Technology Beyond the Computer Lab
Remember the days when you went to the computer lab to do your class projects? Computer labs: imposing places with strict rules and sarcastic, awkward geeks who were supposed to help you instead of making you feel like a total idiot for asking how to print. I remember very clearly because I used to be one of those geeks who helped people. I tried not to be sarcastic when people asked questions, but I couldn’t help the awkward part. And twenty years later, I’m still helping people in a computer lab where I work. And these people are teachers and I’m also teaching their students. Students who are having their first experience in a computer lab. A computer lab I want to be different than the kind I used to work in. A lab where students are comfortable asking any question. Where they can experiment and explore without fear of being punished. Where they can create, communicate, and collaborate with their classmates, other classes, and even other students beyond the school walls. A flat classroom with no walls.
It seemed to go fairly well this year with teachers bring their classes to the lab for instruction that was related to what they were learning in their own classrooms. But something seemed to be missing and I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was right about the time a began teaching a new class to middle school students called Digiteen, which is a project under the Flat Classroom Project that teaches students about digital citizenship and safe online choices. In the process of starting the class, I met the organizers online and set up the tools my students would be using to research and collaborate with other students from different countries. I also began reading the Flatting Classrooms, Engaging Minds book that was related to the project. I began realizing how dated my technology instruction had been. I started connecting with other educators and reading what they had been doing in their classrooms and I was blown away. First graders videoconferencing? Fourth graders doing their entire writing portfolio online with wikis and sharing them with multiple countries? I was astounded.
The first day of my class, I was bubbling with excitement when I shared with my students what we would be doing. I was sure they would be thrilled as well. But they looked at me with blank stares and asked, “So…we’re gonna Skype every class then?” When I talked about doing research on digital citizenship topics and collaborating on a wiki with international students, they simply looked at me without comprehension. We’ve had several classes since and I think they are slowly understanding. It’s a difficult process because it’s so new, but I’m hoping they really get something out of it.
But then I started to look at the elementary students who come to my computer lab. Shouldn’t they also be a part of this global project too? So I decided to make a change in how I taught. Instead of having the classes always come to the computer lab for instruction, I decided to go to their classrooms, which already had laptops, and teach them in their environment. I set both 5th grade classes up with blogs and they are now communicating with another class in a different state. We plan to Skype with them tomorrow. We are all very excited. Stay tuned…..