Today I watched an interview in which Susan Patrick, President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, cited a startling statistic. She said the average amount of time students spend online in public school per week is 15 minutes compared to 27 hours spent online at home. Granted, the interview was timestamped for 2010, but considering the sustained technological boom six years ago, the numbers should still give us pause. I pondered why the amount of time was so starkly different and came up with a few possible reasons why our classrooms are internet barren.
1. A lack of internet-ready devices and/or technology labs on campuses.
One of the most frustrating things about wanting to use technology in my classroom was having to signup for a lab and being told, “Sorry. It’s booked for the next month.” What was even more inconvenient was the school labs being unavailable for the entire year on certain days because the school or district was running a new initiative or pilot program but didn’t have the technology to accommodate it and our classes. The years we were required to complete interdisciplinary projects in which the history teachers directed the research while the English teachers facilitated the writing, we dealt with an absence of tech to support the campus-wide (and district-wide) project requirements.
2. A lack of adequate technology support and professional development for teachers.
There’s a new gadget, app, or platform every few months, but the core technological fluencies have been somewhat constant for a while. Unfortunately, many teachers are not supported sufficiently when it comes to tech integration in the classroom. Technology professional development sessions often run about 45-60 minutes during a teacher workday or student holiday, and that time is spent talking about the “basics” like troubleshooting and proper storage more often than not. Where are the specialized PD sessions in which we sit with content areas and walk through ways to embed the tech in their lessons? How often are we modeling the integration for a teacher throughout a unit of study? Technology support for teachers seems to be relegated to “How to Turn on Your System” rather than full units of lesson integration and observational support.
3. A fear of “wasting time” on activities that outside observers won’t connect to student achievement.
I can recall many teachers worrying about what the observers would say during their walkthroughs if the lessons weren’t explicitly pointed at state test preparation. It saddened me because 1) those people were only getting a 5-minute snapshot of a teacher’s lesson but held so much power to label him/her a “troubled” educator during their debriefing sessions and 2) so many concepts and skills we teach may not be directly questioned on the exams, but they support the ones that are and teach our students how to think. The anxiety too many teachers have about using teaching methods outside of the traditional practices causes many of them to shy away from technology integration that could move students forward academically.
It’s 2016, and every American public school classroom should have an internet-ready device for each student in the room. We’ve spent billions of dollars on technology plans in schools nationwide. We know that it takes significant amounts of money to build an infrastructure that can accommodate heavy tech use, especially in older buildings, but I’m wondering why we don’t have a C.O.W. (computers on wheels) in every classroom at the very least. Instead, education leaders spend millions on gadgets like Mimios and SMART Boards, which are fine except the inadequate support for teachers to learn how to integrate them efficiently often means they’ll be unused before becoming obsolete.
The way we discuss technology integration in public schools needs a total overhaul. We have to place equal amounts of focus on the following areas if we’re going to capitalize on our students’ desire to learn how technology works through our content areas:
Supplying multipurpose devices for every student (tablets, iPads, laptops, desktops etc.).
Instituting curriculum-focused technology support for classroom teachers.
Creating a school/district culture of tech-friendly learning (flipped classrooms, consistent tech use including cell phones etc.).
Teaching teachers and students how to use every affordance possible to their benefit (Just because a device is commonly used one way doesn’t mean it can’t be used in others).
Supporting students as they learn how to use different tech pieces rather than assuming they’ll “just know” because some people have labeled their generation “Digital Natives.”
It’s not enough to halfway implement these initiatives, and 15 minutes of online time in schools is abysmal. We have an opportunity to revolutionize the way we educate our students and develop competitive creators and thinkers, but we have to do a much better job at planning, executing, and supporting technology use in public school classrooms.
Featured photo credit: Marcelo Graciolli
Watch Susan Patrick’s interview here