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Technology not just for technology’s sake

Another interesting article summarized by Kim Marshall in his weekly Marshall Memo.  The original article,  “Why Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools,” was written by Paul Barnwell and published in Teacher, May 30, 2012.

Can Cell Phones and Social Media Be Useful Classroom Tools?

In this thoughtful article in Teacher Magazine (online), Tennessee high-school teacher Paul Barnwell describes his early enthusiasm for using social media and allowing students to take out their forbidden cell phones and use them in school. “I was a cool teacher, seeing beyond the anachronistic policy and bringing 21st-century learning into the classroom,” he says. He used Poll Anywhere and class blogs to get students summarizing what they read and submitting exit tickets, and students loved seeing their comments instantly posted on the classroom screen and blog site.

But there were problems with Poll Anywhere. Some students didn’t have texting cell phones and others thought it was hilarious to post derogatory comments for all to see. Barnwell decided that old-fashioned note-cards and verbal responses were more effective – and less time-consuming. He’s come to see Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr as “mindless banter and instant gratification” rather than helpful learning tools. “While summarizing is a real skill,” he says, “do we really want students to further fragment their thoughts and attention in this age of incessant digital distraction and stimuli with 140-character blurbs? Do we want students to spend even more time in front of a screen, bypassing opportunities to converse and collaborate face to face?”

Barnwell is also disillusioned with Prezi, which seemed cool at first, but is really “just a better-looking, slightly more interactive version of PowerPoint,” he says. “I don’t want students to become dependent on technology that requires too many templates, cheapens thinking, or relies on flashy graphics and movement. These gimmicks do not develop genuine technology competence… Being tech savvy should include the ability to synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original.”

But Barnwell is no Luddite. In fact, he’s teaching a course on digital media and storytelling that uses technology as part of a larger creative process – planning, prewriting, drafting, editing, and revising student-generated audio, still photos, and video. “There is tremendous power and potential in what we can teach students with sound, image and video-based projects,” he says. Students are using Google docs, analyzing images and video in the context of literature and narrative, and learning how to shoot photos, interview people, and edit and sequence their raw footage and images. “They create photo essays, audio slideshows, and short documentaries from start to finish, then critique each other’s work,” says Barnwell.

His biggest insight is that being tech savvy is all wrapped up with people skills. “If students can’t communicate face to face to conduct interviews or set up photo shoots, there is little point in placing a camera in their hands or a laptop at their desk,” he says. “As educators, we must find a balance between screen time and ‘face’ time.”

Barnwell doesn’t regret his experiments with technology, and keeps trying new things. “I’m still trying to figure out my curriculum,” he concludes, “and will continue to test out new programs and technology applications to enhance the course. But until I’m convinced that cell phone and social media applications truly support deep thinking, my students will keep their devices in their pockets and backpacks.”

“Why Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools” by Paul Barnwell in Teacher, May 30, 2012,

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