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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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1-2-3 -- Red Light!: Let's Give the Use of Technology in Classrooms the Green Light Instead

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

I was talking to a group of high schoolers the other day, and we were chatting about school issues. We spoke about their favorite subjects (none said recess, thank goodness), the typical challenges high schoolers face, socializing, and, of course, technology's place in their lives.

All spoke positively about their experiences with technology overall. We spent a little time talking about MySpace and other online social tools. I asked them about their level of tech-savviness -- how comfortable they are using technology tools, getting around new software, and so on. As you'd imagine, the group harmoniously shared no hesitation about diving into various technologies. As the conversation shifted to their classroom experiences, though, things began to splinter somewhat.

One eleventh grader said she used technology a lot throughout school so far. She did lots of journaling in language arts classes, used various technologies in her science classes, and did quite a few Webquest-like activities in social studies classes. However, one senior had a different story. His experiences reminded me of the game 1, 2, 3 -- Red Light!: a row of children advancing while given the green light, then being abruptly halted when someone yells, "Red light!"

In this case, the red light/green light came in the form of going from one classroom to another. He said that in some classes, technology was seamlessly woven into various aspects of the class. But in others, it was not used at all, and even when some of the students suggested it, the teacher balked. His experience made me start to wonder what it is about some teachers that embrace these tools, while others hesitate. Aren't we past the fear-that-it's-going-to-crash-phase yet?

I'm wondering how we work with school administrators and teachers to even the playing field at school so there's not a 1, 2, 3 -- Red Light! effect? How can we convince the holdouts that tapping into the tools that surround us all really is a worthy venture? Or should we be trying to convince them at all? Do you see this at your schools?

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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KarenR's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, Chris. I think schools have done a good job of providing access and tech support. It's a curriculum and instruction problem. The holdouts can continue to hold out as long as technology continues to be seen as an add-on. And, I would suppose that the hold outs probably don't use technology in their own lives. For them, technology in generally is an add-on not just in school but in their day to day lives. Well, it certainly isn't an add-on in my life or in the lives of my friends or the lives of those students. It supports everything I do in my life, work and learning in numerous ways such as communicating with friends, family and colleagues quickly and easily, collecting resources and information related to projects I'm working on, and publishing lots of stuff from photos to research to videos. It allows me to work faster, smarter and more efficiently. It's a place I go to learn and teach. Just today, I started an advanced qualitative class, and I remembered that I developed several concept maps in 2004 when I took my first qualitative research class. I had posted them to the web. There they were, still online, displaying the learning I had done at that time. Now, two years later, I can refer to them, download them and manipulate them in a way that I can't with paper and pencil notes that I took in 2004. Technology is providing me with a plethora of learning tools that simply weren't available when I was in high school when paper and pencil was the only choice. (I know , Chris, it's more like stone tablets if you think about how old I am!) I despair a little when my pre-service teachers, who just graduated from high school two years ago, indicate that they were not introduced to online tools such as portaportal or blogs. They can immediately see value in the tools for their own learning and report to me how they use them in other courses. We talk so much about helping students become lifelong learners. Certainly, one way to do that is to give students the chance to see how technology can support that learning.
Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Great thoughts, Karen. Thanks for a very enlightening reply, and I think you're right on all fronts. I do think that years ago, the innovators all jumped on board, so there was a groundswell of technology integration. The last 15 or so years, more people have slowly seen the value. I think the percentage of those who don't is narrowing. I just hope it's quick, so too many more students don't slip through like the one above! Chris
Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Chris, et al - This post reminds me of a few pieces I have posted in the Spiral Notebook as well. In "One-to-One Leadership — Brick, or Life Preserver?" I speak of the critical importance of having the principal lead purposefully and clearly, and in "Pressure as Support for Change" I speak of the importance of pressure, humane pressure of course, as another critical component of change. Your image of "Red Light, Green Light" is a good way to say it. And that is a killer. Don't we see the same thing when it comes to expectations for effort in writing across the curriculum, chewing gum, or wearing hats in class... If some do and some don't, the message is mixed and subject to the whim of the person considering it at the time. Needs to be all of us, don't you think. Cheers - Jim
Meredith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog described my professional life and the students I teach. I am a 3rd year teacher and I use technology every single day! I use a projector to display images from my computer, I use an online web site called "portaportal.com" to link my students to all the cool web sites I find, I put together power points on the lessons I teach, and I take my class to the computer lab several times a week. I could go on and on about how important I think it is to introduce kids to technology. I teach in a school system where a lot of kids don't have a computer at home. Technology is our future and their future! I feel like I am doing them an injustice if I don't show them all I can while they're young.

My colleagues are a different breed. I teach with 3 other teachers with 20 years or more experience. While this has been a blessing as a new teacher it can also be very frustrating at times. I am known on my team as the technology guru. I try to help them whenever I can and I share new cool ideas every chance I get, but they only seemed to be concerned with making sure their e-mail works or trying to get their child's piano recital CD to upload on itunes. I am concerned for the students in these classes who are never taken to the computer lab, don't know how to type in a word document, and don't know what spell check is. I know the importance of science, history, English, and math but at some point I think technology will need to be worked into these core subjects.

I wish I knew how to convince the holdouts to try new ideas and take advantage of all the benefits technology has to offer. I wish I could convince all teachers to take risks when it comes to technology. I'm open for ideas!

Amanda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am one of those teachers who hesitates to use the technology in my classroom. I have been out of teaching for five years now. I have spent most of my extra time outdoors and technology kind of left me behind. As a matter of fact, this is my first blog experience. My point is, I would use the technology of I had more support on how to use it. I went to a class recdently to learn how to use Inter-write boards, and am now implementing it into my every day teaching. I teach math so this has been a blessing.

Another obastacle has been having technology provided by my school. My district doesn't have a lot of money, and for example, I can't even open some websites from school on my computer. It is too old. In being a teacher in a rual area, we don't have a lot of chances for professional development, workshops, etc. It seems to me that with the use of technology, there would be more opportunity for groups of teachers at school to
participate in these kinds of features. I am having a hard time getting my school district to get on board with this.

Maybe some of the other teachers feel this way as well. I agree that we do need to use technology when possible. It is imperative that our students know how to use it.

Jim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You forgot to say "May I?"

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