When the batteries die, break out the crayons


This is a cautionary tale about what happens when educational technology fails. Of course, tech breaking down is nothing new, but reliance on technology in a 1:1 learning environment introduces some complications that you might not have thought about.

Not so long ago, I would have ranked myself up there on the list of folks who knew how to do educational technology pretty well. I had managed to score a cart of MacBooks so that each student could be guaranteed 1:1 access during class time at least, and I went about implementing some fancy new strategies like student blogging. I even got tagged to write an article in Edutopia about it in 2010, so I was doing something at least marginally interesting with technology at the time.

A year later I was able to convince my tech coordinator and principal that I could really use a class set of iPads since my hardcopy Anatomy textbooks were falling apart and there were some new apps appearing that would let my students get their textbooks electronically. When the district bought some new iPad2’s, I snagged a class set and went on to check them out to students in my own mini version of a 1:1 program for about 40 students at a time. We used the Inkling app to buy 30 copies of Hole’s Anatomy on the iPads and shelved the old textbooks, definitely a win in most #edtech circles.

Fast forward to this school year, 2014-15, in which I’ll need to use the same laptops that’ve been around in my room since 2008, but now add in the fact that our technology coordinator spent the summer closing up shop as he left for a new (less stressful and well deserved) job so no new technology hardware purchases were made nor any older units repaired. This means that several macs that I sent in for a missing key or sticky mousepad are now completely AWOL, as are several iPads that needed minor repairs, as are multiple batteries from the Macs (the removable variety) since I pulled several for disposal at the beginning of the summer.

I should also mention that I have 46 Anatomy students but only 38 working iPads and only 30 Inkling textbook licenses, so the tradition of loaning an iPad to every Anatomy student ended this year.

This is when I realize how spoiled I’ve been. I have always been able to get all the technology that I felt that students needed to learn in a “modern” classroom. But now that a lot of that technology is powerless (literally) to help my students, what’s a tech-nerd to do without technology? How does a very functional 1:1 implementation carry on when it is no longer 1:1?

We’re going old-school, of course. My Juniors and Seniors in the Anatomy class are coloring. ON PAPER (using study guide packets, and, yes, I see some irony in that after slamming packets in a previous post). We’re using a hardcopy textbook again. Its from 2004 and most are falling apart in some way.

But here’s the fun part: I think coloring diagrams of the human body has a place in an anatomy course, and I forgot that in my quest for the latest gadgets. I think students poring over a list of terms and deciding their locations in a particular type of tissue, organ, or system has a lot of merit as a learning tool. Its not that the iPad can’t do that, but I honestly rarely saw my students using the iPads that way. If you give a student a handout to help them learn about the human body, there is pretty much only one use for that handout, but if you give them an iPad, it gets a little more complicated. If you were a student with an iPad, would you choose to read an anatomy text on it instead of using one of the other thousands of apps that it could run? Maybe, if the teacher forced you to, but I never did think that forcing kids into certain apps was the best use of iPads, which meant that our fancy Inkling app textbooks went largely unused, I’m sorry to say.

This year represents a chance to take a much lower-tech approach to teaching Anatomy, a return to how I used to teach it in some ways. Oh, I’ll still use technology for the class. In fact, we’ve already got our blogs set up and will eventually set up our assessment portfolios online too, as we’ve done for the past few years. The only difference might be in the kinds of artifacts we post there. Expect to see some more coloring, and, who knows, maybe some better test scores as well.


5 thoughts on “When the batteries die, break out the crayons

  1. Pingback: 3 Blogs!I | allthingsbiology

  2. April Surinck

    As a teaching intern, technology in the classroom has been one of the main components of my education courses. While a lot of the different technology I have been learning about, such as Audacity, Socrative, and PhET seem like fabulous tools to use in my future class, I often find myself wondering if I will actually be able to incorporate all of the technology that I find so intriguing.

    My high school experience with technology was extremely minimal. We had a computer lab that my classes basically never visited and everything was completed by hand on paper. As a product of this form of teaching, I find this method to be very simple and effective. So many people praise online textbooks because they are paperless. The Biology class that I am currently observing uses an online book and I do not really think it is as effective as a physical copy would be. The website has many glitches and the students are not prevented from opening up a new tab and doing something else online. In this respect, I think I would personally opt for less technology.

    I recently created a Kahoot that I wanted my students to complete as their “do now” activity at the beginning of class, but we ran into many issues with internet connectivity and getting the laptops and students’ iPhones to cooperate. Needless to say, this caused more stress and hassle than it was worth.

    If I have learned anything from these experiences and your description about the loss of several iPads and laptops, it is that teachers should not depend 100% on technology to teach their lessons. I think there is something to say about continuing to plan with traditional methods. Though it might seem like education today should be more advanced than it was years ago, the old methods seem to be doing just a good job as they were 10 or 20 years ago.

    Your description of being short several laptops and iPads got me thinking about the bring your own device (BYOD) idea, in which students bring their own technology to school with them to use. I am still on the fence about this idea. I was wondering where do you stand on the issue?

    1. Chris Ludwig Post author

      The BYOD question is really timely as I was just pondering that issue after some major changes to our school’s wifi setup. I will write a full post soon with some thoughts.

  3. Glen Gilchrist

    Hi Chris

    Great article.

    I hope you can help me with a collaborative project I am currently working on.

    I am editing together a series of essays from science teachers / educational colleagues, all in some way linked to thoughts on science education & reform. The collection will have no overtly political message and is aimed a challenging the way science teachers think about teaching their subject.

    I’ve blogged about the project (http://glengilchrist.co.uk/science-teachers-write), and a direct link to the book “https://leanpub.com/marblechipsandacid”

    The goal is to utilize LeanPub’s engine to create e-books of various format which would remain freely available – this title will not generate revenue.

    I would love to include your article on “When the batteries die…” via:

    Let me know if it’s OK to include and I’ll typeset it (using the version online) as a first draft for your attention. LeanPub utilizes Markdown as the typesetting format, (which is great for essays and prose) and this might result in some minor reformatting – especially with images and alignments.

    It would be great it include this piece, and of course full credit would be given, including a short bio of each contributor. No claim to copyright right will be made, and all rights to the original text will remain with the author.

    If you could give me a “yes” / “no” in principal, I can start to layout the chapters accordingly.

    Best regards

    Glen Gilchrist

    1. Chris Ludwig Post author

      Sounds like a great project, Glen. I’d be happy to have you use this post in your compilation. Let me know when you’re ready to go public with it and I’ll add a link here and help you publicize it.


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