Some thoughts on tech and skills in the classroom


In my last blog post I made the following statement regarding tech in the classroom "Just because something is better for me as a teacher doesn't mean it is best for my students and this just might be an example of that." After writing those words and hitting "publish" I kept thinking about them and felt the need to address the real issue that led me to write those words. 

In my last post, I talked about challenges I was facing with reflective grading. A major challenge this school year has been consistent and equitable access to technology for my students. That week, I had to pull the plug on using technology to submit their reflections because I could not promise my students would have consistent and equal access to the technology required to do that. In that moment, technology was making my life easier but it was making things inequitable for my students. It was clear that I needed to make a change. 

But I have a huge problem with this. There are two conversations we can have about using technology in the classroom: one is a pedagogy based discussion on how technology allows for the 4 C's (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity) to happen more effectively and efficiently in classrooms. I hope to write many posts in the future about this conversation but that is not my focus today. 

Today I want to talk about the more practical argument about skills that I often see pushed aside on Twitter or in PD on Educational Technology. Often education experts, administrations, TOSAs ask teachers to ensure that they are using technology in a way that embraces the 4C's, and how that should be the main goal and purpose behind using technology. I completely agree, we have to make sure every lesson we do is meaningful and purposeful whether it uses technology or not. But sometimes I sit in a room full of teachers who have only ever been teachers and I worry about when and where my students will learn the basic computer skills I needed to get a decent job.

I feel stupid for writing that last sentence. I feel like if I raised my hand in a meeting and asked "how are they going to learn this?" the answer would be "we offer a computer class as an elective!" But that isn't good enough because not every student is going to take that class. And these are skills that every student needs.

For every company I worked for (and I worked for a lot of them, I graduated college in 2007 when there were no steady jobs for graduates because of the recession) my skills on a computer and my ability to adapt to technology were tested. Are there jobs out there where you will never touch a computer? Sure, maybe, it's totally possible. But if our goal is to make students college and career ready and we are looking at what we can do in our own classrooms to help our students reach that goal, it makes sense to offer digital options to help build those skills. 

When I made the decision to ditch technology a few weeks ago and allow paper and pencil reflections I said it was because while digital grading was easier for me, it was causing problems for my students. But the problem wasn't the digital grading or the lesson or assignment: the problem was equitable and consistent access to technology. 

When students don't have consistent and equitable access to technology, I'm not worried about the 4C's, that's just good lesson planning and engaging teaching. I'm worried about my students not having the basic skills they need to land the job. I am worried they won't have experienced learning to quickly adapt to technology and because of that they will miss out on job opportunities or not be able to retain the jobs they do get because they are missing that skill. I am worried that my students will get left behind. 

So, let's keep talking about the 4C's and pedagogy and best practices and making sure we are using technology in meaningful and relevant ways but can we stop ignoring the conversation about skills? Can we stop pretending like that conversation is beneath us as educators? And can we please acknowledge that our students will live in a very different world than us, and we need to do all we can to help get them ready for it. 

What do you think? 
Mrs. Kathryn Byars 

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