Intro to Low-Tech


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In this post, I planted a low-tech flag in twenty-first century educational territory.  I’m not the only proponent of this approach, as Waldorf schools like this one and other institutions that take a paper/pencil/brain approach to learning can be found in most major cities.  See also the information provided here, here, and here.

I am, however, writing on the topic because there has been immense pressure placed on elementary and secondary school teachers to conform to a kind of pro-tech rubric that doesn’t take into consideration the subject area of the teacher, nor the appropriateness of the technology for the students.

In the frenzy of assuring that students succeed at using the sexiest new gadgets on the market, we’re in danger of losing sight of the fact that school is for learning some skills to which the use of technology just does not apply.  In my opinion, it’s unfair to burden every teacher in an institution with tasks such as making sure that twelve-year-olds know how to use Google or make a PowerPoint presentation.  That’s what computer and multi-media classes are for.  If a literature teacher–heck, even a math teacher–doesn’t want to incorporate technology in the classroom, he or she shouldn’t have to.  But we are expected to, because to do otherwise might doom our students to being–GASP!–unsavvy with an iPad.

So what is a low-tech classroom?  What does a low-tech classroom look like?  What goes on in a low-tech classroom, how does a teacher teach without technology?  It depends on the teacher.

I can tell you that in my classroom I have a computer, and a smartboard with a projector/DVD player.  I’m low-tech, not no-tech, so I do use these implements when it makes sense to use them.

I use the smartboard to supplement lessons with visual examples.  This is an excellent tool for class vocabulary drills, as I can make a collage of new words with free clipart for days when I want the students to have vocab visual aids.  Unfortunately, the smartboard takes up about half of the whiteboard space.  I have never understood why all smartboards seem to be mounted in the middle of the already available writing space.  Were they meant to completely replace board writing?  I don’t know of a single classroom in which this is the case.

I’m currently collecting tangibles for interactive vocabulary drills, commonplace items like male and female figurines, trees, flowers, animals, etc.  I find that giving the kids something to physically manipulate while learning new words or composing sentences does makes a huge difference both in concept connection and retention.

I teach with the lights off, because I’ve found that fluorescent lights are inimical to proper brain function and good behavior.  Natural light floods the room and is supplemented by floor lamps.  My students often give me positive feedback on this; they don’t like the fluorescents any more than I do, and get this–they stay awake!  That’s right.  Students can be stimulated and learn productively in natural light, even in low light. It’s amazing, isn’t it?

I discourage the use of laptops and iPads in my room for note taking, unless the student  has an accommodation for a learning difference.  The main reason for this is that often students become distracted by nuisances like correcting typos and tweaking the format of bullet points or a numbered outline.  Then I have to repeat myself, a normal enough occurrence in class that can become rampant and out-of-control when twenty students are too busy picking their favorite font to pay attention to what I’m saying.

When I assign projects, I tend to grade media presentations more critically than I do art projects or some kind of tangible visual aid.  The reason for this is because many students who use media to present will spend more time on making the presentation look cool than they will on the content, and this is one of the reasons that I am so vehemently opposing the push of technology for technology’s sake.  I feel that it gives young people license to put style above matter, and what kind of educator would I be if I participated in that?  I observed over this past year that the students who made posters, art projects, or presented in-class skits put roughly the same amount of effort on the presentation as they did the research.  Only a few of my students who presented with a slideshow or video produced work wherein content and appearance were evenly matched.

I keep an online homework page because it is a workplace expectation.  It’s a pain in the neck to maintain, and the students rarely use it.  The only questions I fielded this year in regards to the wiki were from parents, specifically the parents of children whose grades were suffering due to the inability to write down the homework assignment in class (which stays on the board until next class period in case anyone forgets and wants to check…they rarely do).

So, there’s a rundown of my low-tech room, but I’d like to point out now that low-tech is really more an approach to teaching than anything else.  I expect my students to listen, take good notes, write their homework down, and use their notes to do homework, and I prefer to ask them to accomplish these goals without the distraction of unnecessary technology.  I expect to be left alone to impart my knowledge and love of my subject area in my own way, without having to prove that I am participating in techno-fusion in my classroom.

I fully reject the idea that an educator has no value unless he or she is actively furthering some nebulous idea of technology compliance.  The greatest, most creative minds of our time were born, lived, and in some cases died, in eras of what we now consider technological simplicity, and had nothing but pencils or chalk to write with, and their own curiosity about the world to inspire them.  I’m not suggesting that we resist progress, simply that we not get caught up in arbitrarily supplanting the tried-and-true with the new.

If anyone has favorite low-tech aspects of their own classroom, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!