Teaching with the $1000.00 Pencil

Visible technology in a class does not guarantee meaningful integration.

by Crystal McCausland

Society has embraced technology and as a result, many schools rushed to fill classrooms with digital devices but often without a thoughtful plan to implement them. Although some teachers are open to this new way of learning, it’s possible their use of technology in the classroom is superficial and may not be used to support and facilitate instruction.

Just because students have unlimited access to technology in their class, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being used for meaningful learning. When I first started teaching, I was fortunate to have a brand new SMARTboard. I was eager to learn about this digital tool and willingly attended many in-services to create engaging lessons that were interactive and visually stimulating for my students. I felt I knew all that I had to know about integrating technology and that my students’ technological needs were being fulfilled. I saw technology as a tool for instruction and felt as long as they seemed engaged and eager to learn, I was hitting the mark. I know now that my view on technology was very narrowly perceived. Technology used for teaching and learning not only involves the inclusion of technical tools but also includes theories about technology integration and the application of research findings to promote teaching and learning (Okojie et al. 2006, p. 1). Below are some key points I’ve learned to improve my teaching practice.

Teachers aren’t the only ones to have fun.

Although digital presentations make your lessons more appealing to look at and are easy to manipulate, this way of teaching in and of itself is not best practice. It is key for teachers to reserve the role of using technology for students. Even when some (or even most) students in a class do not know about the technology, teachers should never use technology for them. Rather, teachers should only suggest what students might use (and solicit student suggestions) and then get them to use it for themselves and teach each other (Prensky, 2010, p. 19). Putting technology in the hands of the students opens up the doors for meaningful learning. Educators should coach and supervise students along the way, but should not use digital devices to make things for them.

Technology shouldn’t substitute an analog activity.

A digital worksheet is still a worksheet. Some teachers think that if their students are using an iPad or another device to perform an assigned activity that they are integrating technology. Having students read a story online, type up an assignment, or write on a worksheet with digital ink has no more meaning than if they were to complete the same tasks with a book, paper or pencil. Teachers seem to stay “stuck” on that level. In their mind, they are integrating technology, but in reality, the technology is not being used as a tool to facilitate or amplify learning (Tolisano, 2015).

Don’t isolate technology.

Technology should not be used in isolation or as a separate subject area. As much as possible, technology should be integrated into the regular classroom program to promote and extend student learning. If students only use technology in a computer lab, the class is limited by a schedule and the set-up of most computer labs does not lend itself well to group work. When students have to travel to the computer lab, it usually means that technology is not truly integrated. Having a separate space for technology sends a message that technology is separate from what is learned in the classroom (Hertz, 2013). When technology is infused into a classroom’s core curriculum, it is more meaningful and accessible to students.

Technology shouldn’t be a filler.

Many times, iPads and other devices are used in place of books or reserved for students who complete their assignments early. Digital devices become tools to keep students busy while others are working on other tasks or as a reward or incentive. When technology is seen as an add-on and not incorporated into regular classroom teaching, it loses it’s potential to meet student’s learning needs.

Try to select good quality PD sessions.

If possible, try to attend technology training programs that focus on the pedagogical aspects of technology. Prensky indicates that PD or training should not concentrate on using various technologies, but rather on shifting teachers’ thinking and actions to the partnership mentality and pedagogy. Unless and until this is done, the technology training is unlikely to prove fruitful (Prensky, 2010, p. 27). Learning how to use new applications in a meaningful way to support curriculum is more valuable than becoming an expert on the mechanics of a digital tool.

If you intend to integrate technology into your class, strive to avoid using the $1000.00 pencil. Instead, familiarize yourself with the pedagogy that supports digital learning so that you can purposely use technology. Once you have laid the pedagogical foundation, you can go a long way to accelerate deep learning goals.


Hertz, M.B. (2013). The pros and cons of computer labs. Edutopia.

Okojie, Mabel CPO; Olinzock, Anthony A.; Okojie-Boulder, Tinukwa C. Journal of Technology Studies, v32 n2 p66-71 Spr 2006.

Prensky, M. (2010). Partnering. Teaching digital natives. Partnering for real learning (pp.9-29). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tolisano, S.R. (2015). What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom? Tech & Learning.

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