We took the opportunity to catch up with some local teachers and ask how they go about using online resources in the classroom. Here's what a couple have to say about the importance of teaching digital literacy and basic tech skills, as well as the limits of technology's effectiveness.
Vonzele Reed, an 11th and 12th grade social studies teacher at Lake View High School, starts off every school year with basic technology lessons--particularly around etiquette. Even for high school students, he says, "it's safe to say that most students are familiar with using the Internet and email, but maybe not in a formal setting like school or work."
Even productivity tools that we may assume are "basic" require a bit of hand-holding early on. Said Reed, ""We take for granted the simple know-hows of emailing, saving, sending documents. I find myself trying to give them technology skills as I'm trying to teach the curriculum of African American history...A lot of the beginning of the year is getting them adapted to using those products effectively whether its communicating or turning in assignments."
Kelsey McManus, a ninth grade math teacher at a charter school on Chicago's west side, echoed these concerns. Some of the basic digital literacy skills she finds herself teaching "deal with how to log in, how to keep track of passwords, how to navigate an [unfamiliar] website, and how to find the things you need to online.”
Both teachers offered reasons for taking a balanced approach when deciding how often they put students in front of computers. Reed's classes typically spend less than 50% of class time online, mostly on sites like History Channel and PBS to access supplementary media materials that supplement the assigned readings.
And despite the plethora of online math content, McManus' class spends even less time--10% to 25%. She typically has them on Khan Academy, but observed that "students really like to practice things that they already know how to do. [But] pushing them towards learning completely independently online isn’t always the most productive...because it doesn't always follow through with the support that they need."
Reed makes a similar point: "There's a balance that we have to have. Where [can] technology really help us, where does it perhaps prevent us from making a connection with students? For me to receive a paper and make comments, but then be forced to make time to refer to those comments whether its collectively in the class, or on a 1-on-1 basis, that is a practice I will continue to lean on moving forward."