A recent commentary on edweek.org examines one researcher’s experience integrating laptops into an urban 5th grade classroom with a constrained budget. Because of budget cuts, the school did not have a computer lab, and it relied on teachers themselves to integrate the technology instead of providing a technology specialist for the school. As a result, a large part of the prep work for the tech-infused projects he worked to undergo with students involved evaluating the available laptops and troubleshooting issues, such as browser incompatibilities and gaps in software.
The problem-solving we did required well over eight hours of our time, and we still lacked the technical know-how to deal with the configuration problems. If the use of laptops for integrated projects raised so many time-consuming issues, we realized, it's no wonder that teachers are reluctant to take up the classroom technology challenge.
The researcher, Ted Kesler, an assistant professor in elementary and early-childhood education at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, came up with four suggestions for schools looking to integrate laptops into the classroom.
1. Administrators should map technology integration into curricula so teachers have a better idea of where students should be at any given point in their education.
2. Schools should issue a technology survey to find out what kind of tech knowledge each teacher has and where they might need extra help.
3. Teachers should do a “dry run” of projects without students, allowing them time to work out any kinks and collaborate with other teachers.
4. Each district should have a technology specialist on call to help teachers with technical issues.
Some of Kesler’s suggestions seem to go against what I hear lots of ed-tech advocates say, which is that technology should not be treated as a separate subject with its own teachers, but infused into all classrooms and all aspects of instruction. What Kesler’s experiences suggest, though, is that not all teachers are capable of integrating technology effectively without the help of specialists who can provide support and guidance on how it should be done. The National Ed-Tech Plan, for instance, places more focus on integrating technology across the board rather than targeting specific areas of integration, but if teachers do not have the time and skills to feel comfortable using technology in the classroom, it seems this goal is unlikely to actually unfold.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.