Test-Driving Classroom Technology

45785364I am a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom, particularly in mathematics. If technology is used appropriately, it can do several things: provide visuals for concepts that are often hard for students to grasp; allow for students to explore and test conjectures; provide opportunities to go beyond basic understandings and get into deeper meaning and more complex structures; provide multiple ways to practice and learn; and obviously, foster engagement. These are just some of the benefits.  There is of course a downside to technology – lack of training for teachers often leads to using technology just as a digital replacement of paper and pencil – an electronic worksheet for example – in which case, what’s the point?  That’s NOT a great use. Or using technology when it is NOT the best option or doesn’t really enhance/support the learning goals. Or using the wrong technology. Just because you have technology doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your learning goals/standards.

In my own research, and in my personal travels around the country working in math classrooms and with math teachers, there is a wide variety of technology available, and more often than not, this technology is NOT being used to enhance and expand learning. Often times this is because technology has been purchased with no real effort to match it to learning goals or standards, and little or no training or support for how to use the technology in the classroom has been provided. Teachers are frustrated, students are frustrated, and the technology becomes just another ‘add on’ versus a true learning tool.

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What is often missing in a technology implementation is the most crucial step – planning. With planning, technology aligned to objectives becomes a focus for purchasing technology that actual supports learning goals and needs. Seems obvious – but, having been an administrator, I know that often times ‘funds’ for technology are released and must be spent quickly (i.e. for me, I was told we must put our orders in by this week or we lose the funding), so often times technology is purchased that sounds good, or looks good, but may in fact not be a good fit.

Ideally, technology should support learning goals, which can only happen if you sit down with your subject leaders/teachers, look at your standards and learning goals, and then analyze the various technology options and determine which ones support those goals. And, if possible, test these technologies out BEFORE purchasing, to ensure they do indeed support learning.  This also allows you to plan for training needs of the teachers, infrastructure, curriculum and standards alignment, etc. These are important steps – often left out of the technology implementation process – and often the reason why much of the technology in school is misused and unused.  I bet if you looked around your school you would find a lot of ‘great technology’ gathering dust.

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If technology company’s were smart, and if IT and Education leaders really focused on planning for technology, there would be a lot more pilots or test-driving of technology before big purchases are made. (LAUSD and the iPad debacle comes to mind). The ability to try out technology with both teachers and students and really see if it is going to be a good fit to meet your learning goals is something that will  help your school/district make the best technology decisions and purchases. As an example, CASIO Education has a technology loaner program where you can in fact, test-drive our technology before you purchase. It makes sense – if you are thinking of purchasing some graphing calculators, why not test-drive the 9750 GII and the Prizm and see which one fits your algebra or geometry or calculus students and standards the best? Is the FX-55plus a good fit for your elementary and middle school students? These types of questions are what should arise when you plan for technology AHEAD of time and having the ability to test-drive your options before spending the money just makes sense.

You don’t buy a new car without a test drive, so why buy technology without one? Especially when making large school/district purchases.

Here’s the link to CASIO’s loaner program – check it out and go for a drive! http://www.casioeducation.com/benefits/loaner

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