Technology Isn’t “Choice”

I think that many times we see technology as “giving students choice.” We see technology as a better option. I know that I always thought this. When I taught Grade 1 five years ago, I started blogging with my students. I was so excited! Look at the choices I was giving my students! But I really wasn’t giving them any choice. I had blogging prompts for the students, I required a certain writing form, and I had everyone share their thinking on the blog. This was no different than before when I had writing prompts for the students, a given writing form, and everyone writing in his/her journal. I thought that my teaching practices were improving, but really, I was just replacing a paper requirement with a digital one.

Since coming back from March Break, I’ve been talking to lots of people about various technology tools. I’ve answered lots of questions about GoogleDocs, the HWDSB Commons, and different apps. I’ve been happy to answer these questions, but I’ve prefaced each of the conversations with this statement: “I don’t tell the students what tool to use. Students have the choice of tools — from pencils and paper to iPads — based on the expectations of the activity.” Over the year, I’ve introduced and modelled the use of various tools.

  • I’ve shown how to share and collaborate on a GoogleDoc.
  • I’ve shown how to use the Commons for both the creation of private and public blogs.
  • I’ve shown how students can email me photographs, links to videos, and written work (done in multiple programs).
  • I’ve shown how to use various iPad apps — from PicCollage to iMovie — and we’ve looked at why people might want to use these different apps.
  • I’ve shown various ways to write and create using pencils, markers, and paper.
  • I’ve shown how to make Bitstrips Comics and how to make comics on paper.

Now I let students choose the tool(s) that work best for the activity. I also have students explain their reasons for these choices, as it’s good that they can think through their choices and take ownership over them. As long as I can have a portfolio of work from over the year (be it through photographs or electronic examples on Evernote or through a blog or GoogleDocs), I’m happy! 

All students are different, and they all have different needs. They also all have different interests. I love technology, and many technology tools engage me, but does this mean that they engage my students? Over the years I’ve learned a lot, but here are three things that I think about often:

  • The use of technology does not necessarily mean the use of choice. If we’re still only giving one method for completion, then it’s just a different tool for our single “teacher choice.”
  • Technology does not necessarily engage all learners. If we want to know what engages learners, we have to ask, and then we have to be open to listening to the responses and seeing what we can do with this information. I’ll admit this has been hard for me, but it’s amazing to see the various ways that students can share their learning (if we do give them this control).
  • We need to talk about the learning (and the expectations), not the tool. If we want students to focus on learning goals and success criteria, then we need to as well. Our assignments need to be linked to expectations, and then we can discuss tools to use to meet these expectations. I used to always do the opposite of this, but a small switch in word choice has had a big pay off in student understanding about learning.

Now I say all of this, and I know that it’s taken me at least five years to get to this point. I also know that my thinking continues to evolve, and that’s a good thing. Change is important, but can be slow. I think that there are lots of benefits to using technology in the classroom, and I often hear the saying, “We all need to start somewhere.” That’s true. How do we get from this starting point though to the next step? Sometimes I think that the jump requires some challenging/difficult conversations, and how do people feel about having these conversations? What do you think? As I work through my thinking, I’d love to hear your thinking as well!


6 thoughts on “Technology Isn’t “Choice”

  1. I agree that I am really not a fan of online worksheets, or online flash cards or any of those other glitzed up versions of traditional teaching practices that don’t necessarily fit with current pedagogy. However, I do think there is a role in allowing people to at least begin to reconsider how they are doing something and at least substitute as a means of making an initial change. What I would want to do, though, once they tried these out, is try to ensure someone is asking those thought provoking questions. Has this made your practice any better? Or your students’ learning any better? What would make it better? Sometimes making that initial change that was the baby step they needed to try to gain the confidence to consider bigger (and more importantly, better) changes. Just like your gr 1 blogging example, we all have those changes we made to our practices that in hindsight was not as great an idea as we thought, but it was a step we needed to take to move forward. Maybe the real problem is that we don’t have enough critical friends that would help us think through the decisions we make. Maybe the publishers and web site producers also need some critical friends.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! I think that you make an important point here. These critical friends are so important, and I can’t help but think of the “Challenge Game” that you taught to my students (and that they love so much!!), and how, maybe regardless of our roles in education, we all need a good “Challenge Game” of hard questions. The difficult part is seeing these questions not as criticisms of us, but as ways to improve our practices. I must say though that if I didn’t have people like you that continue to challenge my thinking in a good way, I’d still be doing the same blogging activity I was five years ago. It may have been okay, but I’m glad that over time and with reflection, I’ve been able to do better.

      Thank you for being one of these “critical friends!” I do always appreciate your feedback and questions, whether they be online or in person! 🙂


  2. I totally understand where you are coming from. Think most of us who encourage voice and choice in our classroom now was at one point, thinking we were when it fact we were far from it. Offering the choice of technology is not truly offering choice. Offering choice is allowing students to have a say in what they are learning and how they will show that learning. For most of us giving up that control is difficult. Teaching is about control, it is my classroom. Coming to the realisation that it is our classroom and we are here for our learners not the other way around, starts the mind shift. Then we begin to realise that technolgy is not the tool, it is a choice. Students, with the teacher’s help can examine the curriculum and have some voice in what interests them and how they will go about obtaining that knowledge. They will choose from a variety of options (technolgy or not) the best way to show the new knowledge they have acquired. Thanks to you, Kristi and others, I am fortunate to have those ‘critical friends’ that Kristi talked about. People who will constructively question my practices and help me create a classroom where I can truly embrace voice and choice, and continue to use technology as a tool to help my students showcase their thinking.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jo-Ann! I think that you make a lot of important points here. I’m glad that you brought up the difficulty in giving up control. This has been a struggle for me as well. I think that as teachers, we see ourselves as the ones that should have all of the control, and even when we give “voice” and “choice,” it’s hard to not want to still dictate these options. How do we become more comfortable with giving up more of this control? I’d be curious to hear people’s thoughts on this. Maybe it’s a matter of starting small, seeing success, and growing from there. Sometimes the struggle is in getting started. So much to think about …


  3. Aviva, great points. As I delve more into the SAMR model I totally see what you are suggesting. We have often used tech has a substitution for our traditional paper tasks. Technology is just a tool like a pencil or paper however, it has the ability to push boundaries of learning if we allow it. Students have true choice to produce, reflect and share with the world around them. However, like you said we have to give them the freedom to explore this. Great post.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan! I think it takes some time to get to this point, but it’s amazing when the students can really make these choices and explain their choices as well.


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