Fear Factor

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I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about fear and the fear some educators grown-ups have about technology. When did we stop exploring? When did it all of a sudden become dangerous to click on something on our computer that we really don’t know what might happen? Is it do to viruses? Or are we just afraid that the computer will blow up?

At what age do we loose that sense of exploration, that adventure of that we might not know what will happen and because we can not predict the outcome we do not take the risk?

Or maybe it has nothing to do with fear? Maybe it has to do with experience. We just don’t have the experience with this new technology to have the comfort level that allows us to explore.

I mean how many of us got to grow up playing with computers like we did legos?

This technology causes fear in us because we do not understand it. We did not, like this little one above, experience the computer as a way to explore. No, by the time we were introduced to the computer we were already at a stage were we were afraid that if we hit the wrong button, or click the wrong thing, that the computer might blow up. Of course we all heard the horror stories of of friends losing data, and viruses taking over machines, and that of course made us more cautious. Is this part of the reason our student’s are so much more advanced than we are as a generation?

My job, and I believe the job of every educational technology person is to help people get over this fear. To encourage them to explore these amazing machines. This year at my school we’ve loaded some very cool programs onto every teacher computer, and created shortcuts on the desktop so they had easy access to programs such as Skype, Google Earth, Second Life, and Scratch just to name a few. Yet I wonder how many teachers haven’t even clicked on one of these shortcuts to see what happens. Most haven’t even deleted the shortcuts even though they never plan to use them, or don’t know what to do.

I have two more trainings coming up this next week, and the first thing I am going to ask all my teachers to do is to click on something they have always wondered about, always thought “What would happen if….”. I will be in the room to pull them out of the way if their computer explodes. But I want to try and bring them to a place that allows them to explore their machines, allows them for just a minute to be supported as they explore their new technology. We don’t explore enough, we know the programs we know and that’s what we know. As Educational Technology Leaders we must support teachers, parents, and students to expand there thinking on what computers can do. To, like this father, hold them up and all them to bang away for away and see what happens. Without the support they will never do it, they do not know this tool the way a 10 year old does, we are immigrants in a foreign land. We go where we are comfortable, where others like us go to gather: Word, Excel, Publisher.

It’s time to push, it’s time to expand our thinking and it’s time to support educators so that they too feel like they can explore these new tools, and think about new ways to change teaching and learning.

Encourage them to click on something they’ve never clicked on before…and just see what happens.

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. You certianly have a point Jeff, and it appears that the fear factor is what prevents real educational change. Schools often place more and more controls for students and educators alike thus preventing all users from pressing the next icon or button to see where it leads them. Most students, outside of school tend to overcome these controls (and early learning barriers) and are freely exchanging and exploring the use of these tools to develop meaning for them. Most educators have not ventured yet and tend to stay in their own comfortable zone even outside of school. I do agree that each one of us need to challenge each other to press any key, even if it is just the Print screen button! I have not seen a computer explode but does smoke count?

  2. The comfort zone is there no matter what the age I think. The skills we develop when working at a computer are largely procedural knowledge and it takes a while to practice and learn those skills in order to feel comfortable with them and to be able to build upon them. Training with follow up is essential to keep teachers working on building their skills.

    I introduced some grade 3 – 5 teachers to Pageflakes, Google Docs and Diigo this summer. I presented the tools within the framework of how they apply to instruction and curriculum goals and how brain research applies as well. I referenced a lot of connections back to professional literature so that they knew that I’m not just the tech geek but I also read and keep up with what’s being written about literacy from the non-techie writers. With all these connections brought together as the tools were introduced teachers were easily able to begin making connections for themselves. In fact, they were generating discussions among themselves before I could finish what I had planned to discuss.

    So, let us know which explodes first..the computer or your teacher’s new ideas for using those new tools!

  3. Jeff. I think there is a lot of fear of failure. At my school we ordered all of our new 135 computers with Office 2007. I had one teacher completely unload on me, two different times, because her co-teacher now has a newer version of Office, and she is not up to speed to help her. She is a business teacher, usually fully supportive of jumping into anything new. It quite surprised me. I was told that now was not the time to have to be learning something new. Only until the Dental Assisting teacher showed excitement about the new Office 2007, did the Business teacher decide maybe it was worth exploring. I’ve learned that the best way for someone to learn a new software product or explore something new is if they have a personal reason to use it.

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  5. Great reflection Jeff! You hit some universal points here. The fear that many teachers have with technology is usually based on some negative experiences they have had in the past. And these negative experiences have usually occurred in a situation that they could not ask for and receive help. I like your idea of asking teachers (in a controlled environment) to click away at things they have always been reluctant to try. Basically, to explore. When they know they have assistance there and nothing can go wrong, my guess is that most teachers would take off and really enjoy some confidence-building exploration. Great tip!

  6. Hi there, I am a midwife and midwifery lecturer and very interested in how I can get colleagues to use Internet resources in their clinical practice. If you think teachers are fearful (people who you would think should know better), imagine how much worse it is with people who do not use computers in their every day life. Just getting midwives to use email is a challenge. We are also a profession that relies very heavily on face-to-face interaction both with the women and families we serve, and colleagues we work with. However, geographical, time and financial constraints often restrict our interactions with each other so online communication resources should be really useful, theoretically. So I am exploring what strategies will work to get midwives (and health professionals) to lose their fear and interact more online. Cheers Sarah

  7. Wow Jeff! What a great post! As I have learned and experimented with technology tools this past year, I have found that it isn’t only the technology that strikes fear into the heart of educators. In many ways, it is also the fact that these tools make our “private practice” very public. I have had great success this summer introducing tools like del.icio.us and Diigo to teachers, but much more limited success with wikis, blogs and Google Docs. Is it the technology or the public nature of the tool? It is a question I am still wrestling with and something I keep “clicking” to see what happens!!

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