Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making the change: technology and teaching

Two weeks ago I started a whole new adventure in my teaching career. I was, and remain quite nervous about the whole experience. I began teaching a class entirely in a computer lab.

I understand that for many people, especially computer teachers this is nothing extraordinary, but for me this was a big change. I have been teaching for almost ten years, and for ten years I’ve only taught the odd class using computers, so it’s had a pretty steep learning curve. Despite the fact that I am writing on a blog that extols the wonders of technology for teachers, I have been reminded that when you put thirty computers in front of thirty students on a daily basis the mix can be problematic. One of the things that I found myself dealing a lot with is a lot of ‘tech’ problems. Stupid, simple, run-of-the-mill problems, keyboards and mice that don’t work are common, and each issue takes time to solve. On Thursday, however, as I working on one of these problems I had to stop and really think about what I was doing. I had to think about what my goals were for the class.

When I was asked to take this class I had a clear choice, I could have taught this class like I have taught the dozens of other classes in my past or I could try something new. Since I asked for the computer lab you can imagine that my choice was to go for something new.

I have been inspired over the last five months by the amazing writers of so many educational blogs like this one. As the newly appointed teacher-librarian for a fair size high school it was certainly my job to get significantly more acquainted with technology, and reading blogs and following twitter has allowed me to move forward rapidly. The more I have read great blogs form people like Richard's here, Dave Truss, Shelley Terrell, and so many more, the more I realized that technology is just one piece of the puzzle, if I was going to be better, I had to change my approach to teaching and use technology as a tool to achieve it.

So that brings me back to my class from Thursday, should I really be fixing the students’ computer problems? Probably the answer is no, except for the fact that having students dig around thousands of dollars worth of equipment makes me a bit squeamish, so maybe I will keep fixing these problems.

However the small question of how I deal with the technological issues is representative of some other issues with this class. I still find myself answering all sorts of questions, and that is what I’m struggling with.

After ten plus years of teaching in one particular style it is really hard to break the mold. I have always taught in a teacher-centred classroom (learned in them too), and it’s hard to take a step back. There is always that little thought: ‘remember the exams; tell them this so that they pass.’ Not only am I struggling with it, but my so are my students. Since they are in the last semester of grade twelve, they have probably spent a good chunk of the preceding eleven and a half years learning form teachers just like me (or like I used to be). Their molds are hard to break, and many of them just want to ask the teacher so they get the 'right' answer.

So what to do? Well in the last couple of days I’ve noticed something. Some students are beginning to look for answers on their own. They are no longer asking me for the easy answer. It’s a step, a very small step, but maybe as I learn to pull back, the students can learn to step in, and we can enjoy the journey together.

I’m still nervous, I realize this won’t be easy, but maybe it can be fun.

My name is Greg MacCollum and I am the teacher-librarian and IB coordinator in Edmonton, Alberta. I have been teaching for about 10 years and until this year I had been teaching social studies, French and Spanish. Along with all the changes in my life this year (which included the birth of a son in June), I began writing my own blog Greg’s Eduweb blog this past October. It remains a work in progress.