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A simple tech activity that went awry

favicon Today, I decided I would try to use technology to facilitate a close reading of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.

My idea was to use Google Docs and have students comment simultaneously on the text. It’s a good idea — in theory.

It didn’t work.

We went to the computer lab, and each student opened the Google document. No problem there. Google Docs easily handled 23 simultaneous editors.

Students quickly found the chat window and enjoyed the distraction. (It’s always more fun to hang out than to do work.) This detour was funny but not a major problem. After about 30 seconds, my students started reading the soliloquy closely and making solid comments.

But quickly, three problems emerged:

1. The document was too crowded, so students got lost. I didn’t provide enough space between the soliloquy’s sections. Therefore, the comments felt like they were on top of each other. It was disorienting for some students and claustrophobic for others. Next time, I should put each section on a different page so there is plenty of room for comments.

2. Our school’s computers and Internet connection couldn’t handle 23 simultaneous users. Students complained that their computers were slow and their comments were coming out letter by letter. It was agonizing. Collaboration isn’t fun when the technology cannot support it.

3. Internet Explorer doesn’t handle Google Docs well. A couple computers froze; others had a script error. My students correctly said I should install Google Chrome, their preferred browser (and mine, too). I’m going to make a request to our IT support that Google Chrome be added to our school’s computers.

* * *

I learned a few things today: (1) Our school’s technology needs upgrading, (2) Technology does not always improve learning.

I think #2 is important. Even though I love using technology, it shouldn’t be a substitute to close reading, critical thinking, discussion, and human interaction. My lesson today would have worked better had we just sat in our classroom and marked up the text line by line.

My Google Docs activity, on the other hand, is a wonderful idea for a homework assignment. After all, learning cannot stop once class is over. Similar to my virtual office hours (which I might make mandatory soon) on iseroma.com/live, this online activity would likely work best with students on their home computers. There would be fewer technology problems and fewer distractions. favicon


  1. Wil Jennings

    Sorry about that, technology doesn’t always work for me either! Anyway, what I started to say was that the students could engage in group work in school, and collaborate on their results from at home.

  2. Mark Isero

    Thanks, Wil! I agree with you. At school, tech is best in groups (to create something neat). At home, tech is best with individuals (to create a virtual classroom experience).

  3. Dave Keller

    My school is looking at a large PD commitment on the topic of tech. We’re thinking that we’ll focus on using tech to communicate with students and parents but continue using many of our traditional paper and pencil techniques for the learning. Giving feedback, storing student work, presentations, all seem to benefit from technology but I’ve not seen successful virtual classroom activities and collaboration, yet.

  4. Mark Isero

    Totally agree with you, Dave. Tech is good for big projects and to facilitate communication, to extend learning outside the classroom, and to do individual intervention.

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