walls, and even in another state or country. Teachers could set up corresponding blogs related to what topics are being discussed in the classroom, and the students could respond on those blogs and wikis to the other students they are working with—creating a global community from the inside out. There are programs available to teachers that will allow the students to receive texts from the teacher, reminding them about assignments; the best part, the students will never know what the teachers’ cell phone number is, and vice versa. Students can answer poll questions, publish videos, record and view podcasts that allow their classmates to see what is going on, and those they chose to share it with their other global classroom.
While introducing students’ electronic devices to the classroom can certainly spark some new passion for learning, and using the technologies that they are interested in, it can also open up a door to information that doesn’t necessarily need to be in the classroom. With so much available at the click of a button, there is bound to be search results that come up that induce those giggles, smirks, and low-murmuring side chatter that always ensues something that isn’t meant to be seen by student eyes. Imagine if that “oops” happens on the SMARTBoard? All chaos will break out. But even though unintentional search results do show up, that is part of research, but the part that teachers look forward to the least—besides the grading! If it does, then how do you get around it, or explain it, or manage to avoid it all together?
As nerve-wracking as it can be to have all this technology integration, and the chance of the students coming across information that is beyond their maturity level, or just not school appropriate, there are some teachable moments that can come out of those unintentional searches. Students need to learn the importance of evaluating information, and how to tell if something is reliable, or if it is not. Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, in Comprehension & Collaboration (2009), address three basic questions that students should ask themselves while sifting through the research they have accumulated. The first question is related to the validity of the information—how accurate is it? The second question is in regards to how current the information is. The third question is asking the student to identify if there is bias in the source (p. 102). Because of what is available to students in this day and age, it is vital that they learn how to evaluate information and decipher fact from fiction. Students think that whatever Google says is truth, and that Wikipedia is false, when sometimes it could be just the opposite.
As unnerving as it could be to introduce this amount of technology, and access into classrooms, this is where the future of the classroom is headed. As technology continues to improve, it will continually be brought into the classroom whether teachers want it there or not. All of the “Yes” answers don’t have to come at once, or even within the first year of teaching. Putting something of this magnitude into effect in the classroom is a little intimidating. If I’ve made nothing else clear, I hope that the question of “Why not?” has at least surfaced. It’s 2012; technology is clearly one of many driving forces in decisions made in the school system, but it also is an expensive thing to consider. So why not? Why not take what the students are bringing into the classroom and use that to our advantage? Use the iPod’s, iPads, iPhones, tablets, and other electronic devices as a platform to reach that next realm of cyberspace and bring that into the classroom. I want to consider saying yes more than I am saying no. I want to take what the students know and build on that using their devices in ways they never thought were possible. It is going to happen, whether we like it or not, either retaliate in apprehension, or embrace it with arms wide open—knowing there will be ups and downs along the way.