WynnAlishaScience[I often say, “Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” I thought I’d take a little time to explore each item in that triptych. My first post was Ubiquitous. Here is my second in the series. — Chris]

Technology must be necessary.

That seems like an easy one. It is hard to think of a part of American life that is not touched by technology today outside of our schools. And yet, most students today do not feel that a laptop or a tablet is absolutely necessary to their success inside of school. This despite over 68% of American households having broadband internet at home. ( But for some reason, we continue to expect kids to dutifully take notes in an analog fashion and cut themselves off from the world outside the walls of the classroom while they aren’t.

It is time to admit that technology must be a necessary component to learning in school. Let’s use something as simple as note taking as an example. Why would we make students handwrite notes in a classroom anymore? Today, when students have the ability to use a tool like Evernote or Google Docs, notes can be compiled, reorganized, and shared. The ability to filter and the ability to search means that students can reference and use their notes more quickly and powerfully than before.  That doesn’t mean that every note has to be taken online, in fact I enjoy using the Evernote moleskin to take notes the old-fashioned way and then digitize them, but the idea that students could  create an electronic repository of their notes, their ideas, their work, should not be revolutionary anymore. It should simply be necessary. It should simply be done.

But that is the low-hanging fruit. Technology is necessary for reasons far greater than a better way to take notes or write a paper. Technology is necessary in our schools because it allows our students to see their work is authentic in the world. No longer is student work simply a one-to-one dialogue between teacher and student. Students can publish their work, students can take part in communities of practice both inside and outside of their immediate school community, And students can see their work is adding to the larger dialogue about topics that are of importance to them. The first time a student at SLA received an email from someone asking a follow-up question about a project, his vision of himself as a scholar completely changed. Every time students see their videos make the rounds on twitter, they understand they have created a vision of the world that is shared. When students use social media to reach out to experts in their fields, students develop their ability to inquire deeply and interact with adults who are further along on that path of inquiry. When students use technology in a science classroom to do powerful experiments or in an engineering class to make their idea become real, students no longer are only learning science, learning engineering, they are becoming scientists and engineers.

Technology becomes necessary when students see it as vital to the way they learn, when they cannot imagine doing the work without it. It is necessary when it allows them to do things, learn things, create things and share things like never before. Technology becomes necessary when it makes the work students do more authentic, more empowering and shared to the world. And, as educators, isn’t that how we want our students to view the artifacts of their learning? Technology is necessary not just because it is vital to the lives our students — and our society — leads outside of school. It is necessary because it can be married to progressive pedagogy and used to help students become fully realized scholars of the world.

11 thoughts on “Necessary

  1. Chris
    I taught at a school with a 1 – 1 laptop program where the laptops each had a stylus. Many of my students in my math classes wrote their notes by hand electronically in OneNote on their computer. Ubiquity is not the way of life where I am now. I wonder how my students take math notes without the stylus aspect to their computers. I have a few kids who bring iPads to school, but most of those who do bring their own tech bring notebooks or small laptops. It feels like math notes require some specific capabilities – something like MathType that few are quick with. What solutions am I missing to this problem. I’d love to have those with the technology compile permanent records of their reactions to class.

    • At a most basic level, why not just have them set up Evernote accounts and write notes and then take photos of them and pull them in? They can then tag them so that they are easily found.

      Other than that, another thought is to install SmartBoard software on the computer, and use the SmartBoard software (d/l for free) to draw their notes.

      There are probably better answers than that… but that’s what I’ve got. I’m open to other ideas from readers.

      • Actually, if they have an iPad, they can use Penultimate which integrates directly with Evernote and makes their handwritten notes searchable with OCR (your mileage may vary depending on your handwriting, of course.)

      • Wish my students could have evernote accounts, but they are only 12…we keep our notes/pictures/evidence of learning in our weebly websites for now (because I can get them those sites easily as an educator and they work well as ePortfolios).

        Do you know of anything like evernote that can be used without age restrictions?

  2. Thanks so much for this timely post. I have been blessed to have 1 device for every 2 students in my grade 3/4 classroom this year. The students are able to use them all day, every day for reading, investigating, sharing and creating. It has become seamless. I do not teach technology but rather we discover and share as the moment arises. I can’t imagine teaching and learning any other way!

  3. This is only on the somewhat trivial point of notetaking, and not your larger point:

    As one interesting data point, my students at MIT basically never bring technology to class unless I insist they do so. Virtually all of them do all of their notetaking in spiral bound or 3-ring notebooks.

    One possibility is that MIT students don’t know the value of online notetaking, but then one has to make the argument that the student community at MIT is incapable of collectively recognizing the value that you proposed.(I actually think this is possible, that people don’t recognize the value because the upfront time costs are high, but the benefits of searchability, etc. don’t appear until much later in the notetaking process. On the other hand, MIT students are kinda good with technology.). Another possibility is that when taking notes in math, science, and engineering classes with lots of mathematical notation, the benefits of technology don’t outweigh the transactional time costs. Paper just works better. Stylus and tablet technology isn’t there yet. That’s what my students tell me is the reason behind their decision..

    I also recently was at Deerfield Academy, in an advanced biotechnology research class, where students had been issued a MacBook, an iPad, and a spiral bound notebook. They all chose to keep their lab notes in the notebook. Again, for the kind of work they were doing, they found paper to be the superior technology.

    There are also issues of permanence. My paper binders are keeping all of my high school records quite nicely (though difficult to search). My grad school notes are locked in OneNote. Will I be able to access them 20 years from now?

    I certainly agree with the larger point that “Technology becomes necessary when students see it as vital to the way they learn.” There is a lot of interesting discussion to be had about what “necessary” means to educators and what ideas they should impose on their student.

    • Justin

      This is interesting and I think it addresses my reply above. I have felt that the demands of math note taking just outstrip the technical capabilities so far but kind of felt like I was copping out when I said/thought this. It’s nice to hear others have seen the same thing. We don’t have a very tech-y presence (yet?) in our school and the kids who do bring devices along with them don’t seem to have the tools to hand write onto their electronic device.

  4. It’s great to see this discussion about note-taking in mathematics, as this is certainly the area where I feel the tech is most inadequate (or in any area where complex symbols and non-linear approaches are needed). I have students who bring iPads to class, but to be honest, they’re not taking notes. When they do want to take notes, they revert to paper and pen/pencil. I have started using a LiveScribe pen for preparing my notes, but haven’t yet moved to the searchability stage.

    We do have interactive whiteboards but we haven’t consistently moved to recording our notes from there and exporting to, say, pdfs.

    I see tech in studying mathematics more useful for its demonstration and exploration powers than for the note-taking capabilities. The capacity to visualise abstract concepts, the ability to create dynamic geometric constructions, that’s where the tech comes into its own.

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