Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Use and Abuse of Technology in the Classroom

Today's post is by Kathy Cassidy, a Canadian grade one teacher.

More and more primary teachers now have access to technology in their classroom. Whether it is an iPad or an iPod touch, a desktop or a laptop, a growing number of teachers are either being given access to this technology by their school boards or bringing their own devices to class to help students to learn. Because of the multitude of choices and opportunities that technology enables, this is a positive development.

Having access to books does not mean that the students in my classroom will learn to read. I need to make careful pedagogical choices and use those books in a way that will gently and purposefully help those children to become independent readers. Very few children can make this leap themselves. Most need a thoughtful teacher to guide them.

In the same way, having technology in my classroom does not mean that my students will discover how to use it as a learning tool. I have to carefully select and structure what it is used for so that it becomes truly educational. As with reading books, should not our goal be to develop independent learners? Here are my personal abuse and use lists for the handling of devices in the classroom.

Technology Abuses

Technology should not be used as simply a digital worksheet. There are many apps and Internet sites available that are simply a technological version of a paper task, forcing students to practice over and over a skill that they may already have mastered. Don’t get me wrong. Skills do need to be practiced. I just happen to think that students should spend most of their time using technology for more creative

Technology should not be used as a way to keep students occupied. A small number of computers or devices in a classroom can be an inviting center, whether it is an assigned or a self-chosen one. If you use technology in this way, choose wisely when you decide what the students will do with the technology. There are many, many creative options available. It should not be just to keep students busy while you work with small groups of children. (They’re working on mouse skills? Really?)

Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it. Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.

The good news is that there are other, better options for using technology. My heart does a happy dance when I see these.

Technology Uses

Technology should be for accessing what was inaccessible. In the past, my teaching materials were limited to what was in my classroom and in the school’s library. Now there are a plethora of materials available online to fill any teaching need I have, limited only by my online search skills. From classroom-ready videos such as those of Mercer Mayer and Dr. Jean to sharing and learning with other teachers on Pinterest or Twitter to accessing the creative commons photos of thousands of photographers—well, let’s just say there is no longer an excuse for not having appropriate resources.

Technology should be for doing good things in better ways. For example, hearing books being read aloud is an important part of primary literacy. Long ago, listening to books on a cassette tape became listening to books on a CD. Now, there are online books and apps that do a much better job of this, highlighting the words as they are read aloud.

Technology should be for sharing with the world. The environment that our students are growing up in is wired for sharing. The hardware and the software that is available make it easier every day for children to share what they are learning with the world. Even young children can share their learning using drawings, imagesblogs, video and digital portfolios. By sharing their artifacts digitally, students invite the involvement and support of their parents, grandparents and anyone who sees their work.

Technology should be for connecting. Before the advent of the Internet, classrooms were forced to be isolated learning hives. Now, those hives can all be interconnected as classrooms can easily link with other classrooms and experts to ask questions, compare experiences and learn together. Tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogs make connecting and collaborating with classrooms from anywhere a possibility.

Technology should give choices. We are blessed to have a lot of technology in my classroom and my favourite part of that is the choice it gives my students in both their learning style and in sharing what they have learned. When allowed to choose, some students prefer to read on iPads or computers. Others choose paper books. I think choice is important as we accommodate the variety of needs our learners have.

Technology should not just allow us to do traditional in a different way; it should allow us to do things that we thought were not possible.

Kathy Cassidy is an award-winning Canadian grade one teacher who is passionate
about literacy and about connecting her classroom with the world. Kathy has a
classroom blog and her students each have their own blogs that are digital portfolios
reflecting their learning in all subject areas and include images, video, podcasts and
other evidence. In addition to teaching, Kathy is an author and speaker. You can also
find her online at her professional blog and on Twitter.

Tomorrow: "The One Center Child," by @teachermeg.


  1. I've cross posted this comment too. :-)

    A fabulous post Kathy and one I couldn’t agree with more. Nothing frustrates me more then when someone asks me to recommend a math app to practice a drill and practice skill. What an expensive way to practice such a skill. Watching my students create things, and share their creations with the world is an exciting way to teach and learn. And how exciting to easily bring the world into our classroom with technology. I love working and learning along side of you and I’m pretty sure there will be more “wow, why didn’t think of that” moments shared.

  2. This is spot on. I also love how your thoughful use of technology fits right in with the previous educator's post on teaching with intention. It's so important to be intentional with all of the tools we introduce to the children and I appreciate how you brought this reflection to the use of technology.

    1. Meg, you are such a thinker! The two posts do fit together, don't they?
      Our children do deserve our thoughtful use of technology, just as they deserve our thoughtful use of books.

  3. Kathy, Love how clearly you've stated the value of using technology in the classroom while expressing that there are areas of concern we need to be aware of.
    I have a question for you. My day is primarily spent working with toddler and preschoolers. I believe strongly in exposing them to technology. I received a grant for iPads this past year. I am working to learn both ways that I can use for enriching what we are learning and finding quality apps to actively involve the children in their learning. At this young age this touch screen technology is so natural for them, but the literacy skills are not present for doing a lot creatively. I have chosen apps for the higher interaction they provide, how they reinforce concepts developing skills in and the freedom for those that are hampered by fine motor skills at this young age. My question is - as an early elementary teacher what technology skills would you like students to be arriving to your class with?
    I ask this because now I work on what most consider normal K readiness skills - letter recognition, number awareness, transitioning, social skills, what is a book, shapes, colors and fine/gross motor, but there hasn't been much information passed our way around technology skills.

  4. Thanks for your comment.
    There are NO particular technology skills that I expect the children to come to me with. If the student went to kindergarten in my school, they are generally able to log on and navigate on a computer, but occasionally I have a student move to our school who has not had computer experience and has no idea how to use a mouse. I have a few children who have iPads or iPods at home, but many have never had one before they get to me. We don't focus on the tech skills, but on the what we are learning through the technology, or the learning that we are demonstrating. The skills just come along as we are working together. The children are very good at helping each other as they do this.

  5. I am not anti-technology. In fact I am a gadget addict and have been from the days of the Betamax. technology, however convenient and useful, can be abused. Geeky Tech Blog

  6. This post makes some great points that are important to the consideration of using technology in the classroom. I particularly liked that you mentioned that technology shouldn't be used for something that can be done just as easily without it. I think sometimes we rely too much on technology to do things that we could very easily do without technology. I think one of the most important things to consider when using technology in the classroom is how we are going to teach our students how to use the technology. The students need to learn the appropriate skills needed for using technology for their learning. This touches on how you mentioned that technology should not be used as a way to keep students busy. If you are going to be using it in order to help you meet with small groups, while other students are using technology you need to be very cautious about what you are having them use technology to do. This post includes some great tips that I will take into consideration for my future classroom in regards to technology.