Last year I struggled to get other teachers on board with using technology in their classrooms. I got a few comments about the cool things I was doing, but the teachers were not willing to go the extra mile to learn the new pedagogical methods I was showing them. This year, I helped get the teachers involved with Education Perfect. I'm on the fence now about how it's going.
Last year we had a discussion about the merits of the homework books that have been in use for years. Most of the teachers thought it would be detrimental to get rid of them. That the students wouldn't get enough learning time without them. That they wouldn't have work to do when they got home.
But that's just a tool.
Sure, homework is important as students get older. It helps them learn, it helps with their time management skills, and it helps gain independence and confidence when there is noone else around to help them.
But it's just a tool.
I had told the teachers about some 'new' (I use that term very loosely here) technology that could act as a new tool for homework:
Not to mention other tools that aren't homework books:
- Tasks similar to what they do in class
- Exit slip type work
- Review the work covered
And, also, some non-subject-specific homework. Here's a few things I have set for homework:
- Go for a walk without your phone (with tips on how to stay safe)
- Search for a shooting star or a satellite
- Talk to a friend
A few weeks ago, we had a department meeting and discussed these possibilities again. Some of the teachers remained unconvinced of using technologies as homework. Some were downright angry at the suggestion. As your probably know by now, I am all for it. Here's a couple of reasons why:
The homework books are static learning tools
Each student has the same questions to complete in the same amount of time. They can just look in the back of the book to fill in the answer. Even if they do try to get the correct answer, they just look in the back of the book and if they're wrong they rarely spend time trying to understand why they get it wrong.
The technology above (Khan Academy and Education Perfect, in particular) gives instant feedback if the student is right or wrong, but if they get it wrong it doesn't outright tell them the answer. They still have to figure out the correct answer.
Education Perfect has an important distinction from the other resources. Each student gets a different question set (just like with Khan Academy). Perhaps they all start out the same, but after a bit of time each student will be learning what they need to learn to improve and not continue learning what they've mastered. This is how to improve. A homework book can't do that, and a teacher cannot keep track of what students need to improve on and what they've mastered when they have 120 other students to look out for.
Access to information
With the internet always being live, any changes to the curriculum or new information can be distributed pretty quickly. If there are errors in the resource, feedback can be given by anyone to be checked and updated when needed. Books can't do this. It takes a long time for new versions to be published, and you can bet there will still be errors in the new ones!
Of course, I'm not saying that computers and technology are perfect. They are far from it. They're also no replacement for human teachers, either (interestingly, one of the teachers that were adamantly against the introduction of the Education Perfect to replace our homework books said that it would replace teachers...). This brings us to some downsides of the technology.
They're just a tool.
Our teaching is one of the most impactful sources of our students' learning of our subject. While technology can help as a resource, I have been looking at the other teachers' usage and seeing that maybe it's being used to replace their other teaching methods. I'll need to look in to this further, but that's what it seems like so far. I'd be happy to be shown to be wrong.
I'm a proponent of using technology in the classroom and for homework. But it's important to note that it is just a tool. It doesn't replace a teacher. Maybe one day it might, and students might learn like Spock did in his single-student pod. Or maybe teachers will continue to be facilitators of knowledge like Cassius on the Orville. We don't know, but for now we need to gently build technology into our pedagogical repertoire.
We can't just replace textbooks for computers. But it's ok to get rid of textbooks in the classroom - in my short time as a teacher I've barely used them but also not overly used the Chromebooks at the school either!
There is a balance that each teacher must find for their students and for themselves. But it is good to see some of the teachers taking on a new skill and using me as a resource when they get stuck!