Apple Archive

Using Computers Effectively in the Classroom

- 2002.05.31

Sometimes it's not that schools don't have the technology, it's that they don't know how to use it effectively. Schools may invest huge amounts of money into computers, presentation screens, and software, only not to use it efficiently.

If they have it, why don't they use it?

While some teachers are fortunate enough to understand how to use computers and set up their classroom to take advantage of the technology, some teachers still don't understand even the basics of the computer --and most only know the basics, which doesn't necessarily enable them to plan how they can efficiently use the technology to benefit their classroom. It's not just the students that need to learn about the computer; the teachers also need to be knowledgeable.

What can teachers actually do in a classroom with a computer? A lot. With one computer and a presentation screen, a teacher can put notes up on the screen instead of writing them on a blackboard, which can be hard to read. If the computer is equipped with a DVD drive, movies relating to what is being studied can be shown, and students and teachers can run PowerPoint slideshow presentations.

Another thing that is starting to become popular is having laptops in schools. Four years ago this wouldn't have been considered, since laptops back then were simply too expensive and could not fit laptop cartinto a school budget. However, things change. The state of Maine recently purchased 36,000 iBooks in order to equip all 7th and 8th grade students and teachers with laptops, as I am sure many of you know. Other schools are following in their footsteps buying laptops - whether Apple, Dell, or HP, laptop computers bring many new possibilities to learning.

These possibilities, such as interactive presentations and computerized exams, often cannot be used to their full extent for several reasons. First of all, as I discussed three weeks ago in The Sad State of Macs and PCs in School, students often don't understand how to use the computer, which can slow a class down. The other problem is that teachers aren't well trained on the computer.

You'd think that a teacher would know what he or she was doing on the computer. Unfortunately, many of them just don't have the necessary skills to be able to instruct a class to do something onscreen.

It's not necessarily their fault. Often the school will send out one of the computer techs to show a teacher the "basics" on the computer. However, one must remember that these are computer techs, people who are bound to get very technical, very quickly. Most teachers aren't able to understand the information that they are presented with.

The techs may know what they are doing, but sometimes have trouble showing others what they know. In fact, several years ago I helped a tech set up my English teacher's computer to receive email. She had never used Microsoft Outlook (Exchange Server Ed.) and did not know how to use it. The computer tech tried to show her how, but she constantly showed that she did not understand. Finally he said to me, "You teach her."

Within about 10 or 15 minutes after that she was able to write, send, receive, and reply to email. In this situation, the problem isn't the computer techs. It isn't the teacher. And it isn't the students. The problem is that the teachers don't understand what the computer techs are trying to teach them to do.

Since the computer techs know what they are doing, they often go too fast, losing the teacher somewhere in between "click this button" and "after you've opened that application close this window." The only way to improve this problem is for a school to hire someone who knows how to effectively teach a teacher how to use a computer.

Some schools do manage to eliminate these problems and integrate technology, such as presentation screens, PDAs, and laptop computers into everyday learning. However, others really need to start getting their people very familiar with this technology, and fast. Right now they might be on par with most other schools, but within four years or so, many schools will be at the point where the computer is a vital part of each class, and those that aren't using it to it's full extent will be considered severely behind the times.

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