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Teaching Well with Technology: Learning from Teachers

Twenty-first-century digital devices are packaged with the promise of revolutionizing student learning through access to more knowledge, increased organization, wider connectivity to the world, and more. With such powerful tools at the fingertips of students, what role is left for teachers? One high schooler we interviewed said that students have “an all-knowing box of genius at arm’s reach everywhere you go.” If so, does this undermine teachers’ responsibilities? What our team saw and heard over several years of research at Modern Christian Schools suggested that teachers still have a crucial role to play. This research reminded us that even though a world of informational possibilities may be a click away, digital devices do not deliver wisdom or discernment. They do not constructively shape students’ Christian commitments, offer cohesive delivery of curricular concepts, or link academic content to student formation. These tasks are the purview of teachers. Teachers bring experience and professional training to bear as they design teaching and learning.

Technology does not diminish these tasks (Philip and Garcia). In fact, our research suggests that the integration of digital technologies increases the need for intentional and effective pedagogical design. Teachers in our study found that the infusion of new digital tools, paired with intentional and sustained professional development, promoted a rekindled focus on their teaching. Nearly 80 percent of teachers at Modern Christian Schools agreed that the use of technology at the school forced them to “think more critically about [their] own pedagogy.” From among these teachers, we sought out exemplary educators—those who demonstrated the most thoughtful and effective technology integration, according to their peers. What made them stand out? Here I’ll share the insights we gained about what distinguishes these teachers and how schools might best support them as they strive to teach well with technology.

Educators who excelled at technology integration were distinguished, in part, by a commitment to continually redesign and refine their teaching. 

A Willingness to Adapt and the Capacity for Connectedness

 Educators who excelled at technology integration were distinguished, in part, by a commitment to continually redesign and refine their teaching. Change and innovation were a hallmark of their practice. One teacher reflected,

I think that’s what makes me a better teacher. . . . I keep learning new things. . . . I think a teacher has always got to continually work at getting better at what they do. If you ever stop and think, “Yeah, I got my canned lesson plan” and just go with it, it’s time to get a different job. I really believe that.

This teacher’s openness to learning new things made him a respected leader within the school when it came to teaching with technology. We watched his skill in action as he turned a powerful encounter with an online news article into an opportunity to reimagine an existing math unit, extending it to help students explore Christian responses to injustice. After reading about the impact of the global water crisis on women and children in developing nations, he considered ways to invite students to respond. He redesigned lessons on scaling, percentage, ratios, and fractions, asking students to use the internet to investigate real-world facts about the effect of the water crisis in underdeveloped nations. They then used scaling and percentages to compare statistics between populations in the countries researched and their own school population. To conclude the unit, students reflected on what God calls them to do in response to the inequalities and injustices surrounding the global water crisis. The teacher leveraged the readily available internet resources as the foundation for a unit that promoted academic content within a broader formational concern with Christian responses to injustice.

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Kara Sevensma has taught in the undergraduate and graduate education programs at Calvin University (Grand Rapids, MI) and is currently supervising students in the College of Education and Human Services at Lenoir-Rhyne University (Hickory, NC). Her research has focused on faith and technology, digital literacies, and supporting the literacy practices of students with disabilities.