We are just over two years into the pandemic for COVID-19, and my students are finally back in the classroom and learning in-person. Keeping my students motivated is still a challenge, and I’ve noticed an important change in their attitude to technology: Just using tech for activities and projects has not been inspiring my students like it did before the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, my students perked up when they heard that they would be using technology as a medium to complete an activity or a project. They were always excited to try out a new program or website, to create their own productions with sound and animation or to record a podcast or a digital story. Using technology to complete projects was always an organic way for students to work together, explore technology and present their work in creative ways. In many instances, these experiences with technology greatly improved my students’ retention of course material and made their learning experiences more engaging.
Being a middle school teacher, learning on Zoom was hard for the majority of my students. They were tasked with sitting in front of their screens for the majority of the day while learning remotely. If that was not enough, they were also forced to learn and interact with a melting pot of different sites and programs that were used by their different teachers.
Very quickly, technology was becoming more of a burden for students than a tool to enhance their learning.
Now that we’re back in person, I’ve had to keep this in mind when planning activities and projects.
A Shift in Thinking and Planning
When I embarked on my first unit project after returning to in-person learning, and I presented our technology project on ancient Egypt, I was met with frowns and sighs. I had never gotten this reaction from my students after presenting them with a project.
Usually, my students are electrified with ideas and cannot wait to begin. Their reactions really made me think about how I use technology in my teaching, and why I want my students to use it as a medium to complete their projects. My aim was always to make my students’ learning more memorable and engaging, but now my methods were backfiring on me.
I did not want my students to suffer through this project, so I decided to amend it a bit. Instead of requiring my students to all complete the same podcasting project, I decided to give them choices. I created a choice board for the ancient Egypt project and brainstormed different project options, with some that required the use of technology and some that did not. When I distributed my choice board, to my surprise, the majority of students chose project options that did not require the use of technology.
After observing this phenomenon, I wanted to dig deeper. I asked my students to write a few lines about why they chose their project option. The responses revealed a few common themes. Most of my students reported that they wanted a break from their screens. They wanted to do a project that was more hands-on that allowed them to work more off-screen. Other students reported that using technology for projects can be really frustrating for them, especially when things do not go as planned and they are forced to troubleshoot their problems. Those students also reported that projects that require the use of technology can take much longer to complete and perfect because of all the small details that go into them.
After viewing all the projects produced for the ancient Egyptian unit, I was pleasantly surprised by what was submitted. My students really took ownership of their project choices, and I suspect the outcomes were much better than they were when they were required to complete a specific project and did not have any choices. It was choice, not technology, that inspired my students.
Through this process, I learned many important lessons. I realized that many of my students are fatigued by the use of technology. Teachers required a lot of them during distance learning, and it is only right to give them a reprieve. A reprieve does not mean I am making things easier for my students. It means that I am now giving them choices.
Although my students gained many valuable tech skills while learning remotely, they were not all motivated to use them upon their return to the classroom.
Each of my students is different, and they all have different skill sets and interests. By giving them choices, I am allowing them to decide what medium is best for them.
And these days, I’ve discovered that using technology does not always motivate my students. Giving them choices has inspired my students to really immerse themselves in what they are learning and demonstrate their learning in a way that best fits their skillsets. After a break from being forced into using technology, my hope is that their love for the use of technology will return.