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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Too Sweet and Juicy: Can There Really Be Too Much of a Good Thing with Tech?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Twenty-five years ago, I built my family home. I started the project in the summer of 1982, and my good friend Tim spent much of that summer working with me. The deal, loosely defined, was that I would supply all the food and other forms of sustenance in exchange for his help.

One day, at the grocery store, I bought some wonderful peaches, which I later brought to the job site. I offered one to Tim, and he declined. When I asked him why he didn't want this most succulent of fruits, he said, "Peaches are too sweet, too juicy."

"Too sweet? Too juicy?" I thought. "How can anyone consider sweetness and juiciness reasons not to eat something as perfect as a peach?"

It was funny back then, and I have since said many times -- at appropriate moments -- "What's the problem? Too sweet? Too juicy?" And just the other day, while sitting in a planning meeting about the deployment of laptops to high school teachers, I realized a similarity between the sweet, juicy peach and the use of technology in schools. It occurred to me that the challenge of using technology effectively in education is actually because of its assets -- current tools and resources are so abundant and allow us to do so many things, it can be overwhelming. Too sweet and too juicy.

I carry two wireless-enabled computers (an Apple and a PC) with me whenever I travel for work, along with video and still cameras, burnable CDs and DVDs, a remote microphone, a USB headset, a digital projector, a global-positioning-system device, a digital voice recorder, and a video iPod with recording capability, plus more. I can be in touch with anyone, at any time, and in any way. I can tell stories in written words, spoken words, still images, video, or any combination of the above. And when that story has been told, I can either keep it to myself or publish it via email, blog, Web page, wiki, podcast, or a burned CD or DVD. Oh, my goodness -- it really is too sweet and too juicy.

Now, let's think about a good teacher -- one who shows up at school each day wanting to do the best for each student. But the great challenge for such a teacher has forever been the difficulty of meeting the needs of every student because of circumstances beyond his or her control.

Then, along comes technology and the idea that needs can be met. For example, is there a student experiencing literacy issues? The computer can read text aloud and record spoken words to track comprehension and learning. (See the sidebar "Look What's Talking (and Listening): Computerized Speech Synthesis and Recording Software" below for more information.)

Is algebra a challenge? The Java applets found at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives and Shodor's Project Interactivate allow students to see complex concepts in a new way, and screen-capture capabilities provide a way for students to record their efforts in a word-processing document.

Technology resources today resemble simple hand tools that have morphed into a combination of every tool -- handheld and power -- available at Sears, as well as every work vehicle Caterpillar manufactures, an audio recording John Lennon would have appreciated, and a video-production unit capable of contributing content for a National Geographic special. Sure, as a former carpenter, I will always believe the more tools, the better, but I'm certain you can see technology might be approaching the too-sweet, too-juicy territory.

I think in a best-case scenario, all these tools would come with a working crew and the teacher would serve as architect, clerk, and landscaper. But, far too often, the teacher remains a lone artisan, albeit with enough tools to rebuild the Colosseum and enough resources to manage manned spaceflight to Mars -- and fully document either process in multiple formats and languages.

I believe that as long as the traditional classroom model remains, the incredible power of technology now available in so many schools will not be fully utilized. In a traditional classroom, there just aren't enough carpenters on the job site. One teacher, two hands, two feet, twenty-five kids per period -- you do the math.

How are you dealing with this incredible power surge? Have you become that fully wired teacher who can use all this technology seamlessly and creatively to meet the diverse needs of your students? Or have you focused on a few technical tools and used them to do specific things? Are there times when the very richness of the technological possibilities cause you or others you know to feel overwhelmed and remain stagnated rather than advance in any direction?

Feel free to put your thoughts in text, audio, or video format. You could, in fact, do all three. You could even put your response in a wiki with a link here -- oh, never mind! Straight text will do just fine!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Sally Hanna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

All this technology can distract from teaching if the teacher is spending all his or her time trying to get things to work or if the teacher moves from building to building as I do it seems that there is often a glitch that stops the technology from running smoothly.
Another problem with so much technology is that the studnets get forgotten in all the flash. Simple teaching can often help a student to understand the concept. Students explaining, sharing and doing is often the best way to teach. Too much of any good thing is not good for us.

