Tech Literacy and the Modern Classroom


Last week, we were very fortunate to have Jeff Utecht at Grant Wood AEA for three days. He spoke to teachers, administrators, and Grant Wood consultants on a variety of different topics relating to the use of technology in schools. He did an amazing job and was well received by all that attended his sessions.

One of the topics Jeff discussed was one that resonated a lot with me, and that was in relation to tech literacy. How much are we really preparing students for a world that is packed full of technology and used on a daily basis? Are we exposing them to the vocabulary they need to navigate such a world and are we adjusting the way we expect them to learn based on what technology can do to make that process easier than ever before? These are challenging questions.

For instance, how important is perfect spelling when Google, Bing and Yahoo! and any other search engine you care to use will compensate for your typos and spelling mistakes with a helpful “Did you mean…” at the top of the page? Well of course I meant that. Thank you for reading my mind!

It’s not just search engines either. Every modern browser or productivity program you can think of has its own built-in spelling and/or grammar checker to help us when we need it most. Words underlined in red, or blue for that matter, is something that students working on digital devices will see often. Do they know what it means and how to fix it quickly and efficiently? Do they know how to deal with false positives?

With voice search, you can take that a step further and have many modern devices perform a search for you without you even having to think about how to spell even one word. In Chrome you can say “OK Google, what is the tallest building in the world?” and see, or hear, the answer you need in a matter of seconds.

Spelling is not irrelevant, far from it, but the digital tools that are there to support it are increasingly powerful and help open doors for students that may not have previously been able to communicate their needs so effectively.

Jeff told us the story of one school he visited that had the alphabet proudly displayed around the walls of the classroom. Sounds normal right? It is, until you hear that each letter had a keyboard shortcut underneath it to show the function each letter performs with the Ctrl key as a modifier. I love that idea. You probably know some of these: Ctrl+C = copy text, Ctrl+V = paste text, Ctrl+Z = Undo, but is there really a complete A-Z for this kind of thing? Turns out there is. I looked it up. Wikipedia has a complete list of Ctrl commands that go from A-Z and beyond.

Then there is the issue of handwriting. My daughter is in 1st grade. I sometimes wonder about how much handwriting she will really do when she graduates and leaves school. I used to think she would probably do more typing than writing, but I am not sure it will even be that any more, especially given the advances we are seeing in voice recognition software. Only time will tell I guess, but things are changing…fast.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it is no longer important for students to be able to write. It absolutely is important, and I think we will all be writing for some time to come, (even if paper is no longer our medium of choice), but what about things like cursive handwriting? How much emphasis and time should we be taking in the classroom to learn a specific handwriting style?

While I concede that I was not educated in the United States, I personally find cursive handwriting a lot harder to read than printed handwriting or typed text, and I expect I am not alone given the increasing diversity in our schools today. However, I also recognize that some students prefer to write that way and are actually more legible that way, so there is absolutely still a case to be heard for cursive writing being taught.

Tech literacy is a fascinating topic. Is it controversial at times? Absolutely, but it’s something we should be very mindful of as we look to the future and consider the world that we are trying to prepare students to be successful in when they leave education and enter the workplace. So, how do you address tech literacy in your classroom? How do you address the balance between the analog and the digital world? Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

4 thoughts on “Tech Literacy and the Modern Classroom”

  1. Great info., Jonathan~ Agreed that we need to be teaching our students how to manage and use technology for educational purposes , and the younger the better so they are equipped for the digital world they live in. For some students, I do see the need to decrease the handwriting expectation and move them on to a more efficient means to produce written expression. I think a balance of both (conventional manuscript and/or cursive, along with key boarding skills) needs to be taught. Learning and retention of information is higher when students have multiple means of representing what they learn ( Universal Design for Learning). I am all about the brain receiving, processing, and then expressing that information in a concise way for students. From an OT viewpoint. we need to keep up the pace with both, or we will be losing the motor component necessary for learning. I just found this article on the Paperli posting to add to this discussion:

    Patty Soldner, OT

    1. Thanks Patty. You are of course right. A balance is important, especially for students with specific needs. I am also cognizant of recent conversations around retention while typing vs. retention while writing as seen here:

      We are going through an interesting transition with digital tools right now so there is a lot to think about as we look to the future. And, as always, what works for one student may not work for another so we need multiple strategies to deal with that.

  2. Lovely post, Jonathan. I’ve been using some of Jeff’s materials in training sessions lately, and it doesn’t surprise me that he did a great job.

    One very petty and pedantic typo in your post made me smile, and forgive me if I can’t resist pointing it out. Your fourth paragraph has “Every modern browser or productivity program you can think of has it’s own built-in spelling and/or grammar checker”. I’ll assume you were typing that on an iPhone, which doesn’t understand the correct use of the apostrophe. In line with your post, that sort of thing may not matter one jot from now on, of course…

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