Advanced Technology in the Classroom
by Anna Baldwin
I have recently heard discussion denouncing the use of advanced technology and the Internet in educational settings; this talk implies that computers will replace teachers and warns of a hard plastic future where students sit in rows and spend long hours watching a screen for their education. Perhaps this fear of technology is a reaction to the impersonality of the Internet, the coldness of computers, the hypnotic vision into the virtual world. Yet if harnessed and directed, the World Wide Web and other new developments can provide excellent and convenient supplemental teaching resources that enrich learning communities. In this article, I will describe how technology has become a part of my classroom, drawing students together and helping them grow within the framework of conventional teaching methods.
First, the Internet has become an important component in all my lessons and has followed an interesting developmental path. I had begun looking on the Internet for my own information to add to lessons, just as I might go to the library and find books for this purpose. I found many sites designed for students to use as resources, so I started bringing the URLs (website addresses) in for them to copy off the blackboard, carry to the computer lab, and type into the web browser so they could view the sites for themselves rather than secondhand, through the filter of my descriptions.
I quickly discovered how many students copied correctly, typed accurately, and knew the different between a slash and a dash. Time wasted re-writing and re-typing URLs for students prompted me to take drastic action and learn web page design. On my own site, I could insert a link to the desired page: no more copying, carrying, or typing!
The next step was clearly to teach website design as it relates to language arts - and there are unlimited ways to use web pages in a classroom. For example, cooperative learning and web design have coincided with the creation of a class web page, which displays my students' short stories (http://www.users.qwest.net/~jabaldwin/intro.html)
A second technology breakthrough in my class combines the Internet with PowerPoint presentation software. For one unit, each class was assigned a country to research, and each student selected one aspect of that country - for example, clothing in India or food in Japan. After students had collected enough information on their topics, they learned to create a PowerPoint slide demonstrating their research. When all the slides were ready, I collected them on a disk and transferred them to a single computer; as a class, we then created a cover slide, transitions between slides, and a credit slide. Thus the class had individually practiced research and composition skills and learned design principles; then as a group they created a total presentation.
A third incidence of technology in my classroom involves Shakespeare and the Internet. I always try to infuse the Shakespeare plays I teach with technology. Anyone who has looked up Shakespeare in a search engine knows the Bard is everywhere out there. When students realize this 400-year-old foreign-language-speaking dude is on the Internet, they warm up to him a little. Therefore I start the plays with a scavenger hunt on the Globe theater or some questions about Early Modern English, or I ask them to get cursed by the Elizabethan curse generator (http://www.tower.org/insult/insult.html). I create a website with links to these sites for easy access (http://www.users.qwest.net/~jabaldwin/index.html). Then students share what they found and we can talk as a group about their difficulties and discoveries.
Do these classroom strategies sound futuristic? They shouldn't; they consist of practiced and proven methods: reading, research, writing, cooperative learning, presentation, and large group discussion. Technology can be incorporated into a classroom without sacrificing successful teaching and learning, and students will be more prepared for their future with this combination of convention and progression.