How Optional is Technology?

Recently, Ryan Collins started a discussion about teachers wanting to opt-out of technology use in the classroom. He posed the following question to Ohio’s technology coordinators:

What does your district do with teachers who want to "opt out" of technology?  Since we are pushing technology integration, one of the things on my plate this month is to have this discussion with my superintendent and  assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction….

This is a big question, because it scratches the surface of a much larger one. My first reaction is that a teacher’s reluctance to use technology is fine, until it affects the ability of others to get their work done. For example, if an administrator "has to" print out copies of her weekly newsletter because some teachers don’t check their email, that’s a problem. If a student is missing questions on a test because he can’t read the teacher’s handwriting and doesn’t know what’s being asked, that’s a
problem.

If a teacher received computers as part of the Ohio SchoolNet Plus round one grants, she’s had computers in her classroom for ten years now. If she doesn’t
know this difference between save and save as, why are we still wasting our time?

But when talking about integration, is the low-tech teacher depriving the students of opportunities by not using technology? I know we’ve been focused on using technology to teach other things. Science teachers who are using technology can improve their science teaching. But a science teacher who is involuntarily forced to use technology will not improve the teaching and learning in her classroom by simply using the technology. While the students in that class would not gain all of the tech experience and skills that we want them to have, they could arguably have a better science experience in a low-tech environment. It depends a lot on the teacher and the situation.

As I was writing the draft of the TPT so I could file for e-rate funding, I ran into this problem a lot. How are we going to integrate technology
into the fine and performing arts? For the most part, we’re not. Insert overused hammer/nail reference here.

How will we know when we’re appropriately using technology? I think it’ll happen when we stop talking about it. "What strategies are you employing to integrate the use of technology in the social studies classroom" is an absurd question. We don’t ask that about TVs, or overhead projectors, or chalkboards. We use it when it’s appropriate. Appropriate use of technology becomes invisible. We stop talking about it and just do it.

The bottom line, for me, is one of opportunity. We need to keep providing opportunities for our teachers. Keep evangelizing the technology solutions. Keep listening to their needs, and looking for solutions. Ultimately, though, the teacher has to buy in, or we’re wasting our time.

Girls Use the Internet, Too

A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project challenges some of the conventional wisdom regarding gender roles and technology.

For the first time, the report finds that young women use the Internet more than young men. In the 18-29 year old age group, 86% of women are Internet users, compared to just 80% of men the same age. This is the only age group for which women outpace men in Internet use. Men typically use the Internet as an information resource, checking weather, sports scores, news, and looking for information. Women tend to use the Internet for more communication-oriented activities, including email and support for health and personal problems.

“If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections,” said Deborah Fallows, Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet Project.

Though the study did not specifically look at gender differences in Internet use among school-age students, the news is encouraging. The gender gap that has traditionally been seen appears to be closing.

Quite Writely

Smart people are starting to rearrange the puzzle pieces a little bit. Some of the technologies that have been around for a while are now being combined and interconnected in new and interesting ways, and it’s changing how we use the Internet. Consider Ajax, for example. It’s basically a combination of Javascript and XML, two technologies that have been around for a decade or so. But when combined in just the right amounts….

Take a look at  Writely. This is an online word processor. The whole thing runs in a browser window, so there’s no need to purchase and install software on your computer. It has all of the features you’d expect — the abillity to change fonts, text styles, colors, etc. You can add graphics and tables. You can save, and print. That’s all pretty standard stuff.

But here’s where it gets interesting. What if you’re collaboratively working on a document with a group of people? You all want to be able to access the document and make changes to it. Of course, in school, you could save it on a network drive that everyone has access to. But if you’re working at home, your only option is to email the file to one another. That will result in multiple versions of the file, with different people editing different versions. You’ll inevitably end up with multple versions that will have to be combined in the end.

Writely allows you to collaborate online. You simply specify the email addresses of the people who can access the file, and  it sends them a note asking them to contribute to the document. If you want people to be able to read it, but not change it, you can also "publish" it and make it available online that way.

When you’re finished, you can export the file as a Microsoft Word document, an OpenOffice document, or a rich text file (that can be opened in any word processor).

You’re certainly giving up a few features by using this product. It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that Microsoft Word includes. But it is a lot cheaper. And it’s a lot easier to collaborate with it. And, it’s free.