Monday, September 28, 2009

Effortless Technology Integration

I saw something this past week that I had to share: effortless technology integration.

I was working in a district in Kannapolis, North Carolina—at their middle school—and I spent a day doing some classroom observations. I was trying to gauge the “pulse” of the building, but also find out what kinds of technology they had and how they were using it with their students.

This school system recently received a large technology grant and have been providing teachers and students with lots of different technologies, including Mimio boards, Student Response Systems, projectors, laptops, document cameras, lots of software, etc.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe teachers in many schools over the last few years, and anytime new technology is introduced, there is always that wave of fitting the content to the tool, rather than choosing the right tool for the content. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, let me say that right off the bat. There has to be a learning curve and time to become comfortable with all the new stuff that’s out there. Then, as time goes on, and the comfort levels go up, new technology hopefully takes its rightful place as a choice resource.

I look at it like this: at one time, a pencil was new technology.

It was created for a specific purpose and even today, still has a place as a tool for a job when a pencil is required. (#2 pencil requirement, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) But then, wouldn’t you know it, the technology got better. After the pencil came the pen, then the multi-colored pens, then the magic marker, then the $2,000 Mont Blanc professional grade pens—all doing similar jobs, but for different purposes and in different contexts. Sound familiar?

When I walk into a classroom and see students writing with any one of a number of different writing utensils, I don’t “oooh” and “aaaah” over the different pens and pencils, because they are specific to the task at hand and show that students (and teachers) can have a preference over which writing tool they’d like to use and still come out with similar products or attain similar objectives. The report written in blue ink is no different, content wise, than the one written in green ink, or the one typed on a typewriter or computer and printed.

So, back to the beginning of the post, the point of all this—is that this is how I saw technology, meaning computers, student response systems, document cameras, etc. being used at Kannapolis Middle School—seamlessly and effortlessly. Content and skills were the dominant factors, and the teachers and students chose the right tools from their toolboxes to maximize learning and reach their collective objectives.

I watched a teacher use a Student Response system, and then question by question, regroup the students in the moment to work with proficient peers. I watched a teacher deliver Essential Questions through PowerPoint at the beginning of a class, which might sound a little pedestrian, but this teacher anticipated responses and uncovered additional information in the moment to redirect her students. I watched as a teacher toggled between maps and photos when delivering a Social Studies lesson on the naming of towns in the Southwest in regards to their proximity to established missions. I also got to see a couple of student teachers who were comfortable enough with different technologies (and allowed to pepper their instruction with them!) to take the plunge and use them, if for nothing else than to help engage and motivate the students.

All of these teaching moments could have been taught with a myriad of different resources and these teachers chose a technology tool over other tools and, in my opinion, looked like they made the best choice. In short, the technology did not seem like a forced tool. It was like a pencil. These teachers and students were choosing the right tools for the job they had to do, not just using technology because it’s the 21st century or because they had to.

Perhaps that’s what all this 21st century technobabble is all about: choice. It’s not about getting on every technology bus. It’s not about this laptop or that Flip cam. It’s about being comfortable enough to make the right decision (or maybe the habitual decision?) about what fits the content of the instruction in such a way as to make attaining your curricular objective easier. Perhaps that tool is a computer, or maybe it’s just a pencil.

Whatever it is, Kannapolis Middle School seems to be doing it the right way. Seamlessly. Effortlessly. Effectively.

Image from Flickr, Creative Commons, user: Stuart R. Brown


  1. love how the pencil has such a special profile in education and in particular technology!
    The pencil metaphor

    Proposal for Banning Pencils

  2. What a great reflection! I will be sharing this! Thanks

  3. As an assistant principal at Kannapolis Middle School, I really appreciate this perspective and am very proud of our teachers. This effortless technology integration has been two years in the making with much time and effort spent behind the scenes with our eyes on the prize: increased student engagement and achievement.