Really? It’s My Job To Teach Technology?

Andrew Vicars, one of our COETAIL participants, wrote a blog post that I was going to leave a comment on but then it got to a point where it needed its own blog post as it’s a conversation that continues to be talked about. It’s a conversation with many different points of view and so I thought I would add mine to the mix.

You’ll want to read Andrew’s blog post first to get the context of what he’s talking about, but I’m going to answer the questions he’s asking around technology integration here.

1. Wouldn’t it be great if every student had a computer skills class so that teachers could be provided with a list of skills and software that the students are all able to use.

But for this to work students would all have to take this class at the start of the year.

How long would this class have to run for?  

Would students remember what they learnt six months later when they are asked to apply it?

And this is exaclty why technology as a class does not work. We can not teach everything “just in time” so we end up teaching everything “just in case” and then we teach kids things they might never use or teach them things that they won’t use until the end of the year. In the end, teaching skills out of context doesn’t work.

2. Individual classroom teachers should integrate technology skills and software competence into their units.

Does this extra teaching come at the expense of content?

Is this a reasonable expectation for teachers.  Should a social studies teacher be able to teach technology skills?

Yes to all of the above. First off, I like that Andrew calls technology a skill as that is a mindset that needs to change. Most teachers don’t see teaching technology as a skill but rather a “program”. If we view technology as a skill, then we can look at the skill students are learning through the use of technology. Let’s take a look at Blooom’s Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking Skills.

Blooms Taxonomy

I have created this image and flipped the usual triangle because what we really want is students to spend more time in the Create area than the Remember area. Actually Create should be the foundation for learning not Remember….Remember should come last in that “Oh do you remember when we created….” sort of way.

Does this extra teaching come at the expense of content?

Yes….and now we have an answer for why we need to teach that skill as we can apply it to Bloom’s.

Why do I need to teach movie making? Because you want students to create good content that they can share.

Why do I need to teach how to search? Because you want students to have the skill of evaluating and analyzing.

We are not teaching technology, we are teaching skills that every student needs to have and technology happens to be a part of that. Create can be met with paper and pencil, with glue and scissors, with a hammer and nail, or with movie maker and it should be the job of every teacher to expose students to different ways of creating content that fits within their discipline.

Is this a reasonable expectation for teachers?  Should a social studies teacher be able to teach technology skills?

Yes….again let us not think of this as technology. What if the question was: Should a social studes teacher be able to teach the skill of ?????. 

Creating?

Evaluating Sources?

Analyzing Data?

Now if that tool that you are using with students to create, or to evaluate or to analyze includes modern technology, then yes, that social studies teacher should be able to teach how to use it to accomplish the skill of evaluating. Or be able to lean on the expertise of a librarian or tech integration specialist to help teach those skills. You do not need to know it all…..but you do need to know where to go for help.

3. Students should help other students to solve their problems and learn new skills.

We tried this at our school.  Whilst there were a huge number of student volunteers willing to teach others, the students who were struggling preferred to go to their teachers for help.  It turns out that our pedagogical expertise is valued by some people.

Yes we should be teaching students to help each other, but we should also be teaching them there are a lot of teachers in the connected world, there are some in your class, some at your school, and even some who are hired to teach you. But there are also teachers on YouTube, there are teachers in iTunes, there are teachers…basically everywhere. Are we teaching students to look for help everywhere to solve their problems?

4. There should be a K-12 agreement about which skills and software knowledge our students are going to graduate with.

A expected skill set sounds like a good idea but is a list of required software competencies too prescriptive and unrealistic to maintain?

Yes….first of all this is exaclty why the NETs for Students does not list software. If we teach software we are teaching a program not a skill. Let’s teach skills and use the appropriate program needed to accomplish the task at hand. Like Andrew points out, it really is unrealistic to maintain a list of all the programs that students have mastered, been exposed to, or know exist. I have seen schools try and do this and I have only seen a mess as the outcome. Students come and go, programs come and go, one year we are teaching X and the next year Y. Teach the skill and choose the program that fits.

The real reason behind this question is we still think there needs to be a “standard” that every student should have when leaving school. That’s just not going to happen, I think, with technology (or any subject if I had my way). Is it OK if this kid knows iMovie, and that kid knows Movie Maker, and that kid never made a movie in school but knows how to use Diigo? I think so, as long as those programs were used to teach a skill, a skill that their teachers believed they needed at that time. A skill that a teacher thought was important for students to have.

