Critical thinking in an age of digital convenience: just a contradiction or a productive coexistence? SMART Technologies CEO Nancy Knowlton helps us answer some of the common dilemmas of teaching thinking with technology.
Advancements in technology have definitely made life easier, faster and more convenient.
While we are well aware of how this has changed classroom teaching, many are still unsure of how it helps achieve the other demands of the modern world – such as the need for students to think critically, be creative, and construct their own learning.
How do we teach a generation of digital natives to be tech-savvy but not spoon-fed? We asked SMART Technologies CEO Nancy Knowlton to answer some of the common questions on teaching thinking with technology.
Q: Technology seems to be all about making things easier for people. How can I use IT to help my students think critically without them becoming dependent on technology to do things for them?
A: Technology does make things easier for people, but it is not an end in itself. Technology is there to serve the needs of students and teachers, and aid the learning process. At SMART we believe that a teacher, trained and comfortable using a SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard, is better able to engage and motivate his or her students in whatever subject is being taught. Studies from around the world have confirmed this.
Once a student is engaged, I think most teachers, relying on their professional skills to create authentic learning experiences, will find it easier to stress important concepts like critical thinking.
Technology opens the window to a vast array of information. It is still the teacher’s role to stress the importance of questioning, evaluating and analysing this information.
Q: How exactly does technology help develop critical thinking and creativity among students?
A: First and foremost, using technology in the classroom means that there are tools and resources in students’ hands that allow them to fully explore their theses and ideas. Students aren’t limited by the resources that are housed in their libraries. Add a skilled teacher-librarian into the equation and these students can leap ahead in their thinking and creating.
The foundation here, though, is a teacher who structures pedagogically sound learning experiences to develop these skills. The art of asking good questions and then helping to model the appropriate thinking processes is key. Then allowing children to share the knowledge they have constructed with their classmates through a technology-enabled environment provides rigour and challenge while developing good presentation skills.
Q: Does this mean that teachers should give up traditional tools such as a blackboard and chalk?
A: That is entirely up to individual teachers or school administrators, but it likely is the way to go when moving to a digital world. Just as Cortez burned his ships when he reached the new world, using new technology in the classroom means that at least some of the old tools should be left behind.
There have been many great teachers who have stood in front of their classrooms, with a blackboard behind them, and ignited the will to learn in their students. This is often called the sage-on-the-stage model. They have lectured explained, questioned, challenged, prodded and developed generations of citizens and leaders. Students have written their notes, listened attentively, undertaken their assignments and moved on to become productive members of society. This model worked well for a long time.
While we may have a romantic belief that education remains the same today as when we attended school, the reality is that children have changed, and much of that change has to do with the pervasiveness of information and technology. What was once a useful teaching model in a less digital, less hectic world seems dated to children who have grown up with technology all around them and who cannot understand why they should leave it behind when they enter a classroom.
Q: There are so many new programmes, devices and technology being developed for teachers. How do I know which one would be best for my students?
A: I would simply ask the following questions: Does this technology increase the engagement of my students in the subject? Does it motivate them? Does it increase their curiosity? Does it improve their level of participation? As a teacher, does it make my lesson planning more effective and easier? If the answer to those questions is “Yes”, the technology is worth using in the classroom.
In the absence of concrete answers, try out the products and see how everyone responds to them. And talk to other teachers to get their direct advice and input.
Q: What are some Dos and Don’ts for teachers who are thinking of using new technology in the classroom?
A: I will keep it all positive.
- Do remember that technology, like interactive whiteboards, is for both teachers and students because it encourages a very participatory model of instruction. Many educators tell us that students should use the interactive whiteboard more than the teacher, particularly in the lower grade levels.
- Do put the technology in the hands of teachers who like to experiment and explore. They will delight in the opportunity, and that enthusiasm will rub off on their colleagues and they will be eager to have the same opportunity when they see the success of the technology adventurers.
- Do ensure that teachers learn to use new technology like interactive whiteboards at a comfortable pace. Spread professional development out over a reasonable period, starting with the simplest functions first, then feed in more as the teachers can absorb and need the training.
- Do encourage the use of technology in the teaching of all subjects, not just mathematics and science, and at all grade levels.
- Do have school administrators make a serious commitment to transformation if they expect teachers to make a serious commitment to technology and to changing the way they teach. Technology tools must be readily available to teachers when they need them and training should be adequate right from the start.
- Do remember to include the students in training. Not only does this foster a sense of responsibility, but it can also provide valuable assistants to the teachers as they explore and develop their technology skills as well.