In a previous post I wrote about the importance of presence when children work collaboratively. The same holds true for when children utilize technology. There are numerous things that I adore about employing technology in the classroom. Technology meets the needs of all modalities; allowing for visual, audio, and kinesthetic experiences. It levels the "playing field"; allowing for struggling learners to be successful and become experts in an area that many of their classmates may not be. It allows children to create in ways that are not always possible with pencil and paper. It provides children with authenticity; authentic tasks and audiences.
It is also engaging for a child to use technology. Not just engaging in the sense that it is fun, but engaging in the sense that it requires children to problem solve. Anything can go wrong when using technology, and trying new things on even a familiar application causes the brain to discover a resolution.
Yet...all of these things can also make it easy to employ the tool as a distraction, allowing teachers to disengage from the role for which they were employed. If employed correctly, technology can be used to incite critical thinking, spur conversation, and explore new worlds. WebQuests have been around for years; encouraging the children to engage in critical conversations about online content. Web2.0 applications like Glogster, Wall Wisher, and Voice Thread encourage the children to critically collaborate electronically. Social Media Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype allow children to learn beyond their classroom walls. All excellent tools for the children we teach to expand their minds, become educated in a global way.
Yet...all of these spectacular tools are useless without proper facilitation. Beyond teaching them how to use and/or participate within the tool, we need to facilitate. If your children were drawing a picture to show what they know about lizards you would walk around and see what they were doing. You would ask them questions about why they chose to include specific information and dismiss other. You would remind them of the goal of the task. You would ask them to show you where they found a piece of information. You would. So you should when your students are using technology as the tool or medium in place of crayons.