Do we present teachers with a field of dreams when it comes to implementing technology as a teaching tool, or do we leave them wandering, lost in a vast wasteland of untapped potential and lack of support?
by Matt Levinson
Regular contributor to the Gazette
July 1, 2009
In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella follows a voice in his cornfield that instructs him, "If you build it, he will come." He reads this message as an edict to build a baseball field on his farm, where the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other seven Chicago White Sox players banned from the game for throwing the 1919 World Series magically appear. Ray throws all of his energies into the building project, against a rising tide of opposition, because he is a dreamer and a visionary, and maybe even a little half-baked.
School administrators and tech directors need to be careful to avoid the trappings of a “Field of Dreams” model toward changing teaching and learning with the latest gadgetry. One school web developer explained, “We've had more technology than 95% of the faculty use already. This may be an education issue, an edict issue, a ‘they-don't-want-it’ issue, or an ‘it's not exactly what we need’ issue (or a combination of all of the above). My suspicion is that the teaching methods here don't readily make use of online stuff. We have to do some work beforehand to find out what it is instead of trying a ‘field of dreams’ model (e.g. if we build it, will they use it?)”
School administrators and tech directors need to be careful to avoid the trappings of a “Field of Dreams” model toward changing teaching and learning with the latest gadgetry.
My wife is a first grade teacher and she has undergone a dramatic transformation in her teaching with technology since we made the move to California from New Jersey. She now regularly uses Keynote and Pages for student projects, parent communication, and documentation of the learning process. A year ago, she did not utilize any of these programs. However, her partnership with a mid-20s teaching associate, versed in and fluent with various applications, helped to kick start her move toward greater technology integration.
My wife knows the content of her teaching practice, and she will think through a teaching topic with her teaching associate, who then helps to imagine different ways to utilize and integrate technology.
“I talk through lesson ideas with her and she then maps out the technology to match the goals of the lesson. Using technology in the classroom is a lot like teaching writing. It’s all about knowing your audience. For example, Pages works beautifully for my parent newsletter. I have a template, and I add photos and text. My teaching associate created the template and then she taught me how to play with the form,” she explained.
Also, her school has a comprehensive initiative to move in a more sustainable direction, so every project she considers in her teaching forces her to think about how sustainable the outcome will be. For example, instead of creating and laminating posters to hang up, she instead deploys Keynote to run on her Smart Board in the classroom.
“Why would I cut up all of that paper, and cover in plastic,” she asks, “when I can use Keynote to accomplish the same goal and it is easier to keep a copy for next year?”
In addition, one of her teaching goals for the year was to more effectively use technology.
“It’s a lot easier to focus on technology at this point in my career, at year 16, because I have achieved mastery in other areas, like the teaching of reading, writing, and math. Of course I still have work to do in those areas, but I am pretty far along in my pedagogy. With technology, I have to give greater energy and focus, and I can do that because it’s one major area of growth for me, instead of 4.”
The problem with sharing technology exemplars with other teachers is that it can cause more anxiety than excitement about possibilities. For many teachers, technology feels like an add-on and is intimidating to even think about.
Interestingly, at her New Jersey school, she had two computers in her classroom, but “all the kids did was play educational games,” she commented. Also, students were dropped off at the computer lab for their tech classes and she could use the “free” period for planning. At her current school, there is no computer lab. Instead, the tech teacher brings the laptop cart to her classroom, and she co-plans lessons that are integrated into the curriculum. She can’t escape, as she could at her New Jersey school. The technology class time is a vital part of her teaching schedule, as important and integral as reading, writing, and math.
The more time she spends sitting next to her first grade students, the more she sees how to use the technology within the context of a social studies unit, for example. In addition, her students are patient with her when she asks for their help in understanding how to use an application. She has no qualms about being the student next to a six-year old teacher. “It’s healthy to flip roles with my students. It constantly reminds me how they feel each day in school, when they have to learn new things.”
At a faculty meeting, the technology teacher highlighted my wife’s use of Pages for her newsletter and showed a completed newsletter to the staff. One teacher asked, in a combination of fear and awe, “Are we all going to have to start doing that?” The problem with sharing technology exemplars with other teachers is that it can cause more anxiety than excitement about possibilities. For many teachers, technology feels like an add-on and is intimidating to even think about.
A graduate of Teachers' College, Columbia University, Matt Levinson is the assistant director and head of the middle school at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California. Prior to moving into school administration, he taught middle and upper school history for fourteen years at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey.