Longform: Technology in the eyes of student teachers

It’s true, technology is all around.

In today’s world, people have supercomputers in the palms of their hands. It isn’t hard to pay a bill on a mobile application, post latest whereabouts to the social media outlet of choice or even stay up-to-date with the most recent news in such a charged social climate.

One of the most recent trends is seeing technology creep past the cinderblock walls of classrooms across America.

Integrating technology in classroom instruction is more than just teaching basic computer skills—it is an effective way to further enhance the learning process across the board. Whereas 15 years ago, students were still assigned textbooks and wrote notes by hand, today’s students read textbooks online and take digital notes on school-lended technologies.

The Athens-Clarke County school system has implemented instructional technology goals system-wide, with the emphasis of moving all of their schools closer to a 1:1 ratio–that is, 1 piece of technology per every enrolled student.

Clarke County schools refer to their technology plan as “Learning Technologies,” which is described as the “application of technology for the enhancement of teaching, learning, and assessment.” Learning technologies look different among every grade level.

For example, among the middle school grades, technologies used in Clarke County schools vary from Google Classroom to Socrative to even learning to code.

Teachers already inside the classrooms aren’t the only ones who are having to adapt to learning new educational technologies. Thousands of college students enter the cinderblock walls of classrooms across the nation every day to gain field experience through student teaching. Not only are student teachers having to learn how to manage a classroom in one semester, they are also having to learn how to adapt–quickly–to the increasing trends of implementing technologies into lesson planning and curriculums.

The University of Georgia is home to one of the leading colleges of education in the United States. In fact, several student-teach in the Athens-Clarke County School System.  

Logan Fetters, 21, a secondary English language arts and math primary education major, from Canton, Georgia, currently student teaches at Clarke Middle School in Athens, Georgia. Although Fetters thinks having technology inside the classroom is beneficial, in her experience, she’s also discovered a lot of negatives that can hinder her students’ learning.

At Clarke Middle School, students are loaned laptops at the beginning of each school year and must return them at the end of the same school year. Students are tasked with charging laptops at home every night and bringing them back to school the next day so that they can adequately perform tasks assigned every day.

Logan Fetters, 21, from Canton, Georgia, currently student teaches at Clarke Middle School. Every school year, students are loaned a laptop to finish class assignments and complete various tasks, including homework.
Logan Fetters, 21, from Canton, Georgia, currently student teaches at Clarke Middle School. Every school year, students are loaned a laptop to finish class assignments and complete various tasks, including homework.

“[There will be] at least one student in every class who either doesn’t have a computer or doesn’t have a charger for their dead computer,” Fetters said. “So, if they don’t have a computer or charger, they cannot participate in the activity.”

Even though Fetters doesn’t use technology with her students every day of the school week, she still has had a learning curve adjusting to what technologies are available to use. Fetters wasn’t trained on anything in her college classes, so she’s had to rely on her mentor teacher to show her how to best utilize educational technology.

“I know I’m supposed to be from the technology generation, but I struggle sometimes with using the computer for education purposes for my students,” Fetters said. “My mentor teacher is also older, so she didn’t grow up with technology and doesn’t have positive emotions towards using technology.”   

Fortunately for Fetters, technology is not implemented into every day’s lesson plans. She says they use computers inside the classroom about once a week. As a future teacher, she appreciates the exposure she has received on how to use technology, but in reality, has realized that it can be hard to manage a classroom full of students at the same time.

“It’s hard to make sure every student is on task,” Fetters said.

As a soon-to-be teacher, Fetters appreciates the exposure she has already gained with use of technology in the classroom, but would ultimately love to use games, like Desmos, to excite students about learning certain subjects, like math.

Emily Smith, 22, a middle grades education major, from Valdosta, Georgia, is one of those students. She is currently student teaching at Hilsman Middle School in Athens, Georgia, where she is emphasizing in social studies and English language arts. Hilsman Middle School is one of Clarke County school system’s 1:1 schools.

Just like Clarke Middle School, Hilsman Middle School students are issued a computer that they use for the duration of the school year.

Their technology of choice: Google Chromebooks.

Like Fetters, Smith had no formal educational technology training in any of her college education courses, so she has had to figure everything out as she goes along.

Smith has found that the daily use of Google Classroom has allowed a more mainstream approach for both herself and her students.

“Basically everything is done on computers,” Smith said. “Most students keep an online notebook assignments are posted and submitted in the Google Classroom, and videos on the drive are shown on the smart projector.”

As an English language arts emphasis, Smith has also found that utilizing Google Classroom and smart boards are extremely useful. For example, Smith feels that smart boards assist in underlining important things to note or working on grammar in an English class.

Smith finds many positives with implementing technology into her future classroom. However, one thing holds her back from time to time.

The one hindrance to everything being based on a computer is not handwriting anything–even notes.

“Students tend to retain less because they are not handwriting,” Smith said.

But, like Fetters, the biggest worry for Smith is the distraction that technology enables.

“The biggest hindrance is that it is so easy to become distracted,” Smith said. “Many students will play games on their computers instead of working and many get away with it because everything is done on the computer anyway.”

Overall, Smith is still passionate about implementing the technologies she has adequately learned while student teaching, especially the interactivity smart boards and projectors provide for English lessons.

Even with learning curves for future teachers, like Fetters and Smith, one thing is for sure: technology makes things easier for the students.