I spent an hour with some teachers today discussing the merits of required PowerPoint and Photoshop activities for ninth and tenth grade students in our school. Since we do not offer an “intro to computers” course, we rely on teachers of required classes to teach the tech skills that are needed to accomplish the learning goals of their courses. Though we teach fewer skills than we would prefer in this manner, the skills are well-embedded within meaningful learning activities and educational contexts.
The interesting part of the discussion came when we attempted to identify which tech skills were essential supports for teachers’ classes and which were “nice to have” but less essential. Microsoft Word formatting (document, paragraph, and character), Excel formulas and graphing, and Internet research skills were all deemed “essential.” (Email is universally used though we provide no instruction for it.)
In a surprise for me, the group relegated PowerPoint and Photoshop to the “nonessential” category. Teachers felt these applications had a secure place in electives but could not justify the effort needed to make them required in core classes. In the ninth/tenth grade curriculum, it is necessary to get all of the co-teachers of a core class to agree to cover the same material, and the pressure to cover a particular body of content is very strong. These factors sometimes make it difficult to experiment with new kinds of activities or embark on medium to long-term projects.
This explains the death of two former ninth grade multimedia projects: the PowerPoint component of the Mexican History research presentation and the Photoshop collage component of the elder biographical sketch project in English. After at least two years of each of these projects, teachers felt that the benefits of the multimedia components of these projects did not justify the time and effort spent learning the skills and putting them together.
Though I might find presentation and graphics software essential in my work, I always respect thoughtful teacher ordering of priorities. I resist dogmatic assumptions that multimedia or Internet technologies always improves learning regardless of the circumstances. If teachers feel that time spent on other activities better supports learning, then they must be on to something. Still, I will keep on with my strategy of supporting the core technology integration activities that do take place, the very exciting work that happens in elective classes, and look for opportunities to move promising new technologies into the mainstream classes in our school. We are making great progress with interactive course web sites, use of computers for writing and data analysis, and use of audiovisual supports during classes. I will keep a close eye out for exemplary work in PowerPoint and Photoshop to share with the faculty and trust that this will lead to greater effective use of these technologies in the future.