Teachers are expected to incorporate technology in their classrooms and teaching but have good reason for skepticism. Many teachers are providing excellent learning environments without using the latest digital tools. The benefits of technology are sometimes presented as self-evident, reinforcing our skepticism. Teachers resistant to using technology are likely to self-identify as Luddites, a label worth exploring. The Luddites are often characterized as working against progress. Historians paint a more subtle picture where Luddites were skilled in the use of machines but saw technology as a force used to exploit workers. Questions of intellectual property rights in massive open online courses (MOOCs) underscore this concern with exploitation. Why then use these tools? Technology always introduces new problems as it solves others. Technology should be used in your classroom if and only if the benefits to the learning in your classroom significantly outweigh the costs.
The benefit of using computers in the classroom come mainly from two powers they possess. First, computers can rapidly and accurately execute structured tasks relieving some cognitive burden. Second, computer and network technology allows anyone with access to a computer to communicate with a widespread audience instantly. It is worth thinking creatively about how these abilities can benefit your classroom and your students before constraining yourself with the specific tools (Moodle, Prezi, Google) that we often use.
Many tasks in teaching and learning are simple, repetitive, and there would be no loss to the learning environment if they were performed by a computer. Putting aside the limits of multiple choice assessment, the scantron machine has reduced grading time and errors that would result from manually marking dozens of exams for decades. Most professors use a spreadsheet to simplify the organization and calculation of student grades. These techniques are possible because we are able to structure the assessment or grading tasks so that they can be performed by a computer. It is worth asking ourselves if there are other tasks we do that could be structured well enough for a computer to assist. For example, some rudimentary spelling and grammar checking can be performed by computers. Software could identify certain classes of writing mistakes allowing the instructor to focus on higher-level skill development. Bloom's taxonomy ranks learning skills from lower to higher with recall as lower skill and evaluation and creation as the highest skills. As a thought exercise, you can apply this to your assessment. It is likely that tasks on the lower end could be assisted by machines freeing time and effort for deeper assessment tasks. It is worth mentioning that you don't have to completely delegate portions of your work to computers but to use them as another tool. Like any tool or technology, they should amplify our abilities and intentions, not replace them.
Computer and network technology allow anyone with a computer and a connection to make information available to anyone else with the same tools. Smart phones and cellular internet are expanding this capacity around the world. Many classes take advantage of this by using the internet and library databases for research, allowing students to consume information from anywhere. The opportunity exists for students to also create and share their work and information with each other and the wider community. This capacity can remove some of the time and space constraints of the physical classroom. Many online word processors allow multiple authors to collaborate remotely and simultaneously, reducing the difficulties students have in group work. This work can then be easily published online allowing others in the community to observe and review student work, creating new opportunities for feedback and relevance for students. Most instructors already require students to use a word-processor to compose their written work. The incremental complexity of electronically disseminating these electronic documents inside and outside the classroom is significant but manageable. If these interactions are compelling, consider pursuing them. If they are not, resist the drumbeat.
I'm inviting the reader to consider the student experience you want to create before thinking about the specific tools available to you. This is a creative exercise complementary to a survey of the features of your campus learning management system. I practice this because I want to mold the machine to my ideal pedagogy and ask where new features and tools can be added. When I feel like I am molding my pedagogy to fit the machine, I pause. We can also think about molding the machine to the institution. For those of us concerned about the potential of computer tools to degrade the role of teachers, what are the possibilities for technology to elevate teaching and teachers? Where should we be concerned about the institution changing to better fit technology?
Any technology comes with costs and benefits and are adopted when the problems they solve outweigh the new problems they create. Paper and ink is a brilliant technology with advantages over slate tablets and instructors and students still use it in ways that enhance their teaching and learning. There are less compelling reasons to use incorporate technology into your classroom. These include compulsion, fear, infatuation with technology, or the idea that putting a lecture on Prezi can best Snapchat in the battle for student attention. You should use technology if and only if the benefits it provides to your students outweigh the occasional but disruptive complexity that inevitably accompanies it. I believe it does, but every time I encounter problems, I revisit my core assumption that the technology I'm using improves student learning.