The Ottumwa Courier


August 14, 2013

Tech and trust not the same in education


The Courier asked people on its Facebook page what the most critical piece of technology is for students and how people use it in their own lives. The first response: “A book and you read it.”

Some granted the importance of technology, but said the basics of education, “pen, paper and listening skills,” as one person put it, are getting overlooked. They wondered whether students are learning to do research or put their thoughts into a coherent form without relying on the Internet.

Tonya Putnam sees both sides as a teacher in Van Buren County. She knows how it can help ease the process or hold it back.

Tools reach their limits when they become crutches. Text lingo seeps into written assignments. Homophones become insurmountable challenges as students struggle with the difference between to, too and two. Technologically advanced students' abilities are crippled when they lose the ability to right-click mistakes off the screen.

“Spellcheck,” said Putnam, “didn't do us any justice.”

Technology is both an opportunity and a challenge in the classroom. It can teach or disrupt. Students aren't the only ones who need help; teachers can be just as lost. A lesson plan built around Internet videos can be tossed out the window when the Internet connection goes down.

That makes flexibility key. Putnam recalls one class when she was a student teacher in which the students were told to get out their cell phones for a quiz. Cell phones are anathema in many schools, disruptive at best and tools for cheating at worst.

But this quiz was multiple choice, with students texting a code to answer. A website processed the texts, showing the results in real time. That gave the teacher valuable feedback on whether the lesson from the previous day needed to be reviewed or if students had absorbed the material. And the students loved it.

“Most of the time we tell students, 'Don't have your phones out,' ” she said.

Even those with concerns recognize technology isn't leaving the classroom. Things have changed and will continue to change. Adaptation and integration are the keys to moving forward. Teachers need the same technological proficiency as their students.

“Technology really takes all of us to make it work,” said Putnam.

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