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EdTech Update




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Digital resistance is multi-generational

A teacher recently advocated for a student who wishes to stop using her school issued Chromebook and return to paper and pencil to do her assignments. I had heard reports earlier in the year from high school math teachers who went totally paperless that there were students who asked that they could get paper handouts and turn in homework on paper. Surveys show up now and then proclaiming that younger people prefer reading print books to reading ebooks.

When we think of resistance to change in schools, it is usually the adults who come to mind. Nudging, encouraging, mandating, cajoling, bribing, (not yet resorted to blackmailing), I've worked for 30 years to get teachers and administrators communicating, record-keeping, and teaching with digital tools in ways that benefit students. While one is unlikely to encounter a paper grade book or 16mm film in schools today, our digital tools are still pretty much doing analog tasks.

So should we in education re-think this whole digital conversion effort?

A couple phrases we use in our district's planning and mission statements are "real-world ready" and "future ready." And I believe those should be more than simply rhetoric. In order for our students to be real-world ready, they need to be confident in their ability to use "real world" tools - computers, spreadsheets, planning tools, productivity software, communication devices and apps. When Jenny and Carlos get their first engineering jobs, I do not believe they will have the choice of a drafting table or CAD/CAM on a computer.

If we allow students to opt out of using digital tools in their K-12 education, we are doing them a disservice.

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Reader Comments (5)

I think opting out should be situational. We profess as educators to honor Universal Design for Learning (UDL) but then we would have students using tools that don't best fit the way they learn. How about if I hand you a screwdriver and then ask you to remove a bolt? Some students need those connections between their hands and brain and a lot of he time that doesn't translate by using a keyboard, mouse or a touch pad.

April 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJay Bansbach

Hi Doug,
When we first went 1:1, I thought paperless classrooms was what every classroom should work towards. However being paperless, doesn't automatically constitute deep, student centered learning. What kind of tasks are students being asked to do? If it's worksheet after worksheet.... I might just side with the student. (But is this the experiences we want for our kids in this day and age?) I also think it's ok for our students to have choice, especially if the tech is only being used for substitution level tasks. Thoughts?

Jen Hegna

April 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJen H

I do agree that we need to prepare students for Real World Tools but... years ago, at a conference for librarians and tech people, the keynote speaker was a tech evangelist. He was Head of a school that had been one of the first 1:1 laptop schools and was, at this conference, touting the value of the Palm Pilot (yes, it was years ago!). Towards the end of the piece he talked about how everyone was using them for all their notes/records in "the real world" (contrary to my friends' experience in finance, where the Big Wigs all had them but still used pen/paper during meetings) and that paper was obsolete. During the Q&A someone asked how many people were in this school's tech department, and the speaker reached into his pocket as he said, "I knew someone would ask, so I did a quick count" and drew out... wait for it... a piece of paper he'd scribbled on. (queue snarky sotto voce comment).

My point is: yes, tech tools are important. But there's a world of difference between using spreadsheets and CAD and filling in a paper worksheet. We need to give teachers the authority to allow students to use what works best for their learning when the technology isn't integral to the experience (using tech to gather data from an experiment vs. reading a textbook). Insisting on one over the other sometimes makes us hypocrites!

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

My experience shows that the only thing that has gone 100% electronic are memos (one of the reasons we all get so many email). My personal opinion is that someone somewhere will want something on paper for some reason, so we will always have paper.

April 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Jay,

Great to hear from you. I think you right - it is situational. Were I to ask a student to complete a worksheet, I think I would be OK insisting it be done on a computer. Were I to ask that student to do a senior project, I would grant great latitude in the format the final product took. I do think we need to give all kids practice in using the tools colleges and businesses expect them to use.

Hope life is good for you!


Hi Jen,

I agree that regardless of whether analog or digital, some "educational" activities like worksheets are poor uses of student time either way. Actually, I think substitution tasks are exactly where students should be required to use the tech to gain comfort, with higher level task having more choices associated. Interesting to think about.


Hi Laura,

For personal tasks, I think all of us still resort to analog tools. The question about insisting kids use digital tools is more nuanced than my post suggests.

Hi Kenn,

I suspect there are still folks using fountain pens and foolscap too! And I suspect stickynotes will part of my life into the foreseeable future.



April 24, 2017 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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