Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back-to-School Night

The instructional technology movement that has become an integral part of staffing and building design on many college campuses has also taken on a much more prominent role in K-12 education. This evening I attended the parents' back-to-school night at Lincoln Middle School, and I was struck by how many teachers were using corporal presentation technologies, particularly digital slideware. Only the music teacher spoke to parents without an electronic aid. English, history, math, and science teachers all had PowerPoint presentations prepared for the rooms of expectant parents. The art teacher used overheads, but they were created with a digital printer, and the physical education teacher showed parents a tour of his HTML website. (From this same PE teacher I learned that YouTube had been blocked by the school's computer administrators and that this often created problems in showing particular game plays, dance steps, or modes of physical activity imported to the U.S. from other countries.)

Many teachers were actively involved in online video production with student participation: two math teachers were busy creating "Mathcasts" starring Tuesday afterschool students, and the PE teacher offered to upload videos of his charges performing to a password-protected site, where only parents could view only their particular children engaged in the fitness curriculum. Many others also showcased tablet PCs purchased by class gifts or by grant monies. I thought that a science teacher's use of her document camera was particularly notable: she not only used it to show experiments to the class that would otherwise be difficult to see -- such as a seed growing in a plastic cup -- but she also thought to use the document camera as a way to display the appearance of model student work, particularly in the area of scientific illustration in which explanatory clarity might be far more important than artistic polish.

Having been a veteran of many parents' nights, however, I was struck by the fact that far fewer parents asked questions of the teachers than I had seen in previous years and how much the technology reinforced the one-to-many character of the exchanges that did take place. Parents were far more likely in this situation, it seemed, to behave as passive spectators rather than active participants.

I also wondered about the ways that these technologies decrease the physical proximities of teachers to their pupils when students never have a reason to gather around the instructor's desk to see something small and singular and about how the optics of wonder can be reshaped by even a laudatory use of a document camera. Yes, by keeping students seated, these technologies reduce disruption, but they also relegate students to an audience at some remove from the pedagogical show.

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Blogger Eric Marcos said...

As a teacher at Lincoln Middle School, I was happily surprised to read that someone noticed and blogged about our teacher's use of technology. I thought I would comment about my experiences with technology in the classroom. I try to implement "purposeful technology".

In your posting, you wondered about "the ways that these technologies decrease the physical proximities of teachers to their pupils..." and that "these technologies reduce disruption, but they also relegate students to an audience at some remove from the pedagogical show."

In my classroom, I am free to move around the room with my wireless tablet pc and gyration wireless remote. I can interact directly with students much more now than when I was tied to the overhead or static whiteboard.

The lessons tend to be more engaging with the use of the technology, which provides a more active classroom environment.

Since purchasing a tablet pc 2 years ago, classroom participation has increased greatly. I have had students almost fall out of their seats while raising their hands to come to the front. In some classes, a tally had to be kept of who had already come to the front to answer a question.

The technology has also played a role in drawing students into my math class after school. Some students stay for hours waiting their turn to use the tablet pc.

Recently, I received a class set of "clickers". The students love these devices and ask daily if they can use them. These clickers not only keep the students active but they provide instant feedback to the teacher and class.

So, these days, my Lincoln students are actually taking more of an active part in the pedagogical show.

Thanks for writing about us!

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Mike Powers said...

To get around the YouTube block, the PE teacher might take a look at the Download YouTube Video Bookmarklet:

It allows you to download any YouTube video as an mp4 file, which could be put on a thumb drive, then played on iTunes or an iPod.

That said, my back to school night for my first-grader was much the same: only the music teacher broke from the PowerPoint routine (by singing her talk while projecting the lyrics with--PowerPoint).

I've been surprised by the ubiquitousness of computers in the lower grades. Even the Kindergarten has five or six computers. I've yet to be convinced that the computers have much pedagogical use at this age. Although he begs--sometimes daily--to use the computer, my son's best learning experiences generally have a big physical component to them. Counting coins has done much more for his arithmetic than any computer game has.

(Middle school's a different matter, although I do wonder--from experience teaching college students--how much of the excitement is based only on the novelty of the medium.)

8:04 PM  

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