Teaching with Technology: Why It’s Worth the Risk

Jonah Ibson, Harwood Union Middle School, VermontI’m not sure if others would call me a freak for saying so, but I truly enjoy a good inservice day.

There’s something about a quiet school filled with educators working together that makes me feel like anything is possible. So I can say without a trace of sarcasm that I read through the agenda for the Washington West Supervisory Union’s Inservice on October 14th with interest. When I read that the focus of the day was to “highlight technology-inspired innovative educational practices taking place in WWSU schools and beyond,” I was already sold.

But we all know what happens to the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…

After some heartfelt remarks from our superintendent about some upcoming challenges and unique opportunities ahead, it was time for Susan Hennessey to do her thing.

If you don’t know her, Susan is a dynamic professional development coordinator with the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education. She and I used to co-lead Literacy Network meetings (remember those?), and I’ve always found her to be knowledgeable, innovative, and engaging. She talks fast, knows her stuff, and inspires educators to push their practice to the next level. Her keynote address during our inservice was designed to be less of a traditional presentation and more of a gigantic hands-on workshop in which educators would have a chance to hear about some eye-opening tech tools, projects, and ideas and then get a chance to try things out.

That was the plan, anyway, but we all know what happens to the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…

teaching with technology: why it's worth the riskSusan came prepared to expose every educator in our district to great resources like Newsela, Schoology, and EDPuzzle, but the gods of the interweb were not prepared to let that happen. The network was down, none of the websites Susan wanted us to access would load, and a palpable silence filled the packed auditorium.

I once had the pleasure of attended a fabulous iPad summit organized by EdTechTeacher, and I recall a moment when the keynote speaker was having a difficult time getting her PowerPoint presentation to load. Within moments, a team of Digital Troubleshooters arrived on the scene, stealthy and effective as ninjas, and within seconds, the problem was fixed. Susan, and the rest of us at the WWSU, were not so lucky on October 14th. The problem with the school’s network were more complicated, and took hours to fully address.

She soldiered on, but Susan had no choice but to scrap her hands-on workshop and revert to a hands-off presentation, all due to forces beyond her control. The irony was not lost on me: here we are gathered as an entire district to talk about innovative uses of technology in the classroom, and the freaking internet is down, keeping us from fully engaging in the work we were gathered to do! Meanwhile the large, gray elephant in the room silently said in a skeptical tone, “See? Why would I take a chance and use technology in my class when that just happened?”

teaching with technology: why it's worth the riskIntegrating technology into our classrooms undeniably involves an element of risk. We all know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes the internet is unexpectedly down. Sometimes apps won’t load. Sometimes students get distracted by technology, or even get away with doing something on their device that they are not supposed to be doing. Accepting all of this, why should we as educators take the risk? The answer is simple: because it’s worth it.

When we integrate technology in our classes, we allow students to perform tasks and take on challenges that were simply not possible just a few short years ago. With the thoughtful use of technology, students can create and share meaningful content with a real audience, show their learning in countless new ways, and grapple with resources and ideas that were just not available to us in the past. We can dramatically increase students’ opportunities to collaborate and work on solving real problems, preparing for a world that is changing faster than we can imagine.

teaching with technology: why it's worth the riskIn short, technology allows students to express ideas, create products, give and receive feedback, reflect on their growth over time, and learn in ways that are otherwise impossible.

So yes, sometimes the internet, a chosen app, or your lesson is going to fail. Sometimes you will have to spend a lot of time learning how to use an aspect of technology that your students may grasp intuitively. And sometimes you will feel less like an expert than is comfortable. But don’t we owe it to our students to take the risk?

Jonah Ibson

Jonah Ibson is a 9th grade English teacher at Harwood Union High School who loves helping students learn to search for deep hidden meaning, craft a beautiful sentence, and speak with conviction. Ibson studied English and Philosophy at Skidmore, and earned his Masters from St. Michael’s College with a concentration on Arts in Education. If he could design his dream job, it would be entitled “Creativity Integrationist,” and he is convinced that there should and will be one in every school some day. In his glimpses of free time, he enjoys playing outside with his kids, listening to hip-hop music, and brewing kombucha.

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