Monday, December 10, 2007

Typewriter vs. Blackberry

I am a digital immigrant. I remember typing my first high school essay on a typewriter, plunking down each key hard enough so the ink would leave its indelible mark on the bright white page. My ninth grade science teacher returned my essay on chlorofluorocarbons filled with red ink and asked me to revise the piece. I remember dreading the process of retyping the essay, my fingers slipping between the keys when I would miss the letter and having to dig through my mother’s desk drawer for the white-out because our typewriter did not have a correction ribbon. It was 1994 when I got my first PC; it had 386k of RAM.

In fifteen years, we’ve gone from typewriters to being able to type messages into phones, from white-out to auto-correct. In those fifteen years, the face of public education has changed dramatically as well. Teachers are not simply finding new ways to integrate technology into their classrooms, but are also rethinking how and what we teach. Today’s classrooms look very different than those of fifteen years ago or from those just five years ago.

Take for example my classroom. Five years ago I was teaching ninth grade English courses and an elective called Information Technology (Info. Tech.) where students in a special computer lab developed their skills using the various Microsoft applications. Students created tables and web pages in Word, spreadsheets in Excel, pie charts in Database, and learned to animate pictures and transitions in PowerPoint. Compare that to my classroom this past week where students working on laptops in my room used Google Docs and USB flash drives to save the research essays they started in class, took their Gilgamesh quiz online, responded to our reading of Elie Wiesel’s Night in an online discussion forum, and pulled up our weekly schedule and handouts from our classroom website. My classroom has gone digital.

The digital age has opened the doors of education. Students can access their grades at any time on the web, their homework, their schedule, they can email their teacher with a question at any point during the day or night. Technology has helped the classroom become more transparent. However, it is not without its challenges. With the ease of access, our students have become accustomed to the instant gratification lifestyle. Why struggle with a problem when you can look it up on Wikipedia. Today’s students are digital natives, used to fast-paced, easy solutions. So although teachers need to find ways to help students become fluent with technology, using applications to their fullest capacities, we also must find ways to help students become more critical and creative thinkers. We cannot afford to let technology take away from teaching our students to think critically. As philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, “Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so."

Technology is obsolete the minute it enters the marketplace. Therefore, we must be concerned with teaching students the skills they need to adapt to a constantly changing world. If we focus on teaching students to be better problem-solvers, to be better creative and critical thinkers, we will equip them for the modern marketplace, whatever that might look like. Students need to feel comfortable experimenting with technology and ideas alike. So although the face of education may have changed as a result of technology, the heart of teaching has not. Just like teachers centuries before us, our goal is to teach students to be independent, self-motivated, critical thinkers. It doesn’t matter if we use a typewriter or a Blackberry, the key is teaching students to think beyond the surface.
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