Reality Bytes

Prompt:  Assume you have your first full time teaching job and the principal tells you that you’ve been selected to pilot the  “1 to 1 Project.”  What are your thoughts about the opportunities and challenges that  presents?

Despite its obvious utility, the adoption of one new piece of technology into classrooms was exceedingly slow.  The main arguments against its inclusion were that it risked eroding basic skills such as writing and math, and that its presence would be a constant distraction for students.  The fear and resistance of teachers was so great, it took several years for this technology to achieve ubiquitousness.  I am, of course, talking about the roll-out of basic handheld calculators in the 1970s.

Do these arguments sound familiar?  They should.  It is the same stone-walling discourse levied against the use of iPads or laptops in schools.  Surprisingly (or perhaps not), similar anti-distraction arguments were made against the use of blackboards around 1900.  There is a pattern of resistance to innovation here that seems to be less about the technology itself than with the human experience.

A wiser man than me once said, “The only constant in the world, the only thing that never seems to change, is that the world is constantly changing.”  Make no mistake about it, in our lifetimes the agent of change in the world is technological innovation.  These changes are dynamic, rapid, and socially revolutionary, and such comprehensive change creates vast uncertainty.

For we measly humans, dealing with uncertainty is an emotionally trying experience, especially for those of us born well before the full swing of innovation.  These emotions are particularly heavy for people uncomfortable using new technology, and breed aversion and resentment in those feeling left behind.  It is easy to see where resistance to change might arise among people who have developed a comfortable routine (cough cough *teachers* cough cough).

However, consider for a moment if you were not born so long ago.  Consider if you were in fact born right on the crest of this wave of change.  Your frame of reference would not consider this environment a tumultuous one, but simply business as usual.  The rapidly evolving dynamics of social change due to innovation would be your normal state of operations, not an aberration.  As future teachers it is essential that we understand this to be the reality for our students.

Children today are born into a world where the regular use of technology is the status quo.  They are born with a “silver iPad” at their fingertips.  For these kids there is no novelty to using technology, it is simply the way they interact with the world.  It is not just how they entertain themselves, but also how they communicate with friends and family, conduct business (banking, shopping, etc.), and, most importantly for we future teachers, it is how they learn.

Today, we live in a “just Google it” society with anything you’d possibly like to know literally at our fingertips.  There is now more information in the pocket of a child in sub-Saharan Africa than was available to the President of the U.S. just 15 years ago.  There is immeasurable power in this capacity with potentially revolutionary consequences.

So, what does this mean for our classrooms?  A recent study indicates that developing healthy relationships with students is vitally important to academic success.  Cultivating these relationships inherently involves finding common ground with students and creating interactions that feel natural to them.  Considering the digital reality in which kids now live, the absence of technology in today’s classrooms creates a foreign and unrelatable environment, with the teacher as its focal point.  This is a core structural element of the classroom that can fundamentally alienate students.  In essence, teachers who don’t fully embrace technology may find themselves increasingly unable to understand and connect with their students.

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