Friday, October 2, 2015

Technology: No longer optional

The scene: A room crammed with 40 eight-year-old desktops, and an equal number of cramped 8th graders, literally elbow-to-elbow as they begin taking the AzMERIT test, the first fully online, standardized test they've ever taken. It's late April and they are beginning the first section of the test, the writing section. Their classroom teacher has just left the room, and I, the special area teacher, am covering while the teacher takes her prep. 

The comment that reminded me why tech can't just be a shiny, fancy thing we use as a reward: 
The students have just started, and a girl raises her hand, points to the text box on the screen, and asks, "Is this where we write our rough draft, do our proofreading, or our final draft?" I was dumbstruck, but slowly responded, "That's where you do all of it, all in that box."

Folks, that moment right there, communicated to me that we have done our students a massive disservice by allowing teachers to use technology as an option. The world our students live in is saturated by technology. It's not optional, it's simply the way the world works. When we exclude technology from school, not only do we not move students ahead, we are crippling them. 

In terms of writing, we need to teach students to write digitally, because it is fundamentally different. Would you write differently if you literally had to hand-write every word? For me, absolutely yes. (This blog post would be much shorter!) Would you edit differently? Yes. For students, it means, they correct 1 misspelled word, and put a comma in somewhere and call it a day. Then they start the arduous process of either re-hand-writing it, or the painstaking process of looking up and down after every word as they type it out, one letter at a time. We need to teach students how to write with their keyboards and with some speed. Typing quickly is exactly the same thing as one's reading fluency. It allows your brain to keep up with your comprehension. 

But that is not the only basic skill that kids don't have. Knowing how to locate and attach a file is essential to knowing how to fill out a job application. Saving things in different file formats is a critical skill as well, if a company requires a pdf resume and not a document, and the list of imperative skills goes on. That doesn't even begin to touch on the necessity of being able to evaluate online information. 

In our world, technology literally touches everyone. You can't apply for a job anymore without knowing how to use a computer. You can't participate in college without knowing basic technology skills. You can't be a citizen of the world, unless you interact with technology. You may say, "Oh, but students these days know so much about technology already. Do I really need to teach them basic things?" Yes!! 

Students are just like adults. They are really good at getting to the 3 things they use every day (in my students' cases, Snapchat, Youtube, and Minecraft) and that's it. I literally have 13 year olds ask me every single day, "How do I get to the next line in my document?" (hit enter) or who don't know why they don't need to google Google. They have next to no understanding of fundamental concepts of technology, because we think it's just a nice thing to do once in a while to use a bit of technology to let kids play games or type a paper.

By failing to teach kids even fundamental technology skills, we are truly hurting them in both the short and long term. Technology is how our society functions, and we do our students more than just a disservice to treat it like a cool extra when you have time. Technology is Not. An. Option. It is a life skill.

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