That's Not My Backyard – Another Perspective on the Use of Technology in the Classroom

Over the years that I have served as Director of Technology for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC), I have come to think of it as my backyard. My first reaction upon reading the AdvancEd Research report “The Paradox of Classroom Technology: Despite Proliferation and Access, Students Not Using Technology for Learning” was “that doesn’t sound like my backyard”. In fact, my back yard looks quite different from the picture that article paints.

BCSC implemented a district-wide learning management system at the start of the 2015 school year. At the same time, we provided every student in grades 1-12 with a device. Students in grades 1-8 received Chromebooks while students in grades 9-12 received laptops. As I visited schools throughout the year, I saw consistently students using technology as a natural part of their instruction. Individually, in small groups, and as a class, students were using technology to collaborate, use data effectively, and demonstrate mastery. As BCSC prepares to begin the 2016 school year, I’m thinking about why my backyard looks different.

I think there are three things that make my backyard different. The first is our district-wide commitment to use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as our instructional framework. For the past decade, UDL has helped focus our thoughts about the use of technology as a tool for finding multiple ways of engaging students, presenting materials, and providing students with multiple ways of demonstrating mastery. The important words here are tool and multiple. Technology does not have to be the center of every interaction or learning activity. Rather, technology is a tool just as small group discussion is a tool. In fact, a classroom where every activity required technology would be a poor example of a UDL classroom.

The second is our intentional implementation of technology. BCSC resisted the urge to “throw technology at the problem”. Rather than push computers, interactive whiteboards, and other technology into the learning environment, BCSC chose to deploy technology when the learning environment and our instructional staff were ready for the technology. The result has been that our teachers use technology as an appropriate adjunct to other tools in the learning environment.

The glue that holds all of this together is professional development. Professional development has helped our staff move from the first layer of UDL as multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression to a deeper understand of the qualities of expert learners. This also leads to a deeper understanding of the enabling role of technology.

Just to be clear, my backyard isn’t perfect. My district still has work to do as we begin the 2016 school year. The use of technology as an instructional tool is a journey and not a destination. Not all of us are at the same place in that journey. UDL has taken root, and we see a tremendous garden of means of engagement, representation, and action and expression. We will continue to nurture these. As important as I think that technology is to the growth of all of our students, I hope that my backyard blossoms with rich innovation and creativity of all sorts not just those of technology.

Michael Jamerson is the Director of Technology for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation and currently serves as CoSN's Board Chair. He is also a founding member of CoSN's Indiana chapter, the Indiana Chief Technology Officers Council.