Technology in the Writing Classroom: A Bad Idea

Technology in the Classroom

Monday, July 11, 2011

‘It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts… it is to teach them to think, if that is possible, and always to think for themselves.’ — Robert Hutchins

Today I changed something in my teaching.  Enamored of the iPads my students were using in my writing classes, I ran out and bought one.  It’s a really cool gadget that looks swell next to my iPhone and MacBook and iMac.  And it was expensive, so I was invested in making it work to my advantage in the classroom.

I made all my lesson plans into PDF files, emailed them to myself, and stored them on the bookshelf on my iPad.  And today, for the first time, I stood in front of my students holding a blinking, flashing gizmo instead of a stack of rumpled papers.

It was heavy.

I’ll just put that out there first.  About twenty minutes into my lecture, I noticed that my arm was tired,  I kept switching it from hand to hand, wrapping the magical magnetic cover in different ways, but it was so heavy that it distracted me and I eventually laid it on a table nearby.

Then I lost my place.

I was teaching a new group of students today, and the organic part f the lesson kept going off on tangents.  I followed those questions wherever they led, and when I was ready to start again, I looked down at my iPad and it had gone dark.  So I slid my finger across the face of the tablet to wake up the screen, then punched in my password, then flipped through the electronic pages until I found the place where I left off.  This was not only distracting to the kids, but it also added frustration to the problem, making me anxious in front of a crowd.  That was a new experience for me.

I might point out that had I been holding a wad of heavily noted papers in my hands, my thumb would have noted the place where my students changed directions and I could have picked up right where I left off.

Then I lost my students.

The magic of having a fully engaged class of writers all sharing the same physical space is the snowball effect that ideas have on one another.  My fancy gadget got in the way of that flow, and I noticed that they, too, were using their fancy gadgets.  A few were texting in class.  One of them left the room to make a phone call.  And I should point out that these are middle school students in an elective private writing seminar.

I realize that part of this is a new technology learning curve, but my irritation goes way beyond that.

I believe that while technology can bring people together, it does more to separate us.  My husband and I have been known to text each other while we’re in the same room if we want to say something the kids shouldn’t hear (like “I bought cheesecake and hid it in the downstairs freezer).   I have friends who come over to visit and spend most of the night browsing the web on their phones, emailing, or updating their Facebook statuses instead of engaging me – and others! – in conversation.

Introducing technology into my classroom today invited my students to disengage.  When I’m standing before them as a crazy red-haired woman on a mission, they have no choice but to look me in the eye.  They have to listen to me, and I have to read their cues.

That iPad felt like the weight of the world in my hands today.  And it erected a barrier between my students and my message.  I’m telling them with my words that their pens and their paper will bring them big ideas and personal fulfillment, but I was kneeling at the altar of the Apple myself.  I looked like a high-tech hypocrite.

I learned a lot in class today.  I learned that my old-school teaching methods are still the best way to engage my students, and I learned to trust my own instincts over the shiny new toy I really want to play with.  And even though I’ve invested the money in the new iPad, that doesn’t mean that I can let it derail my teaching.  I’ll just appropriate the iPad for on-the go blogging and email instead of using it in my classroom.  I learned an expensive lesson, but at least I learned it.

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One thought on “Technology in the Writing Classroom: A Bad Idea

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. I speak frequently to university students, including those studying medicine and education, etc. The feedback I get: thanks for just talking to us and not another Power Point presentation.

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