The crazy thing is if we focus on skills that we want students to have we will hit a lot of different technologies and expose students to a lot of tools that once they leave our schools they will be able to use in their life moving forward. It is not about making every student have the same standard set of tools, it’s about giving them the tools they need to be successful in whatever they decide to do after their formal education is over.

21 Comments

  1. Hi Jeff
    I enjoyed your comments especially about just in time teaching and thinking of technology in terms if skills rather than specific programs. I am puzzled though by the linking of teaching how to search with learning how to analyse; the former provides the data for the latter no matter what medium in which it exits, however I don’t see how technology assists the latter. Surely it is the individual thinking for themselves that achieves the
    analysis. The only technology for that is in the individual’s head.

  2. I really appreciate your mention of librarians as another source of expertise assistance. My Technology Specialust and I are in this together!

  3. This is one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen for how we need to be approaching teaching and learning. The next step is to implement a good portfolio system that allows the acquisition of those skills to be communicated.

  4. Thanks for this blog post.
    I do agree and would only like to ad a little comment.
    We’ve seen lots and lots of integration of digital media in schools where you afterwards don’t know if the students have understand the content taught or just the tech they’ve used for presenting.
    I’m a big fan of integration of digital tech in all diciplins but am worried that the focus changes from content creation to creation. Teachers are sometimes very easy to impress with skilled presentations. But they need to be aware that a skilled presentation is only skilled if the content is presenting an understanding of the content.

    • I’ve been working on this very theme with my bio class. Together we decided to create a rubric to assess the animations they were about to create. It was interesting that they all included content as the first point to consider (so no arguments from them there) and then they spent a while deciding on how important the sound/images/smoothness/etc was. They ended up weighting content heavily and the prettiness of the presentation was given the same (much lower) weighting as spelling and grammar.

    • I have also seen presentations that wow the audience to the point that it obfuscates the lack of substance or the author’s fuzzy understanding of the material.

      Two methods I have used to handle this: 1. rubrics that assess both presentation elements and content command — especially effective if done in stages through the process (formative) and 2. heading it off at the pass by having a discussion of how the media can hype/spin/shape a non-story through slick presentations — 21st century circumlocution. Not hard to find examples in the mainstream media.

      Media literacy is becoming a key component of digital literacy, in my view.

  5. I could not agree with you more. My I&TL team and I are continually asked for this skills list year after year by our teaching staff at our school. A few years back at our school a skills matrix was developed and aligned with the NETS, but we are finding that with how fast technology is changing and growing it is not applicable.
    In fact, I just returned from a meeting today about this very topic. Your timing is impeccable! To be fair though, I know this discussion happening at many schools globally. I think the real question is answer is “why” are teachers feeling the need to have such a skills list? Is it because technology skills are being assessed by teachers and they need vertical alignment from year to year? Should tech skills even be assessed?
    I appreciate you taking this issue head on and being very honest and forthcoming in your response to such a request.

    • This speaks directly to my question. Why do we need something like the NETS if we are not going to assess them. To play devils advocate if we expect teachers to impart to students the skills necessary to present, convey and communicate and create effectively then where/when do teachers get these skills? The NETS like the Common Core are a set of standards and as you know teachers have been ‘trained’ to teach to these standards. Thus, the NETS by their very nature push teachers and others to seek ways to assess. A second argument to be made here is that teacher preparation programs do not teach teachers to use technology. Very rarely do preservice teachers take a class on integrating technology. Added to this, rarely are they taught or modeled how to integrate technology. This then is akin to asking an English teacher to incorporate mathematical formulas into their writing because it uses letters rather than words. Just my thoughts but a topic I am struggling with as I see the level of creativity from students floundering because their is no vehicle in place to impart the newest technologies to teachers for embedding into their courses.

      • In my view NETS for Students, Teachers, and Administrators describe very neatly the conditions and mindsets needed for “learning through technology.” The standards help school communities focus on discipline-specific uses of technology rather than technology for technology’s sake. Technology is really just a tool of information fluency. If there aren’t enough information literate teachers to effect tipping points in our schools, and teachers’ colleges continue to run blind, then I guess we’re in trouble.

  6. I think there are a few key points which we have been working hard to perpetuate in my school district. I especially like the part where you flip Bloom’s taxonomy and discuss creating content in order to enhance understanding. The focus is on teaching a skill rather than a program. That said, teachers first need to know what options are out there. It’s like if you went to buy a car at a Ford dealer but never knew there were 20 other dealers out there. You are limited to say, prezi, for EVERY SINGLE assignment—YUCK!

    Which leads me to…

    Which comes first the technology tool or the skill? Unless I have some options of the types of technology tools, I can’t make an informed decision. Unless I know what skills I want to teach, I can’t choose an appropriate tool. How do we strike the balance?

  7. I agree that it is about finding that balance between skills and tools, and trying your best to keep up as a teacher – but not wanting to do it all. That would be impossible.
    It is so hard to decide and have expectations on what we want our students know/learn with technology growing and changing so fast. It would seem indeed a hard task to make a set list of skills and to attached them to the NETS standards. Yet, for many of us this would seem a go way to tackle our expectations/standards of technology. And like you Cindy, I question whether skills should really be listed and/or even assessed? To me this seems quite a challenge since one would continuously have to tweak the skills and tools listed. After all, isn’t it all about the creations students make to show understanding and not necessarily how they got there?

  8. Agree totally with what you have to say here. I do however have one question,

    How/where do you see IT as a “subject” fitting in? Not the integrated “skills”, but the programming classes, the moviemaking, the animation classes, etc…

  9. Thanks Jeff, this is certainly a hot topic. I totally agree with your point of view but I find a lot of resistance when I say similar things at my school. It seems that teachers really need that sense of security that comes along with a check list. Sometimes people just like being told what to do I guess. I want to help the teachers at my school feel comfortable with integrating technology into their classrooms so I am trying to find a balance between the two points of view. Have you experienced a happy medium? What did it look like?

  10. The fact that “understand” is so far up might give some people pause. The only way one can “evaluate” something one does not understand is “badly”.

  11. Wonderful post. Have been preaching this to colleagues for years. In a nutshell, yes, we are teaching students to learn through technology and to develop enduring and transferable habits that will continue to serve them long after they leave our institutions.

  12. I think teachers also need to present students with the means of communication necessary for work within their field. They need to see some real-world application. Our district has been trying to get math and science teachers to use spreadsheets with their students for the past 15 years. The teachers don’t know how to use them in most cases and aren’t interested in learning. They themselves are not current in their subjects. I think it is important to be well rounded in our subjects so we can teach more than the “information.”

  13. Thanks for posting this Jeff, these are my thoughts exactly! Students should be creating. And student should only learning how to do something on a computer if it extends their learning, if not, don’t learn it!

  14. Hello Jeff! My name is Ashaunte Gaillard and I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I have been assigned to your blog post. I would like to say that I thought this blog post was great! I loved the fact that you talked about how teachers tend to teach the program instead of skills. Teaching skills allows students to be able to use those skills in other programs. Teaching a program only allows students to be able to work the program and not other programs. I also enjoyed when you talked about the set level that many educators and school systems set for students to achieve. The problem with this is that not all students learn at the same flow and achieve the set point at the same time. I loved this blog and its definitely something that all teachers and future teachers need to read! Thanks Jeff!
    -Ashaunte

  15. Our course it is our job to teach technology, especially that of the course subject. When I teach project management, I would be derelict if I did not also teach how to use project management software. When I teach statistics I must teach how to use Excel and MegaStat. Those seem very logical, but what about humanities courses? Absolutely. One must teach whatever technology would be used in connection with that topic, most likely Word. Teachers must not only teach the subject, but also show or demonstrate how that knowledge relates to current technology and how to use it in the workplace. Anything less and we are only teaching half the subject matter.

    When I teach subjects that require the use of technology (other than Word and especially those involving Excel), I teach the students how to perform the work manually first, then using the technology. Teaching the technology first without the manual process does not provide information on the process, or why it is performed that way. The manual process educates the student on the why, thus making it easier to understand the how once the technology is introduced.

  16. Hey Jeff,

    This is such an informative and well written post. First of all, I think your views on education ring true. Many a time people treat technology and the practice of teaching technology as a “program,” when it is very much a skillset and a tool for students to grow as individuals and also expand their knowledge. They are not limited anymore to just a textbook or a novel – they are able to dive into subjects with an unlimited amount of resources to advance how they learn and present their findings.

    I think you may be interested in the below article which focuses on new ways to use an iPad in the classroom, and how they are able to be used effectively.

    link to bcontext.com

  17. This is very true. I wonder why, since students are given access to keyboards beginning in Kindergarten — or maybe even Pre-K in some areas — why they aren’t given a keyboarding class right away. If students started learning the skills to keyboarding, typing, and how to move around in an increasingly technology-based world when they started school, maybe teachers in the post-elementary school grades wouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to re-teach or un-teach bad habits. Along with this students should be taught internet etiquette (typing in all caps is SHOUTING), and the importance of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Technology education needs to start from an early age and when students get to me (grades 5-8); I can spend time refining their knowledge and helping them to improve their skills, not teaching them from scratch.

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