Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Technological Divide

With university classes set to begin next week, I visited my new classroom yesterday, a soaring cathedral-like space with stained-glass windows and a balcony. For the first time in almost ten years, I will be teaching in a large lecture theatre, so I wanted to scope out the space ahead of time. I had Pie run to the back of the room to test out the acoustics, which were perfect: a four-year-old's murmur carries effortlessly. I'm hoping that will allow me to speak without a microphone - I hate using microphones almost as much as I hate PowerPoint, overhead projectors, and even whiteboards. My classroom, I noted with pleasure, comes equipped with a good old-fashioned chalkboard.

I have sound pedagogical reasons for avoiding technology in the classroom: the darkness alone has a soporific effect and although my students would love more movie clips, I have found that five minutes of video footage have the power to erase whatever impression the students' reading may have made on them. Even if the whole point of the movie clip is to show the profound alteration of meaning produced by a few apparently superficial changes, in the end, students always write about the movie on the exam, thinking they're writing about the book.

My defense of low-tech teaching is well worked-out, but the truth is, I avoid technology in the classroom because I'm afraid of it. I like the security of knowing that everything I need for my lecture is printed out in black and white, securely fastened to my clipboard. The idea of fumbling about with rewind buttons and remote controls in front of an impatient audience of 200 students is enough to make me panic. I got an email a few minutes ago letting me know that my classroom has a video-data projector and a USB port, and it's enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.

Luckily for Bub, his Grade One teacher is a bit less technophobic. On the way home from his first day of school yesterday he actually volunteered the information that the board in his class is a computer board, and when you touch it, the pictures move, and when the teacher types into the computer, the words go up on the board! Bub is enchanted. They had math class yesterday with numbers floating down the screen and the kids had to decide whether they were even or odd. When quizzed, Bub demonstrated no ability whatsoever to distinguish between even and odd numbers (and how do you even explain that concept to children who don't yet know how to multiply or divide?), but he is more excited about school than I had dreamed possible based on my own recollection of Grade One as a lot of sitting around in desks and doing work. If there is one way to get Bub interested in school, it is turning the whole thing into a giant computer.

This boy loves to learn.

I have been imagining the first day of school for months now, picturing a cool, sunny September morning, with children and parents crowded around the class lists posted in the schoolyard and Bub kitted out in his running shoes and backpack, ready for his first day. For once, it all played out exactly as I had pictured it. Bub stood at the front of the line, following his new teacher into the school without hesitation or a backward glance. After the students filed in and the doors closed behind them, Pie and I stood there for a minute in the sudden quiet, as if waiting for something else to happen. Next week, it will be Pie's turn, but for now, the two of us are rattling around the house on our own, enjoying these last few days of relaxation, but asking every so often, in a burst of curiosity, "I wonder what Bub is doing?" He has stepped into a world that is his now. I can peek into his classroom and do my best to figure out what goes on in there, but from now on, most of what I know about his world will be what he chooses to tell me.


Omaha Mama said...

What a great picture! How lucky his teacher is to have a smartboard and how lucky he is that she knows how to use it!

If you have manipulatives, you can have him put them in pairs (friends) and if there is anyone left out, it's an odd number. Odd man out. That's one way I tell my students to remember odd (only I usually say it's their odd teacher left out). :0)

I hope you have a great year!

Mary-LUE said...

I LOVE using technology in a classroom and my grad school project is a curriculum using blogging to supplement instruction. However, after all the reading I've been doing, one major conclusion I've drawn is that technology in not NECESSARY. It is one tool, that if used/design well, can have an impact. For all the argument you can make about using it with this millennial generation, it doe not replace good teaching. Ever.

Mary-LUE said...

P.S. And it DOES not ensure accurate typing! ; )

Kyla said...

