Technology: it's what we do, not one more thing to do

I’ve been struggling lately trying to get through to teachers that technology isn’t an add on, but actually replaces the way work is done in class (read David Jakes for more). It’s so hard for teachers to take a leap from something that works, to try something new. I’ve been hitting a lot of dead ends lately with teachers which is frustrating and deflating. Just when I think I’m starting to make some headway, something happens and we take two steps back. It comes down to priority. You do not just get on a bike and start riding right away. It takes practice, patience and the ability to get up, dust yourself off, and try again. But what is it about technology that the first time something doesn’t work or a teacher gets frustrated that they throw their hands in the air and say things like:

“I’m too old to learn this.”
“I’ll never get this.”
“Why won’t this just work?”
“It never works.”
“I’ve tried using it…it’s just a waste of time.”

I keep trying to get through to teachers that the don’t need to know how to do it, they just need to know how it works. The students will figure out the ‘how to’ part.

Yesterday was a good example. There is a teacher who is running a musical class at school. She wants students to be able to download and listen to different tracks at home. I’ve taken time to explain to her twice how to rip music, upload it to the server, and then create a simple Word document that links to the different files. All and all I’ve probably spent 2 hours helping this teacher, who to her credit even when frustrated didn’t give up. I told her to send me a couple students one day and I’ll show them how to do it, that if they don’t know how to do it I could teach them in just a couple of minutes. Yesterday the students showed up and within 10 minutes they understood exactly what needed to happen. 30 minutes later the simple list of links was done.

We need to get past the point that we need to understand how the technology works. We don’t! We just need to understand how it can be used in our classroom to enhance learning. The students will figure out the ‘how to’ part on their own. They live in this world, they are good at troubleshooting problems and finding solutions.

Another example is our Moodle system. Not once have we ever explained to students who to register for an account on Moodle. No need to, they’ve created accounts on the Internet before. Teachers come to me worried that they won’t know how to do it, and that they don’t know if they can teach them how to register. I always say the same thing. Give them the web address and the enrollment key to your course…the rest they figure out. 600+ registered students have some how figured it out.

Teachers, allow your imagination to think of how to use the tool, don’t worry if you don’t know how it actually works. I know it’s difficult. Heck I just turned over an entire web site to teenagers. I don’t know how to run drupal, I can’t answer their questions when they come to me with a problem. But some way, some how, they figure it out.

5 Comments

  1. Oh so true, Jeff, and very apposite of several of the conversations that are going on at the moment. Have you seen David Warlick’s post and the comments on it? http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/2006/09/23/how-do-i-sell-this

    I have also touched on modern literacy recently:
    http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/2006/09/changing-face-of-literacy.html
    http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/2006/09/more-on-changing-face-of-literacy.html

    My team has been involved in the development of learning materials for teachers on the subject of using ICT technology in their lessons. However, among the teachers of my acquaintance, very few have ever heard of the materials. I’m not quite sure how the requisitioning organisation markets the materials, but it appears not to be very assertive.

    Even among those teachers who do make use of ICT technology, though, there seems to be a bit of: right, that’s my lesson planned, now where can I use some ICT technology? Also (and I think I’ve commented to this effect on one of your earlier posts) this often means booking the ICT suite for the lesson. Until the teachers have ubiquitous access and until proper support is available on campus, I think we’re in for a lot more:
    “I’m too old to learn this.”
    “I’ll never get this.”
    “Why won’t this just work?”
    “It never works.”
    “I’ve tried using it…it’s just a waste of time.”

  2. All this trying to get teachers on board is a very temporary condition that will fall away as the next generation of teachers comes on board already digitally savvy. However…. in the meantime… let’s be real… technology IS just one more thing we do. In what world is a teacher worth their credentials just about the technology with nothing else to occupy their time, intellect and emotions? Of course, teachers still need to use technology and understand the technology they use, and it’s not enough that their students understand it.

    Expecting teachers to just get on board is nearsighted administration. So how do you get there? If you want to get teachers on board you need a coherent professional development sequence… if you want the professional development to stick, you need to seek out the savvy and the early adopters to mentor the less savvy after the professional development is completed. You need modeling and presentation, so that teachers see options and opportunities rather that mountains to climb. (If you work in clusters, make sure that there’s at least one tech savvy person in each group) Fortunately within a generation, this will not be a problem, but in the meantime, it’s not about how passionate or convincing you are, it’s about whether you provide an infrastructure for adoption.

  3. I agree that a coherent professional development sequence is key, but the staff needs to know that they will have access to equipment that is reliable. This is a huge problem in my school district — I can get the teachers excited about the possibilities of how they can use the technology in their classrooms, but when the equipment doesn’t perform, they lose interest. Our school district puts a lot of emphasis on staff development, but really gives maintaining the infrastructure short shrift. As an example, in my district, there are eight technicians to support over 250 schools. I can provide some tech support, but my time is limited to a free period here and there around my regular class schedule. This is probably the most frustrating aspect of getting the technology into the classroom in a meaningful way for both students and teachers.

  4. This reminds me of a post that I wrote last week:

    link to remoteaccess.typepad.com

    It speaks of the same issues. Working this way in our classrooms is a priority, not an add on.

    Great post.

  5. A friend set up a Drupal based site for his wife (a teacher). The goal was a central place to post homework assignments and their schedule to allow parents to get this infomration reliably without calling after hours. It was an inital small learning curve for her but has cut down after hour phone calls from parents etc significantly.

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