For the Love of Classroom Tech

Who doesn't love a gadget? Touch sensitive glass and voice commands have become commonplace in a world where the mechanical whirl of gears and levers are phasing into relic status. The western world now has the first aging generation of a digital period where vast quantities of information flow at an enormous rate. As this wave of data streams through the channels of the cyber-universe, teachers and students alike are being challenged to better understand these tools while serving their students' in the best direction possible. But how to effectively introduce and maintain this tech in the classroom is a growing concern.

As with great technology there is great marketing and schools are far from exempt. Los Angeles Unified has a $1 billion education technology initiative which last year experienced an assortment of bumps with regard to its iPad experiment. As today's science affects our lifestyles exponentially, many districts now have line items in their budgets that reflect the changing landscape of high-tech learning. Is it justified? Will students continue to learn using yesterday's methods in preparation for a wireless, paperless future? Can they?

Not that I grew up that many decades ago but I do remember attending an elementary school where a calculator suddenly became the mandatory tech along with lined paper and a Number 2 pencil. That year my father and I went out shopping and, one by one, we tried many different models pushing all of the buttons in order to determine the exact touch needed to acquire the optimum amount of knowledge and wisdom without overexerting our digits (if I remember correctly it was a Texas Instruments Ti1000). In 2014 that device had been abandoned. In turn, each and every one of our smart phones prove that they are exactly that, borderline genius. Gone are the simple days. Contemporary logic now dictates that students must become familiar with the latest wizardry otherwise run the risk of being left behind.

Of the many classrooms that I have worked in as an adjunct educator and mentor, all have benefitted from employing a certain degree of modern convenience as a teaching companion. Some facilities have designed their curriculum around the functional wiring of their classrooms. More often than not Smart Boards and laptops have replaced chalkboards and the composition notebook. I remain amazed by the age at which young kids have learned how to "code," create programming that brings adamant objects to life. As a child, my seven-hour school day was similar to today's national curriculum: science, math and english. Yet, I also recall hours spent conjuring shapes and figures out of paint and clay which turned out to be just as vital to my growth. I cannot imagine a future without the years invested with percussive and brass musical instruments; and lastly, my vision was forever altered by my love affair with a steel Nikon which soon became my closest ally.

It seems that technology, regardless of the era, surrounds us, shapes our creativity and drives our inventiveness. The concern these days is not simply the instruments by which we learn but the rate at which we dispose of the old and welcome the new. Of course any type of classroom inspirational wonder can be a godsend, but what occurs when the rate at which that inspiration gets replaced with another? Does the "wow" factor dissipate? At what point does the novelty end and the practicality begin?

The speed at which we replace and renew is becoming less about functionality and more about consumerism. If the goal behind equipping our learning institutions with the latest computers and iDevices is to educate our youth in expression, communication and being the best they possibly can be, fantastic. My concern surrounds the less obvious conditioning behind the latest former models as they are phased out shortly after distribution only to encourage students to stand in line for the next new and improved device. What I fear we are educating is less about fostering creative and marketable skills and more about creative marketing.

The trumpet has yet to undergo significant upgrades yet, in the right hands, it can muster the magic of the universe. I think what is important is that we, as educators, harness the inspiration necessary in ourselves for students to imagine infinite possibilities instead of concentrating so much on the tools necessary to physically breach the universe. Everyone has a favorite teacher that they will remember for their lifetime; my Texas Instruments calculator went missing sometime in the eighth grade.