Ubiquitous Technology in Elementary

Schools are considering how much to integrate technology instruction into homeroom technology programs. Fully integrated (a.k.a. “ubiquitous”) technology is the norm in public schools, which usually do not have specialist technology instructors or separate periods for technology instruction. Homeroom teachers teach computer skills and use what technology tools are available to further homeroom projects. Independent schools commonly have specialist technology teachers who teach students in dedicated class periods.

If a school has the option, should it hold separate technology classes in elementary grades or fully integrate technology within the homeroom program? We have experimented with a hybrid approach for the past two years: technology classes meet in two 40-minute dedicated periods per week, but I teach one and homeroom teachers lead the other. This encourages us to design technology lessons that directly support homeroom projects and necessitates that we plan instructional units together. It sends the message to students that technology use is not a specialized domain but rather a ubiquitous tool that we use when needed.

In the spirit of ubiquity, should we integrate technology wholly into the homeroom program and eliminate distinct technology periods? Recently, elementary technology educators met at Head-Royce School in Oakland, and Olga from Woodland School made the following observation (paraphrased). There exist two sets of technology skills, informational skills (take notes, organize, know what resources you need, streamline, understand how to approach various learning methods) and computational learning (open complex software and learn how to use it, such as Photoshop, Scratch, HTML, etc.). There is no time in a ubiquitous learning model for learning specialized software skills such as Photoshop. With a complex application, students need time for exploration. Computational skills cannot be taught in a ubiquitous class setting like informational skills can. Arguable, the greatest emphasis on computational skills should occur in the middle school years.

This clarifies our choice. If we believe that students can master computational skills in fourth and fifth grades (and why can’t they?), then it makes sense to continue with the hybrid approach. We could continue to split time between applying informational and computational skills to homeroom projects, and the technology specialist and homeroom teachers could continue to collaborate closely to ensure that technology projects remain authentic to homeroom work. At the same time, we don’t have to hire a dedicated technology teacher for such a small course load. Collaboration also serves as professional development for homeroom teachers — their technology skills will likely improve through regular meetings with the technology specialist and teaching technology skills to their students.

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