I have a teacher who uses no technology, just the textbook and chalkboard. Every lecture I am dangerously close to falling asleep, in spite of my best efforts to stay alert. I probably look like a tweaker in that class, because I have to bounce and jostle and jitter just to remain awake! I think the difference is that when there is a Powerpoint presentation I can being writing immediately, while listening to the teacher. In the other class, I have to wait for her to speak, then write on the board, and THEN I can begin writing. I have to write to be engaged.

painted maypole said...

maybe that fancy computer board in his room also has a hidden camera, and you could watch! ;)

Gwen said...

Most of my library classes employ technology; they're always in labs, with computers. But then the students just hang out on facebook, so I'm not sure how effective that is.

It is hard to get used to not knowing what your kid is up to all the time. Hope Bub continues to enjoy Grade One (as you Canucks call it.)

Nicole said...

Remember the days of the overhead projector, and then writing on it with felt pens? Sigh.

Bea said...

Gwen - Hehe. All that "first grade" nonsense is just so wrong.

Beck said...

My kids' old school just banned parents outright from the school building - there shall be no more peeking into the classroom for parents there.

I hope he AND Pie have WONDERFUL school years!

Bon said...

i loved this. and realize, suddenly, reading it, how long my elder child's world seems to have been his own, courtesy of having been away from me at least three weekdays every week for the past 2 years. there is good in that, and something sad as well.

i start teaching again next week for the first time in 4 years. and in the mad space crunch our university has on this year, i thus far have no computers or screens (let alone smartboards) in any of my classrooms. and i am deeply disappointed and advocating for whatever i can get in the way of improvement, b/c i love incorporating ed tech into what i do, particularly for outside class work and peer editing (i teach writing). but i too get a pit of anxiety in my belly wondering if the damn stuff will work.

Bea said...

Bon - My kids have been in care situations 3-4 days/week too - but what is so shockingly different about grade one is the amount of communication. I didn't even meet his teacher until the morning of the first day - I shook her hand, said hello, and then off my son walked into her care. He comes home with stickers on his shirt and all I know about where they came from is what he can tell me.

Anonymous said...

Yes first grade where the outside comes in to stay. It is disconcerting but necessary in the end. Every year is an opportunity for kids to reinvent themselves which is a good thing.

Your son looks quite happy and confident.

(your) Anon

HarryJack's Mom said...

I love the way you capture the feelings so many of us are having these days....their world is indeed their own now. Thankfully, mine will still share...for the moment ;-) Hope he continues to love Grade One and all those to floow!

JCK said...

It's great to hear that Bub is doing so well.

Your technophobia made me smile.

DaniGirl said...

Oh my, Bub is all grown up! I really enjoyed this post... and I'm so glad to hear you and Bub are both making the transition with grace!

Carol said...

I think that technology has its place in the classroom, and that is largely in the elementary and junior high classrooms.

Having gone to Montessori school from kindergarten to grade four, I can attest that learning through playing works wonderfully. I actually remember my curriculum from those days better than my later days in a more standard curriculum, and I learned things that other kids my age didn't. I could distinguish a noun from a verb from an adverb from an adjective from an article by grade two. I know thirty year olds who still can't do that. And it was through games. I could also say "Australopithecus" and discuss the evolution of man by age nine, but that's another story.

So I'm all for fun and games and technology in some class environments. But in university? The classes that relied on power points had several effects on me and my fellow students:
a) I didn't bother to take my own notes, because the prof always provided the power point files for us to print out, and we were expected to bring these to class.
b) Because I didn't take my own notes, it was easier to zone out.
c) Because I was provided with the notes in file format, skipping class was a lot easier, because I knew what had been covered in class. Except of course, for those all-important side points that profs often make.
d) Even when I was in class, I didn't make note of those side-points the way I would in other classes, because I was zoned out because I didn't have to take notes!
e) In classes where we were expected to copy our notes from the projection screen, the prof inevitably had to stop and wait in silence for a few minutes for the slow writers to finish copying, which disrupted the flow of the presentation.

So what did I get from technology in the university classroom? Nada.