My transformation from non-tech to tech

Not too long ago if you asked me my opinions about teaching chemistry with computers my reply would have gone something like this: If you want kids to learn chemistry, the most effective and efficient way to accomplish this is with paper, a pencil, a calculator and lots of time to sit and work on problems. It’s not that I was anti-technology, I just didn’t see what the benefit was to using computers in the classroom. The irony of this story is that in my school, barring a small handful of teachers, I am considered one of the ones who use technology the most. This transformation did not come about by some intellectual epiphany about education, it came about by realizing this is the direction education is heading. All industries change over time; some faster than others. People who don’t keep up with this change get left behind and find themselves looking for new jobs and often times new careers; they simply did not grasp or understand that their industry was changing. Or worse, they refused to change with the changing times.

One aspect of education that appealed to me as I was starting my career was the stability. I liked the fact that a classroom from the sixties probably looked a lot like a classroom in the nineties. I’m sure there are some deep-seeded reasons for this need for security but I’ll save that for another post. The first ten years of my career looked like what I expected education to look like; then web 2.0 came along. Web 2.0 has created opportunities and avenues for people to educate and become educated like we’ve never experienced before. Between charter schools, virtual schools, hybrid schools, open campuses and many other forms of getting educated people are taking advantage of these opportunities at an alarming rate.  The realization hit me about a year ago after I started taking some graduate classes. I was exposed to many things that were happening by other teachers and other institutions. This really scared me. It made me realize that education was changing the same way most other industries change. So, I got on board in a hurry and found a graduate program to take to learn about how to teach in the 21st century. I jumped in completely and decided to learn all I could. I teach with computers, I use social media with my students, and this year I’ll be teaching chemistry to students completely on line.

The problem is; I’m not sure I’m doing this for the right reasons. I’ve gotten on board with the technology. I enjoy using technology; I am just not convinced it’s the way to teach the hard sciences. I guess it comes down to the question; what do we want our students to be able to do when they are done with the course? If the answer is to collaborate and create using web 2.0 tools then we’re heading in the right direction. If it’s to score well on standardized tests then I’m not so sure. Maybe we need to evaluate what we want them to be able to do and come up with a new way to access our students and teachers.

There is a story about a popular rock band that started as an unknown indie band that wrote great music. They stared writing popular tunes and are now millionaires. Someone from another indie band once accused them of selling out and the lead singer replied, “You’re right, we did sell out. We sell out every arena we play and I’m okay with that.” I don’t know why but part of me feels like that singer.

Thanks for reading,

Tom Hanninen

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Tags: teaching, technology, with

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