How (Not) to Use Technology in the Classroom

Based on the title, it would be easy to think this article would encourage you to use less technology in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love technology, and I am pleased and excited about its potential in the classroom. However, there are good ways and bad ways to use it, and it is my intention to show you the difference.


Use as much technology as possible

Let me start by saying that teaching and technology is a match made in heaven. It is the job of a teacher to prepare his students for the future, and to give them every possible advantage. Years ago, graduating high school with a working knowledge of current technology was an advantage. That’s still true today, but technology’s role in our society has now progressed to the point where graduating high school without a working knowledge of current technology puts a student at a serious disadvantage. We therefore owe it to our students to expose them to technology as much as possible.


Powerpoint doesn’t count

Many teachers, when asked about technology in their classroom, will proudly say they use Powerpoints in every lesson. While this is technically technology, it isn’t really a good use of it. Don’t get me wrong; Powerpoint can be a very effective tool to get a point across, and it definitely has a place in most lesson plans. However, if using Powerpoint is the only way we incorporate technology into our lessons, then I believe we really can do a lot better.

Avoid superficial technology

I spent a few years teaching in the state of Virginia.  Their standardized testing comes in the form of “Benchmark” tests and “Standard of Learning” (SoL) exams. These tests are taken on computer, and feature “technology-enhanced” questions. At a glance, these questions seem like a terrific idea. However, after looking at some of these questions myself, I saw that their use of technology was superficial at best. They involved things like placing a point on a graph, or drawing a shape with a mouse. See the problem? There’s absolutely no reason those questions couldn’t have been done with a pencil and paper. While these questions were touted as a way of showing Virginia’s students were adept with technology, the only real technology used here was pointing and clicking with a mouse in the context of a couple simplistic tools that students are highly unlikely to see again.

This is what I call a superficial use of technology, and I believe it does more harm than good. The tools were not always intuitive, and many students elected to simply leave those questions blank, despite the fact that they knew how to answer the actual question. This resulted in inaccurate test results, and sometimes even caused students to fail a course they would otherwise have passed. These questions also meant the standardized tests had to be taken on computers, which in turn meant the students couldn’t all take the same test at the same time, but rather in shifts. This gave a distinct advantage to some students, who had more days to study than their peers. Also, to prevent cheating between shifts of testing, the questions themselves were randomized, which occasionally resulted in fluctuations in the difficulty level of individual questions. Finally, these questions gave a false sense of security, in that state and school officials believed their students were learning to use technology because of these questions, when in fact they were not. Relying on superficial uses of technology like this is to be avoided if we are to truly embrace the possibilities of technology in our classrooms.


So what’s a good use of technology in the classroom?

I’m glad you asked. The good news here is that technology, by its very nature, is extremely versatile, which means there are nearly limitless good ways to use it in the classroom. Instead of just using Powerpoints to deliver your lessons, have your students create their own, and challenge them to use things like hyperlinks and animations. Show students how to use spreadsheets, and have them perform analyses on their families’ expenses. Teach them a little HTML and have them design a webpage. There are nearly endless possible ways to incorporate technology into our lessons, and we owe it to our students to be as imaginative as possible.

Go with the flow

The future belongs, as it always has, to those who can adapt. Like it or not, technology is here to stay, and it has no place to go but forward. Many teachers shudder at the word “smartphone.” I must admit, when I started teaching, I found phones in the classroom to be a distraction at best, and a nuisance more often than not. But now I think I was wrong. Perhaps our students’ obsession with technology is not without merit. Why not lean into it? Divide students into study groups, and encourage them to communicate and work together on homework problems. Smartphones can be used as miniature computers, allowing (trustworthy) students to do research anytime, anywhere. There are also many websites, like Genius Plaza, that allow teachers to make educational games for mobile devices, which could then be used as study materials or even homework!

Like many teachers, I initially resisted the intrusion of technology in the classroom. Now, however, I think we could benefit from embracing technology, instead of trying to resist the inevitable. Technology is the future, so let’s give our students every possible advantage!

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