Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Thing Called Internet - Reflections on Early Technology Use in My Classroom

I've seen the video I'm posting at the bottom of this blog post one time before, and now that it's come across my stream again, I want to preserve it here. It brought back some memories and has caused me some reflection on my early use of technology in teaching.

If the broadcast date listed in the comments on the source page of the video is correct, October 8, 1993, when it first aired I was just weeks into my first year of teaching. Within a year, I would have my first email account on the Texas Education Network (TENET - I had to go to a day of training at our local education service center just to get an account) and my first AOL account. Within two years, I would be lugging my personal Macinosh computer up to my classroom, pulling the phone off of the wall and plugging in a modem so my students could begin exchanging emails about the books they were reading with another group of sixth graders down in the Valley.

It would be nice (and easy) to look back and say "I knew what an amazing phenomenon the Internet was going to become and so I was on the cutting edge of integrating technology into education." The truth is, I didn't and I wasn't.  I had dabbled in a computer science concentaration in college before switching back to English, but my interest in computers and their practical uses hadn't gone away. Just my interest in programming them!

So, when an opportunity came along to get an email account, it was something new and interesting and it had to do with computers,  and I took it. Then, because I was on TENET, I connected with another 6th grade teacher who wanted her students to exchange "litterary letters" via email with other 6th graders. Another opportunity had arrived, and this time my students got to benefit. They would have a much more authentic audience for their writing than just me. I guess I was in the early stages of technology and Internet integration when I arranged that opportunity for my students, but it's funny I don't remember thinking it was any more of a big deal than using any other tools at my disposal for enhancing my students' learning. It was exciting, though, to realize that we were communicating with another classroom half-way across Texas (Texas is a big state!) via a computer and phone line rather than through postal mail.

Over time, I tried to find ways to integrate technology in my teaching here and there. Students took computer classes in our one computer lab most of the day, so squeezing my kids in for computer time was always a challenge! Each time I used technology, I did it because it made sense; because it extended opportunities for learning. Because it was natural to me. The day we got an Internet connected computer in our classroom was exciting beyond belief for me; I plopped kids in front of that thing every chance I got! Although it's obvious now that we owe our students educations rich in quality technology experiences because that is the way of the world, when I think back to my motivations for using computers in the classroom in the 1990s, I used them because they were THERE. They were a tool to enhance learning. Anything that enhanced learning made sense to me.

I am still amazed in 2010 to run across examples where educators do not think using technology in their teaching makes sense. It really, really should not be that hard. I'm encouraged by the themes of collaborative and project based instructional design with technology emphasized as a TOOL that I am seeing on my networks and in the literature, including readings for my masters degree. Hopefully the instructional design approach, rather than the technology integration approach, will bring technology tools back to being used because they make sense and they are there, and not because we "have to integrate them".

This was supposed to be a short post to preserve a video I didn't want to lose track of again! Obviously, the video stirred up quite a bit more thought and reflection. Take six minutes to walk down memory lane (or history lane depending on your age) with the video below. I invite you to leave a comment on what memories it brings back for you, education related or not!

(As an aside, I wish the Internet were still as clean as it is described in the video!)

First Report On The Internet - CBC Prime Time News - Amazing videos are here
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