I started my teaching career in environmental education. My first job, oh so many years ago, was a part-time gig running an outdoor ed. program that brought kids from the inner-city on overnight camping trips. No technology there. Well, we did ride on buses, and I took pictures with a non-digital camera. When I think back to that time, I can, of course, think of some ways that I would throw technology into the mix if I had that job today (although that is a job one can only have the energy for in their 20's). However, that was a pretty great program, one that I like to think made some sort of an impact on the students' lives. Experiential education. It is what I remember most from my own early schooling.
This is my long-winded way of saying that, although I am a huge advocate for the thoughtful integration of technology in the classroom, I don't think that technology needs to take top billing in every learning situation. Let me be clear; in many instances, technology provides the experience that can not be had in the classroom otherwise. If we can't visit the museum, we can visit it online. If we can't travel to another city or state on a field trip, we can use technology to see the sites and to communicate with those who live there. We can "fly" there with google earth. However, if we are able to visit the museum or the faraway land IRL (in "real life") then I would hope we would still choose the real experience over the virtual one.
What has me thinking of this is the wonderful example of hands-on, experiential learning in which I was fortunate to participate today. Our school, in collaboration with the greater Jewish community of Jacksonville, puts on a once-a-year, free, community education event called Family University. Adults choose from a number of interesting sessions while their children are engaged in age-appropriate learning activities. This year's theme, in honor of Israel's 60th birthday, was "Bringing Israel Home." I was impressed with the entire event and the coordination and planning that went into making it a success. But I was especially in awe of the programming for the K-5 students. These students, divided into groups by grade level, were treated to a trip to Israel complete with passports and boarding passes for their El Al flight. Each group had their passport stamped as they experienced each of the stops on the trip. There was Israeli dancing, bargaining with coins in the "shuk," completing an obstacle course to join the Israeli army, visiting the kibbutz where they milked a cow, washed socks in the laundry, and picked candy "fruits" from the trees. They also went on an archaeological dig and, of course, no trip to Israel would be complete without praying at the Kotel (the Western Wall).
Hands-on learning experiences like this are special. They take an awful lot of pre-planning and cooperation from a multitude of people. There is no way a teacher could do these types of lessons in the classroom on any sort of a regular basis. And this brings me to what I love about technology in education. It gives us so much more access to memorable learning experiences. It is relatively easy. It invokes our senses, not all of them, but many of them. It is not a replacement for real-life experiences, but it is a great replacement or add-on for some of the traditional, one-dimensional learning activities.