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Will Laptops Save Education?

by Dr. Dawn Wilson, Associate Professor of Instructional Technology

The beginning of a new school year brings renewed energy and new initiatives. Districts work all summer planning for improved ways to increase student achievement and enhance teacher productivity. In Houston, school districts are also rolling out new plans to increase students’ achievement as well as their 21st Century skills.

This year, Houston Independent School District will distribute laptops to every student in 29 of its high school campuses (the final 11 will get them next year) as part of it’s PowerUp initiative. Many other districts are following suit, rolling out 1-1 access to technology for their students either through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives or district supported technology initiatives.

How will all this technology in the classroom affect learning? Well not at all, unless the teachers have been given the time, tools and support to change their teaching strategies in the classroom. Teaching and learning won’t really improve unless the pedagogy is modified to fit the new teaching environment. Providing digital devices for students is a great first step, but it will just function like an ereader or etextbook (a different way to take in the same information) unless teachers learn how to change to a more student-centered teaching and learning environment.

Problem Solving with TechnologyIn these new classrooms, students should be collaborating as they research content, analyze and synthesize the information and then find a way to represent their learning using these new tools they have at their fingertips. Students can create videos, animations, websites, blog, even tweet to demonstrate what they are learning. No longer do teachers need to create a PowerPoint to deliver content to students telling them everything they need to know, but instead they should be designing and facilitate learning activities that engage students in learning what they need to about the content. Then the fun part starts. The teachers allow the students to use any number of creative ways to demonstrate what they have learned and how this information is relevant today.

How are teachers going to learn this new pedagogy? It is probably not going to happen by attending a summer technology workshop. Instead, teachers need to be given the time to learn from each other. They need to rethink instructional strategies. Peer-coaching and instructional-coaching are both professional development methods which have shown positive effects on teaching, but it requires an investment of time and people. Teachers need time to meet together, share what they are doing, and try new things. Teachers learn best when the learning is targeted (something for their own discipline that they can use right away), scaffolded, and differentiated (don’t we encourage this for our own students learning).

In order for all of this technology to make a difference for students, we need to be sure the needs of our teachers are being addressed in personal and meaningful ways. School districts need to find ways to address the needs of the individual teacher, while also reaching the masses, and teachers need to find ways to invest in themselves and share their successes! When they create a great new technology rich lesson that works – share it with other teachers!

So all you teachers out there…increase your own personal learning community.  Reach out to  teachers on other campuses that teach what you teach! Connect with others using social media! Partner with another teacher on your campus to learn how to use a new tool with your students. Partner with your students to try something new. Don’t be afraid! Get connected! Make a difference in a student’s life! Make the 2014 school year your most innovative school year yet!

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