06/24/2015 09:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Technology: To Use or Not to Use, That Is the Question

Actually, that is not the question at all. You do not want to use technology just to say that you are using what has been provided. You do not want to use technology if it makes things more difficult. In other words, you shouldn't use technology just for the sake of saying that you are using technology. So how do we decide when to use technology and what technology would be best used? How can we be sure we are using technology for the right reasons?

Ask yourself these 4 questions. Reflect on your answers and decide if the technology you are planning on using will enhance your instruction and benefit student learning.


1. Will the technology you are using enhance 21st Century Skill development?

The 21st century skills to which we are referring are communication, collaboration, problem solving, creativity, innovation and digital citizenry. These are the building blocks of our student's future. We cannot predict what the exact skill sets will be for the work force of tomorrow. We can't even predict what the jobs themselves will be. We do know however, that the skill sets that are described in 21st century literature are the building blocks our students will need to be able to tackle any future needs. Technology is one pathway to the development of these skills.

2. Is there an expectation by the students that technology should be used?

This one is a head scratcher. Because of the fact that our students of today have grown up with technology at their disposal, there is an expectation that they will have the opportunity to use technology in school. For example, let's take the old tri-fold poster report. What the poster report is looking for is a visual representation of the knowledge our students have gained from the lesson or project. Does using technology instead of the actual poster board enhance 21st century skills? I could see that argument going either way. But, our students have an expectation that they would naturally use technology to provide a visual representation. Asking our students to use "paper and pencil" often has the same reaction as if you had asked them to use Morse code to send a message to their neighbor instead of texting. We need to at least give students the option of using technology when appropriate.

3. Is there a "cool" factor involved to motivate student learning?

Let's face it, technology is cool. Kids love technology and as teachers we can use that to our advantage. If you have a student that is simply not interested in school, technology could be a way to draw them back into the class. Let the students use the technology to do research, to create something that interests them, to share with their friends a new discovery they found on the web. These are all ways to help bring back that reluctant learner. Let them find their identity in the web and help them foster that interest into something positive in their life.

A few years back there was a student in my school who was a reluctant learner. He had the intelligence; he simply did not have the interest. You could say he was a bit of a loner, a student that hugged the wall while moving to class. His teacher came to me one day with concerns and was simply overwhelmed with trying to get this boy to do anything. I spoke with the student and after a while all I got out of him was that he loved video games. (No surprise there.) So I spoke with the teacher and we came up with a plan. We asked the boy if he would like to do a report on video games, but not just any report, we want a report using technology. I showed him how to video tape his screen while he plays his games. He created one of the best reports on the history of video games we have ever seen. He left my building being the guru of video game technology. That blasted him into the "cool" zone and he has been doing great ever since. Introduce your students to the "cool" applications available through technology.

4. Will using technology help you to better manage your time?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with using technology for time management. If a teacher can save a few minutes here and there by using technology then that would be considered a positive outcome. However, call it what it is. Don't write in your lesson plans that you are using "technology" to enhance a student's experience when in reality that is not true. A PowerPoint presentation is NOT using "technology" in your class. A PowerPoint presentation is a convenient time saver. If we didn't have PowerPoint then we would be using an overhead projector. Both are beneficial in their own way but neither advance a student's 21st century skill development. The same holds true for the smart board. It is a great piece of technology, and when instructionally, it can be a great educational experience for students. However, if students are going up to the board and filling in a math problem with the pen, or if you, as the teacher, find yourself writing notes on the board for the students to copy, then you are just using it as a chalkboard. The smart board can help with saving the teacher time and making things more convenient for the teacher. That is ok--just know the difference between using technology for time management and using technology to enhance student learning.

With all of the technology that is out there and considering the pressure to use it, it is understandable that teachers are feeling frustrated. Technology is a great tool for students but only if used with purpose and thoughtful consideration of the outcomes.