Education Opinion

Using Technology Examples to Enhance the Curriculum

By Patrick Ledesma — April 12, 2011 6 min read
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The Digital Immigrant and Digital Native Discussions Continue....

In 2001, Mark Prensky coined the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” to describe the differences between adults and students in using technology.

Educators are the “Digital Immigrants” who have to adapt and learn how to integrate technology into their lives. Students are “Digital Natives” born into a culture and lifestyle where technology immersion is the norm.

Although I know a lot of educators who argue that immigrants can use technology in the same ways as the natives and that being a native does not necessary guarantee proficiency, I have found the Digital Immigrant and Native comparison to be helpful in understanding the essential differences in childhood experiences that separate educators from the students.

To explore these differences in perspectives, this monthly series features a discussion between me, a tech savvy old immigrant, and, GSD, a high school aged tech savvy native. This month we talk about the importance and challenges of using technology examples in the curriculum.

The Digital Native asks:

I have a story I’d like to tell you from earlier this week, one that leaves me with a question that I hope you can help me with.

I was in physics class earlier this week. We were covering light and the electromagnetic spectrum. While some people were having trouble, my obsession with cell phones and technology in general had already taught me much of this concept.

I already had a good understanding of radio waves, but how my teacher took it a step back when he showed us the entire spectrum, which allowed me to see the greater relationship between radio waves, X rays, and even visible light.
I found that really exciting. So here I am, trying to contain my excitement of connecting these two ideas in my mind while many of the people in the class are very bored with the concept.

For me, when I realize something cool like that, I just have to tell someone. A good friend of mine, John, was sitting next to me. So as I often do, I proceeded to talk his ear off as I explained how the electromagnetic spectrum contained radio waves, and how some of those waves were used for old analog television.

I explained how the switch to digital television led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction off those airwaves to the highest bidder, and how Verizon ended up with most of it. I explained how those airwaves are now being used for new 4th-generation (4G) data networks and that technology was soon coming to smartphones.

It was one thing that connected to another, kind of like a chain reaction of connected ideas. I think what happened to me this past week shows something that I think should happen more often. John was more interested in the class because a real world technology example made it more relevant to his own life.

Why integrate technology examples and stories into curriculum?

Because technology is relevant to students, and relevance is a motivator and can change the way students think about a subject. Technology is changing the world as we know it, and we are using it in every new advancement that comes at us.

Therefore, I think technology has a place in every class. I don’t just mean as an instructional tool, like using a Smartboard or using the Internet for a research project. I think technology also has a place as an educational topic, whether you’re in math, science, history, English, or anything else.

Such an important topic to our time should not be restricted to optional typing classes and classes on how to use Word and PowerPoint.

Technology should be integrated into everything.

Imagine a student like my friend and I discovering a connection between school and the real world. Learning becomes more exciting. I think it would be amazing if students could see how you can connect equations with building video games, the Cold War with the Internet, and algorithms with Google.

Using technology to connect a subject with the real world allows students to connect their homework with their dreams.

But, how do we get to a place where we can do that? How do teachers, who did not grow up with today’s technology, integrate today’s technology into their lessons? I don’t have the answer, but I’m hoping you have some ideas. What do you think?

The Old Digital Immigrant Responds:

You’ve experienced what teachers call the “Ah Ha!” moment, that instance when the light bulb somewhere in the brain shines bright and students suddenly understand the concept and become inspired to make connections to other concepts.

It’s the type of moment that teachers strive daily to have every class period with every student. When it happens, it’s the type of moment that your teachers can say, “This is why I teach!”

Getting that moment is challenging, but we have all sorts of strategies to replicate that moment. Teachers will engage you in conversations to learn more about your strengths and interests. They use that interest in designing and approaching lessons. We want to use your existing knowledge to learn new content and use real world examples to make the abstract more concrete.

Teachers have an easier time doing this when the examples are within their personal and professional interest or experience. For example, my high school physics teacher worked for the military and NASA before becoming a teacher, so his examples always involved guns, artillery, or spacecraft. Most high school students found those examples interesting.

If teachers do not have knowledge of these examples readily from experience, then they have to learn it.

In terms of using technology as relevant examples, one possible solution is to convince your teachers to have the curiosity and spirit of inquiry to ask why things work. A teacher would have to be willing to learn what happens “under the hood” of their technology or what happens in those circuits under that shiny case.

That may not be realistic. There’s only so much time in the day... and while this may be difficult to believe, not everyone finds the inner workings of technology interesting.

There is one practical solution- just have that kind of information readily available somewhere, like in a textbook, or maybe..... online on a website? If the information is easily accessible and available to teachers, they’ll definitely use it to get more Ah Ha! moments in students.

The information is most likely already out there on the Internet in various places. I’m sure that some of the readers of this post may have some suggestions. Teachers just have to know where to find it, and if only it were all in one place... like a website with a catchy name!

And, as you’ve pointed out, being able to relate academic content to technology tools such as smartphones, video games, Internet search engines, and other devices have a lot of advantages since most students have experience using these tools. There’s definitely a need for this information.

So for anyone entrepreneurial, this could be a great idea. Or, perhaps this could be a possible project for tech savvy students needing to complete some community service hours for their teachers for graduation! (Hint.. Hint..)

And who knows? In this technology and information age, great ideas and products begin with these types of conversations.

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.