A few years ago the school I was teaching at started using Google Docs for productivity. It was a district wide change and every teacher AND every student was signed up with a Google Docs account to use. I was thrilled but the reactions of my colleagues were mixed. Some teachers were saying it was just a nefarious plot to let administration and administrators look over your shoulder at your work. There was fear that this was an attempt to get all teachers to teacher exactly the same curriculum and that teacher individuality was going to be compromised as a result of it. Others were saying that it was the most incredible, wonderful, amazing thing since rainbows. I fell into the latter camp.
I’ve always been a bit of an early adopter of technology for my classroom and this was no exception. I started creating Google Forms for all my quizzes, tests and even many homework assignments. I dove in headfirst and started to figure out how to create a Google Site for my class website, how to share documents with students and have them in turn, share their assignments with me. In the first two years of using Google Docs, I estimated that I saved my school about three thousand dollars in paper costs alone.
That being said, I also started to see some of the drawbacks of using technology. I noticed that some of my students were not turning homework in because of technology issues at home. Older computers that wouldn’t run Google Docs, or dial-up modems, or issues with families under stress. At first I told some of those students that they had to make arrangements to use the school computer lab if they knew their access at home was going to be a constant issue.
Then I also noticed that students who were vision or hearing impaired that had to have modifications created so they could access the material in a way that was beneficial and useful to them. I found myself working harder to create more technology solutions for the technology that I was instituting than I ever had before with just pen and paper.
It all started to feel disingenuous to me. Here I was telling my students that because their family didn’t have a working internet connection, or had a computer that was older and couldn’t handle the memory load of Google Docs, that they would have to work harder to get my assignment done. I also found myself creating more work for myself and my students just so that I could say that I was using technology ALL THE TIME in my class. That’s not the kind of teacher I am and more importantly not who I wanted to be in the eyes of my students. I had to fix it.
I realized that the money I had saved the school in paper was costing more to my student’s education. It just wasn’t worth going full bore into a digital only classroom. We as educators sometimes lose sight of the fact that technology is only as good as the solution it can provide for your class. If the technology is creating more problems than it is solving, then it is not a good solution for you and your class.
I am still a HUGE advocate for using technology in the classroom. I’m just more pragmatic about when I should use it these days. By weighing the pros and cons of a digital only classroom, I learned that it was not worth the cost of having a sizable portion of my students feel alienated and discouraged by their lack of access to the technology. I still love using Google Docs to administer a quiz or test and to share assignments with students. I’m just more realistic now about the need to have paper back-ups available to all students who want that option. The reality though is that if you as an educator are going to go digital, you have to make realistic allowances for the students who can’t take part because of the realities of their personal lives. You have to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of your students. Just remember that technology is not the holy grail of education. It is simply one more tool to choose from when deciding the scope and sequence for an activity, lesson, or project. The more tools we have in our tool belt, the better prepared we as educators are to help our students discover their passion for learning.