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Why I am not a early adopter

December 18, 2011

I am not an early adopter

I like to use technology in my teaching. I don’t think it makes me a better teacher than the teacher who eschews technology. Technology enables me to help students in my way; it enables me to provide information and practice in different ways. I teach English as a Second Language, so my students need to do something with language in every class. Technology provides ways to do something with language in class and outside of class.

That being said, I am uncomfortable with claims made about technology, teaching, and learners today. My learners run a gamut from young students wholly are engaged in the digital experience in their own ways to students who may have a Facebook page and text but little more or maybe even less. I also have older students who find the technology baffling and frustrating because it doesn’t seem to work. Thus when I read claims from publishers about “Today’s students understand technology like it’s their first language. Learn how to instruct and engage your students through the media they know with Full Sail University’s Education Media Design & Technology Master of Science Degree”. I find them at first amusing for the hyperbole, but on further thought, disturbing. Such claims, whether made by publishers, on blogs, or on Twitter, overgeneralize and can lead to problematic decisions.

Reacting to such claims teachers may feel compelled to include technology they feel little comfort with in order to meet a perceived need that does not exist, i.e., “the digital native” when other evidence suggests that students learn just as well with teachers who know what they are doing and don’t employ technology. Furthermore, it is difficult to find guidance for the applications that work well versus those that are sexy.

I am struck by the how many tweets and blog postings I see regarding the wonders of some new application. Yet, I find the enthusiasm of “early adopters” makes me more and more skeptical. Yes, I could do that something cool with the program, but I have to learn how to use it, learn its weaknesses, which sometimes means finding out I can’t do what I need to do, and figure out how to make it user friendly for my students before I can work it into my class.

I am not an early adopter which leaves me short of the recognition that they get online or even within schools. I heard about Google Docs years ago and hesitantly tried something by myself and found it didn’t work well enough for class use. I kept it in the back of my mind and tried a few things here and a few things there with it. I began using the spreadsheet to allow students to find out how they were doing in my class because I haven’t figured out how to get CMS we use to only report the scores for graded exercises and not include the online practices. There may be a way, but it isn’t straightforward enough that anyone I have asked can tell or show me how to do it, and I haven’t the time to experiment with it and devise a hack, if I could. And if I couldn’t, I would have wasted hours that I could have spent on something useful for my students.

After using the spreadsheet, I used a few Google Forms for classes and though I didn’t get numbered data, I got information that showed when students understood and when they did not. Forms were easier to use than trying to figure out the cumbersome management system. I shared a couple of schedules on Google Documents with my fellow teachers, but after one teacher accidentally erased a couple of weeks, they shied away from using it. I put presentations on Google Documents, but I found out that I couldn’t black out the screen with my remote like I could in PowerPoint, so I quit that. I put up some bare bones sites with Google Sites, but I found out I couldn’t embed TED videos, and so I went back to using the school server for that use but have continued to make sites for grammar points because Google Sites is YouTube friendly. This occurred over two or three years.

This year I have begun using Google Documents extensively with one class, a class that I am trying out the flip class model with. I am using the Google Apps through the college because students have Google email accounts through the college which includes Documents and Sites. My students have been submitting their writing on Google Documents, and I have been responding. No paper is involved. The responses are saved and available to the students. This is much better than having them submit their writing on the CMS because I can open and respond to the assignment without going through the process of downloading, opening the file on the word processor (unless it is an incompatible file i.e., .was. .dot or .pages), commenting, saving, uploading, and sending a message. There are still problems. Some students don’t want to use the college’s Google apps for email or are unable to open an account. Some students do not have internet access at home. Some students seem baffled and may be disappearing into the background in a class of 32.

My point being that I was not an early adopter, so I didn’t have to learn much of it on my students’ backs. I tested many elements before I finally reached a point where I felt that I could use it successfully without making my students’ lives totally miserable. I set up the class to have a long learning curve for the students who have not had a graded assignment yet due as we have worked out the problems they have been having.

Furthermore, working from the assumption that students are tech savvy puts additional barriers in front of students who are not tech savvy. They now not only have to work on learning the course content but also learn how to use applications that may not be user friendly or don’t work as advertised in class because of browser differences or popup blockers. In turn, their frustration with dealing with the technology may handicap their learning the content.

This is not meant as a criticism of early adopters though it may sound like it. Without the early adopters, I may not have discovered some of the applications I use. However, with the limited amount of time we all have available, skepticism and a measured approach can save our students and ourselves from frustrations and failures that will cost the teacher respect.

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