To bring another, more seasoned perspective to the blog, I’ve asked my colleague Tracy Houston to offer her insights on the use of technology in the classroom. An almost 30 year veteran, she amazes me by still being on the cusp of what’s coming in education and technology while holding true to what she knows works and what’s best for her students. Without further ado, Tracy…
In 1983, after I graduated from Penn State with my high spirits about teaching and my education degree in hand , Howard Gardner busily introduced the seven multiple intelligences in his book Frames of Mind. I had not read the book nor had any knowledge about these distinct intelligences – the education world did not embrace philosophies or practices as readily as we do today. On the technology front, the Commodore 64 made its way into some homes, businesses, and classrooms, but I still used the dreaded correction tape on my old manual typewriter (later I upgraded to a baby blue electric Brother typewriter!) With my first teaching job, I would learn how to use that wonderful piece of technology for copying handouts: the mimeograph, better known as the ditto machine. I could crank out – literally crank out – copies of handouts for my students, who would then take long whiffs of the noxious solvents needed to produce the pages. And so my teaching career began.
In 1999, through the technology explosion, block scheduling, and many educational philosophies/strategies that included Socratic Seminar and the Jigsaw, I finally took a course in MI (one of the many acronyms I would grow accustomed to seeing). In 1999, though, Gardner added an 8th intelligence in his revised book Intelligence Reframed. My experience in discovering how the theory applied to me drove me to filter the findings into my classroom, allowing my students to discover the same through some simple activities. While I realized I did cater to some of my students’ needs and even if they did not discover firsthand how they best learn, my view of learning completely changed as did my instructional strategies. Halfway through my teaching career, I revised, retooled, revamped, and reenergized both me and my classroom. Of course, now I had to worry about Y2K!
Once the ball dropped at midnight and we “survived” the havoc of the millennium bug, Howard Gardner again reflected on MI and its relation to technology and education:
“Technology is neither good nor bad in itself, nor can it dictate educational goals. . . . Before embracing any new technology, we need to declare our educational goals and demonstrate how a particular technology can help us to achieve them. And of course we must provide adequate technical assistance if the technology is to be deployed effectively.”
Unbelievably, he stated this in 2000! And, I totally agree given today’s standards.
Approaching my 30th year of teaching and adding to hundreds (if not thousands) of additional acronyms in education, I continue to reflect on my students and how they learn best. While technology has changed (and changes every day it seems), education has changed because of it and for the better. The question asked of teachers has evolved from Do you use technology in your classroom? to How do you use technology in your classroom? From Gardner’s perspective (and mine), that should not be the question either since using technology is but a means to an end. We should ask this question: Why use technology? What do we hope students take away by or through using the technology? No doubt, today’s technology has changed the way we teach – probably faster than most initiatives have – and the way students learn but not how they learn. For me, technological advances simply re-emphasized the need to maintain our perspective on differing learning styles and provide an environment in which every student can thrive and succeed.
Sure my students use computers and smartphones regularly in my classroom, an English classroom; I use edmodo.com, Google docs, YouTube, Twitter, Prezi, etc., for communicating, for completing projects, and for engaging students. I am not going to suggest that any particular use of technology is better than any other use of technology. I do suggest, however, that teachers embrace technology, find their comfort zone with technology, be open to new technology, but do not overuse technology for technology’s sake.
Tracy A. Houston
Quakertown Community High School