Sally Hanna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. It is the relationship with the student and the environment of the room that allows learning to happen. If we focus too much on technology we could forget about the student and not allow them to learn.

Sally Hanna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the real problems is budget and keeping up with technology. We just get going with a type of technology and then another one comes along that is not compatible with the project we just finished. We keep starting over and over because the technology moves faster and faster. If only our time and money would keep up with the technology.

Dallas EME 2040 Miami, FL's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student and future teacher. I thought this was a good post. In my opinion I think it is wonderful that we have all this technology available to us and can use it in the classroom. As teachers we get to decide what technology we should use in the classroom. We get to choose what will help students the most. I wish we had all these options when I was in school. It makes learning more fun and interesting. Smartboards are a great tool for students who learn by being 'hands on'. Podcasts are a great tool for teachers to use who might not have enough class time to get all the information across in a lecture. We should be thankful to have this technology at our fingertips. "Too sweet? Too juicy?" I say just right.

Christine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology has greatly enhanced the way students learn today. Using technology students are now able to complete tasks more efficiently and quickly. Students now have spell check and spreadsheets that do things for them that in the past, did not come from a machine.
We need to have a "medium ground" where students know how to use technology but more importantly know how the technology gets the answer.

Tracy Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I attended a very small private high school, which didn't have any of the technologies that a lot of other schools have. In fact there were only two computers in the whole school. Now I'm currently taking an education technology class in college and I can't help but wonder how different my education would have been if we had all these different technologies.

When it comes to technology, it can go both ways. In today's society anyone without a computer is considered lost in the Stone Age. We have become so addicted to being connected or "plugged in," and this is becoming evident in education as well. Don't get me wrong this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Internet has revolutionized the way educators reach their students. However there is a huge potential for overkill when there are so many different kinds of technologies. Finding that happy medium while utilizing the amazing technology that is available to us is definitely the new challenge for educators.

Gretchen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When you were listing everything you carry with you I was already getting overwhelmed! I can't imagine how a teacher could make the choice on a day to day basis. It would almost be easier to give up and forgo it all.

Dallas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My biggest problem is getting to that sweet and juicy peach before is gets soft and rotten. What I mean is by the time I personally can get my hands on some of the new technology it seems that is already out dated. As I get older I feel I become more and more a "digital immigrant" and students continue to be "digital natives."(Will Richardson: BLOGS, WIKIS, PODCASTS) The biggest challege that faces me is trying to keep up so properly use these tools in the classroom.

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Currently, I teach kindergarten and I can see that most of my students can operate a computer just fine. Their biggest problem is their hand-eye coordination in getting the mouse to move where they want it and clicking at the same time. However, they do a good job. The problem is that the kids I see working so well with the computers are the same kids who can't hold a conversation. They don't look you in the eyes when they speak and they don't truly listen or comprehend what you are saying. So, with so much emphasis placed on "technology" it seems like a good thing that parents let their children play on the computer and become comfortable with it. But how much is too much? Yes, many child friendly games are entertaining, but let's not lose sight of the fact that people skills are so important too! We do not want a society of people that can only communicate via a screen and a keypad.

Cheryl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Like everything else in life, we have to have balance. Too much of anything isn't usually good. With respect to technology in the classroom, we need to decide what amount is appropriate. Teachers cannot escape the electronic gradebook, email, and websites. But shouldn't there be a balance for our kids? I have had a website for my students for three years now. Very few bother to write down their homework each day because they figure they will just look it up from home.

If students see powerpoints every period of the day, who is to say it won't become boring? Does anyone know of any studies that confirm better results for students taught with powerpoint? I'm interested because my department head thinks you can only be a good teacher if you use a smart board and powerpoint show. Yet my classes are so excited when they walk in and see dry erase graph boards on their desks and realize they will be actively participating and getting immediate feedback.

Hands on doesn't always have to be on the keyboard.

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