Hello Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP team! My apologies for the tardiness on any posting whatsoever. I'm going to use the age old excuse of "things have been busy" as my reason for not yet blogging (or posting anything for that matter). You can insert your skepticism and "we all are busy Mike" comments here.
Last week our admin team held a meeting for all teachers who were interested in joining the tech team. The topic of conversation was generally around how to implement the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) at our school. As this project moves forward, I will definitely be blogging about it, but in the meantime, another topic arose at the meeting which was: with students bringing in PEDs, will there be as much of a need for a computer lab or would it be best to distribute those computers to the classrooms?
I've heard this issue/question brought up many times before and my knee jerk reaction is always "NO!" Why would you get rid of a computer lab when we are trying utilize technology as a tool in our teaching? I immediately envisioned a number of my activities for the year being cancelled. How could I have students record and edit their own radio announcement? When would I find time to utilize our e-learning/blended learning page? No PowerPoint presentations for inquiry projects or using Bitstrips for students to write and create comic strips. My usual knee jerk reaction was halted however. My admin team carried on their train of thought and added that "if our lab isn't being utilized to the best of it's ability, the computers may serve a better purpose in our classrooms where you can have everyone accessing technology at any given time. Between PEDs, computers, and even our roaming lab of iPads at the school, you could integrate technology seamlessly in the class for all tasks."
I couldn't help but immediately be brought back to the notes on the SAMR model from the first meeting of our TLLP.
I substituted the term tech with "The computer lab" and immediately began to reflect. Had all those assignments/activities that I was so afraid to lose in my "repertoire of tech based activities" really just been my way of using the computer lab as a means to substitute and augment for paper/pencil tasks or presentations? Was I actually not utilizing the computer lab to the best of it's and my ability? I guess I was having one of those proverbial "A-ha!" moments. I had to come up with an answer, and I think ended up answering the question with sometimes I don't use the computer lab to the best of it's ability. It's sometimes because there are many layers to the answer. I sometimes have misused the computer lab when I simply replace a Language notebook with a word processor, but I don't think I misuse it when I sometimes have to replace that Language notebook with a word processor because many students have problems writing with a pencil versus typing (both for physical and mental reasons). I sometimes misuse the computer lab if I'm simply replacing it with the library when students have to research for an inquiry project but I don't think I'm misusing it when media found online or content I can provide on an e-learning website may provide the answers to their inquiry questions or even cause them to ask more questions. But do I need a room of 30 computers to get this all done, or can I achieve those goals with a variety of technological tools in a responsive classroom? Maybe for those purposes I just listed, I don't need a computer lab after all.
But then I thought about my radio announcement project. It's a task I do every year when we cover announcement writing. I have students write an announcement about an important event and then record that announcement. They take their recording and edit it as though it would be played on the radio (complete with sound effects and music). It goes beyond simply writing, and it goes beyond students just reading their announcement to the class. It provides them with an opportunity to create something and bring in elements of media. From my experience, many students tend to view writing as a chore. So why not provide not only a clear purpose, but an exciting and fun end result of that writing. When I do this activity, all students make use of a program called Mixcraft that our school board purchased. It provides all the proper tools to record and edit recordings. How would this task look if we had multiple tech devices in the class, each running different operating systems, carrying a vastly different set of programs? I think it could potentially wind up being a much more complicated task then it already is. If everyone has the same set of tools to work with, you strip away many obstacles that are created when you are simultaneously working with multiple platforms. All of a sudden I'm back supporting a computer lab.
I realize I've probably spent way too much time on this topic, but I think it's a topic that's worth discussing. On one hand, having a computer lab might seem redundant if we should be working towards implementing technology regularly in our classrooms. However, for ease of use and providing students with equal opportunities wouldn't it be nice to still have a room where every student can access a form of tech that you think is worthy of use?
I would be really interested to know what my TLLP group members and other educators think about the issue.