Once upon a time, computers in the classroom were all the technology a school had and all they needed. Now with the proliferation of phones and tablets more powerful than those first classroom computers, technology has taken on a bigger role in education than ever before.
Access to technology is no longer enough. Now technology must engage students in learning rather than presenting the material for students to consume passively.
The Problem With Technology in Education
A school can have everything it needs — a fast internet connection, digital devices and software —yet fail to successfully integrate technology. Effective technology that supplies students with 21st-century skills involves active use. Unfortunately, data shows most students use it for passive activities.
The following are examples of passive technology use in the classroom:
- Digitized worksheets.
- Passive consumption (reading or watching) content created by others.
- Drill-and-kill practice.
“Data Dive: Devices and Software Flooding Into Classrooms” describes two worrisome trends surfacing with technology use in schools. The first is that students use technology passively for rote practice instead of using it for creativity and problem-solving. The second is that teachers say they have not received the training they need to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. Furthermore, the article states that better access to more technology does not automatically mean teachers use it properly in the classroom.
One way to use technology for creativity and problem-solving is to research a math topic. According to “State Data: How Do Students Actually Use Classroom Computers?” in Education Week, almost three-quarters of U.S. 8th grade math students never or hardly ever do math research. Only 6 percent do it as often as every day to twice a week. The remaining 20 percent research a math topic once or twice a month.
According to Education Week, 2015 data for 8th grade math students in Missouri shows that they do the following with technology:
- Practice or review math: 61 percent
- Extend math learning: 53 percent
- Play math games: 47 percent
- Use a graphing program: 29 percent
- Research a math topic: 26 percent
- Draw geometric shapes: 15 percent
The survey reports that most 8th grade math teachers in Missouri have received a small to moderate amount of personal development on using technology in math instruction. All of this data shows that schools need leadership buy-in and support to change the digital culture from passive to active.
Why Schools Need Digital-Savvy Leaders
Schools most successful in implementing any new initiative start at the top. School leaders need to commit to building a proper digital culture, but motivating the staff to bridge technology and instruction in a meaningful way is crucial, too.
Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, confirms the link between good principals and effective teaching in “Five Key Responsibilities — The School Principal as Leader.”
“If you ask teachers, ‘What kept you in a school that you’re in?’ or ‘What caused you to leave?’ administrative leadership and support is one of the most critical elements because everything the teacher does is framed by the way the leadership operates,” she says.
In “A Principal’s 7 Pillars of Digital Leadership,” Eric Scheninger, author and principal, says that integrating technology has led to transforming his school’s culture. Attendance increased and his high school earned recognition as one of the 2,000 best high schools in the country. Leaders set the tone for a school for all aspects of education. Technology requires the same kind of support.
Scheninger says digital leadership means allowing teachers to take risks, to fail without fear, and to create their own path in developing rich learning experiences.
How to Become a Tech-Savvy Leader
Administrative leaders can show support for technology by applying Priyanka Gupta’s eight roles and responsibilities of school leaders to integrate technology:
- Set a vision and goals for technology.
- Encourage staff to adopt technology.
- Be a role model by using technology.
- Attend training and encourage staff to do the same.
- Hold demonstrations of technology use.
- Obtain resources and examples of technology use.
- Advocate for technology.
- Refer to benchmarks from other schools.
School districts offer continuing education opportunities, and technology tends to be one of the topics. Those thinking about pursuing a Master of Science in Education may be required to take a course in digital literacy, or it may be offered as an elective.
Online MSE programs like the one from Northwest Missouri State University include a technology-focused course. The course Leading in the Digital Age covers the framework for digital leadership and leadership qualities needed to create a digital culture in a school setting that employs technology.
Many of today’s children use technology before they start walking. Its pervasiveness in our lives requires educational institutions to embrace it and incorporate a digital culture in schools. To effectively make that happen requires starting at the top with school leadership.