Never Assume Your Students Know Everything About Technology

By Steve Gillis.

We live in a world in which technology has invaded our classrooms. Teachers are supposed to know how to use educational technology in their lessons but, sadly, many don’t because they were never properly trained to implement it. A two-hour professional development seminar learning about a computer application does not make the teacher an education technology wizard. Many teachers feel uncomfortable using technology in their classrooms because they don’t think that they have been provided with the proper training.

Not only do teachers feel intimidated by technology, they often are intimidated by the perception that many of their students are more knowledgeable about technology than they are. Many of our students are conversant with social media tools – Facebook, My Space, Flickr for example – but they might not necessarily understand how to use the most basic word processing and presentation computer applications that are found in most classrooms. Simply put, knowledge is relative.

A Case In Point

I taught my Grade 9 students the concept of cause and effect in Social Studies. The students caught on rather quickly after we had done a couple of examples together. I used the following two examples:

  • You get a bad grade on a test. What is the event? What are the causes and effects? They were able to tell me that the event was getting a bad grade. The causes included not studying, not listening in class, not caring. The effects included parents getting angry at them, poor self esteem, lack of options for the future (these are Grade 9 students that are registering for high school and are beginning to understand that marks dictate course selection).
  • We then looked at 9/11. The students were able to indicate that the event was 9/11. They came up with a variety of causes and effects that related to the event.

Once I saw that they had grasped the concept, I presented them with their assignment:

Analyse 4 specific Canadian historical events and explain the causes of each event and its effects. The assignment seemed straightforward until I mentioned that they had to use SmartArt to display the event, the cause(s) and the effect(s).

What Are You Talking About Teacher?

Imagine my surprise when I saw 27 students staring at me blankly. I had fallen into the trap of assuming that they knew how to use SmartArt, because they spend quite a lot of time on their computers either at home or at school. I was also assuming that a teacher in another course or grade had taught them how to use it. I was wrong on both counts!

I asked the kids why they did not know how to use SmartArt. Many of the students indicated that the only times that they used a word processor or presentation software was in school. They saw no need to learn it outside of class. The impression that I got from them was that it was up to me to teach them how to use this application. They were quite impressed when I showed them how SmartArt can spice up a document or presentation. The assignments that they handed in were well done, and quite frankly a lot more enjoyable to read than a written document explaining the cause and effect of each event.

We also had a discussion about what their teachers had taught them about technology in previous grades. I was astounded to learn that most teachers assumed that the students already knew how to use the various programs and applications. Isn’t it interesting that we give our students placement tests at the beginning of the school year to see where they are at academically yet we never test them on their technical skills and abilities? Even having a simple discussion about what they know about technology might help the teacher to understand what the students know or don’t know about certain applications.

What Students Need To Learn About Technology

My students’ reaction got me thinking about what our students know about technology. They only understand the applications that they use on a regular basis. Students are no smarter than most teachers when it comes to using technology. They understand how to use social media and games because those applications are what they use most often. They often don’t know how to use the most basic of computer applications because:

  • They only see it as a tool used in school. Teachers have to help students understand that these tools are used by people every day and it is to their advantage to become proficient in their use.
  • No one has ever taught them how to use word processing and presentation software.

Word Processing And Presentation Software As Teaching Tools

Most teachers understand the basics of Microsoft Word, and possibly PowerPoint. Excel is not often used by those that don’t teach Maths or Science, but it can and should be used by teachers and students in all subjects.

Let’s have a quick look at how word processing and presentation software can be used in almost any subject area.

Word Processing Software

It is rare that you will find a computer without a word processing program. The typical programs available are Microsoft Word, Open Office Writer, and Apple iWork. These word processors are great for teaching students how to format text, whether it is writing a paragraph or an essay. There other uses for these programs:

  • Creating brochures or pamphlets
  • T-charts for comparing and contrasting activities
  • Word Art (and similar applications) to spruce up assignments
  • Inserting pictures into documents
  • Inserting hyperlinks (internet addresses) that will lead the reader to a related web page.

Presentation Software

Most people will associate Microsoft PowerPoint as presentation software, but you will also find that Open Office Impress and Apple Keynote do basically the same job. I refuse to sit through boring slide presentations. That is why I teach my students to create powerful presentations that will communicate to the audience. My students have used PowerPoint to:

  • Create digital stories – using visuals and audio to present a story. Students who hate presenting in front of the class love this approach, because they can record their audio component as many times as they want until they get it just right.
  • Learn how to present – not using words on a screen to capture your audience’s attention.
  • Learn how to create audio files.
  • Learn how to insert files from other sources into a presentation – video, audio, pictures, hyperlinks.

These are but a few examples of what you can do with word processing and presentation software in the classroom. Learn how to use one or two of these applications, and I can guarantee that you will know more about those applications than the majority of your students. Your students will see you as an education technology genius!

What Teachers Need To Understand About Technology

Students are not better digital consumers than teachers – they just use different applications. We need to teach our students how to analyse information, communicate and present what they have learned using the most basic computer tools: Word processors, presentation software and spreadsheets. Simply put, we’re teaching them to be technically literate. Teachers don’t have to be social media experts; rather they have to teach their students how to research information, analyse it, and present it to an audience. These are the skills of the 21st century that our students are most likely to use in the workplace.

Assuming that your students know more about technology than you do is foolish. They only know what they use on a regular basis. If they have never been exposed to the most basic applications found in word processing and presentation software, you are probably a few steps ahead of them. Plain and simple, you probably know more than they do. So, be the hero, and teach them how to create awesome learning experiences with what you know about these applications!

Steve Gillis, BA, M Ed, is a junior high school teacher in Canada by day, and the President and Chief Learning Officer of Net Learning Solutions Inc by night. Steve writes a blog, Classroom Technology Help (, for teachers that feel challenged by educational technology yet want to learn how to use it in their teaching practice so that they can engage their students.

He has also created a YouTube Video about SmartArt for Teachers ( )

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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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