“All of our classrooms have computers connected to projectors. Almost all the professors use PowerPoint – the students love it!” I had no way of knowing at the time, but college recruiters will fill prospective student’s heads with pretty little lies and not lose any sleep over it. In the halcyon year of 2000 I was impressed to see computers in every classroom of the colleges I visited. My high school teachers still preferred overhead projectors and transparency slides; there was usually a computer in every class but none of them were connected to projectors and they weren’t used for much besides keeping grades, so far as I could tell. The prospect of professors utilizing all manner of cutting edge technology captured my imagination.
I’m still captivated by the idea of utilizing cutting edge technology in class – I just didn’t have that experience in college very often. And when I did, it was no thanks to PowerPoint.
I don’t mean to beat up on PowerPoint, specifically, but I think it is probably the most prevalent example of a communication “enhancing” tool that is often misused. But PowerPoint is not the only time I’ve had bad experiences with technology in the class. I had a professor in college who loved to show his classes overly long movie clips, and another professor who seemed to think that her classes really needed to hear a seemingly interminable number of poems read by their authors. None of these things were bad, necessarily – but they didn’t add anything to the class. That is to say that all these tools were being used for their own sake but none of them were chosen to meet the specific needs of the class they were used in or to meet the needs of the particular students in those classes. To be effective, technology has to meet a need.
I should explain that I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I prepare for a class assignment. I’m creating a lesson plan for an ESL class that utilizes some sort of technology. After giving a presentation on ways to use Twitter as an educational guide a couple weeks ago I had since then thought that I would use Twitter for my lesson. However, while I still believe that Twitter has many great uses outside the class, I’m not so sure it will serve much purpose inside the class. No matter how creative I get regarding the topic, activities, and other aspects of the lesson, the addition of Twitter is always an addition. I’ve yet to think of a way to think of integrating Twitter in a meaningful way.
I’ve thought about using other technologies, but I always come back to the same consideration: how does this meet the needs of my students? I finally decided on a technology for my lesson – video. Hardly cutting edge, but definitely able to do the job.
The point I want to make here is that no matter what technology we’re using for any reason: if it doesn’t meet a particular need, it’s probably not needed at all.