My Most Useful Piece of Technology

26 11 2011

Happy holidays to everyone! Sorry for the lack of blog posts, but Thanksgiving got the best of us.

During a recent conversation about education-related stuff, the topic swung to the use of technology in the classroom. It reminded me of a job interview where they asked how important it was to incorporate technology into teaching, and how important it was to be tech-savvy in a modern education setting.

Before I got into teaching, I spent six years as a desktop support technician. As part of my job, I spent time both formally an informally instructing people on how to use new hardware, software, and operating systems. It was a role that I truly enjoyed, and one that led me into exploring teaching as a career path.

So, they asked how important technology was in the classroom. I responded that it was a very complex question to answer. In my case, technology was something I was familiar with, and embraced as a teaching tool. I recounted how, in my first teaching job, my resources were incredibly limited. I was often promised that I’d be getting more stuff… a projector, a document camera, any number of other things. What I actually had was a 23 inch TV and my own laptop, and three student computers in the back of the classroom that could barely access the internet.

On many occasions, I was complimented for “maxing out” the technology I had in my classroom. I didn’t have much, but I used what I had to the best of my ability. My administrators lamented the fact that others had the things I was begging for, and barely used it. I recalled subbing in more than one classroom where they had Smartboards that were going completely unused. In one case, the board was mounted behind the teacher’s desk and was being used as a coatrack for sweaters and jackets. Thousands of dollars, being allocated to someone who had no intention of even trying to use it.

Going back to my interview, they asked what the most useful piece of technology I had in my classroom was. I thought for a while. My laptop that I used for so much? My projector, that I used every day? My document camera, that made my life sooooo much easier?

My response was my cheap, four-dollar laser pointer that I got in the pet department at Target.

Why? Because it ended up being an extension of my right arm. It allowed me to focus the attention of the entire class on one thing. It enabled me to be in the back of the classroom, assisting a student at her desk, and point out an example on the board in the front of the room. It made it so much easier to move about the classroom while teaching, which enabled me to interact more closely with students and monitor both behavior and check for understanding.

It’s not how much the technology costs, or how elaborate it is. It’s how you use it. For me, I got by without a document camera or a projector for quite a while. My laptop crapped out on me more than once, and its most useful purposes were not for direct instruction. But I could always use my laser pointer, and nothing was more frustrating than when its batteries died and I couldn’t “work the room” the way I was used to.

Yep, my crappy four-dollar laser pointer. It was shaped like a mouse, and intended to be a cat toy.

Give me the technology, and I’ll use it. But if I’m too dependent on any one piece of elaborate tech, I’m sunk. What do I do when the bulb on my projector burns out? What do I do when my laptop crashes? What if the Smartboard decides it doesn’t want to work today?

I get by because I’m used to doing more with less. And I’d rather be doing more with less than less with more.

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