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Does Your School Need Better Technology Or Better Thinking?

by TeachThought Staff

Grow >> Technology Integration Workshops

*this blog was originally published at

Using technology to enhance learning is an incredibly exciting idea, and as an area of education is growing fast.

Blended learning, mobile learning, connectivism, and other increasingly popular ideas all owe their existence to technology. But the reality in the majority of public schools in the United States is less than cutting edge. While there is little data available to pinpoint exactly what is being done where, five of the more common applications of technology in the classroom appear below.

The unfortunate reality here is that in lieu of significant progress in how technology is used in the learning process, significant work remains to do a better job understanding how these tools can function to increase depth of knowledge, learning curiosity, and critical thinking skills.

Below we look at five of the most common uses of technology in the classroom: websites/social media, computer-based reading programs, computer-based assessment, and laptops/iPads. Then we take a look at some of the most common problems with each one.

5 Examples Of Misusing The Technology You Already Have 

1. Websites and social media allow students to research and teachers to share–not only lessons plans, but digital resources, assessment data, and even whole-group, away-from-school communication (see The Flipped Classroom). Podcasts, multimedia such as music and YouTube videos, and other digital tools can be accessed here as well.

(See 10 Social Media Sites For Education for further reading.)

The Problem: The internet holds within it the biggest bulk of facts, data, and information a student needs to consistently access. While this isn’t knowledge or wisdom, it’s a start. The problem is access is so often tethered by district filters or well-intentioned restrictive curriculum maps that a set of encyclopedias might’ve functioned just as well.

2. Reading levels (e.g., Lexile) are monitored via computer-based reading programs.

The Problem: Readers, especially struggling readers, can often make significant gains in reading level throughout a year. The bad news is that many of these gains come not from wholesale improvements in literacy, but becoming better at the reading test itself, or more concerted effort to “score higher.”

Worse, using a $1500 computer to take a reading test is a special kind of irony. It’s not innovative, not learner-centered, and probably not what the local bank had in mind when they donated $50,000 for the lab three years ago.

3. Computer-based standardized tests from third-party vendors help are given during the year to predict performance on the end-of-the-year state test.

The Problem: While offering piles of data and a rough picture of a student’s academic deficiencies, standardized tests carry huge clout in most public school districts, and success (and failure) here can mean everything. But if the data that is produced is overwhelming to skillfully analyze and revise planned learning as a result, what’s the point?

4. In the classroom, teachers are using smartboards and clickers to not simply engage students, but to offer more diverse platforms for students to work with new ideas and demonstrate understanding. Many of these tools also allow the teacher to garner data in real-time, which not only saves time (less grading), but more critically offers the student immediate feedback that is often easier for them to interpret than nebulous teacher feedback.

The Problem: They’re smartboards and clickers. We can do better, can’t we?

5. iPads and laptops have the potential to make information and resources immediately accessible to learners, and while that was always the case with textbooks, technology makes this information more easily searchable, richer with multimedia, and potentially social beyond the classroom.

The Problem: Teachers often lack the time or the resources to fully integrate iPads and laptops meaningfully, with one doing the work of the other, and little gains made over what was possible with desktops ten years ago. It is this approach that arms the naysayers in your department with justified criticism of the expense and complexity of proper technology integration.

Image attribution flickr user sanjoselibrary; previously published at


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