This post is going to be a bit more academic than business related, so I hope you will forgive me!
I had a meeting recently where technology training for teachers came up. I’ve been involved with training teachers to use technology directly and indirectly for the better part of the last two decades and I’m going to highlight some key issues that make Instructional technology a difficult field to operate within. Why is it difficult? It’s simple really: we make assumptions that are not necessarily true. I will discuss three of the biggest here.
1) Veteran Teachers
Lets first address the elephant in today’s classrooms: veteran teachers. Veteran teachers were not raised from birth with an intuitive sense for how to learn and apply technology, personally or professionally. School systems (K-12 and higher ed.) fluctuate between providing the latest and greatest technology that they hope the teachers will use, and focusing on pedagogy with what is present in the classroom. Neither path has worked well for many of the districts I have worked with. Why is this? Veteran teachers do not know what they do not know. They often do not know how to learn about new technology and how to use it. There is often an invisible barrier between them (for example, having an interest in a new tool) and the act of looking up how to do something online. They lack the technology critical thinking and searching skills needed to thrive and arrive at a comfortable place, wherein they can integrate technology thoughtfully into what they are doing with students.
It is our responsibility as educators to help and empower them. There are many layers to this particular onion that I could go on and on about, but the key take away for you is this: veteran teachers need opportunities to learn how to search for technology and how-to’s on their own and with one another, taking ownership of the learning process. This remains true, regardless of whether we are talking about clickers, smart boards, 3D printers, an Apple TV, or the latest Android app. Teaching a veteran teacher how to put a fancy ruler graphic on a smart board is meaningless if they do not have the desire to do so and choose to take the initiative to seek that feature out, apply it, and then share with peer groups. Technology integration with veteran teachers has very little to do with technology and everything to do with critical thinking, understanding, genuine appreciation and application, active sharing and teaching it to peers; problem solving, and problem finding are also important. There is certainly more, but those are the big areas I see again and again.
2) New Teachers.
Veteran teachers and school administrators often think that student teachers and new hires know how to think critically with technology. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. I spend the first day of my education classes each semester at Longwood–in my role as an adjunct–explaining to 18 year olds that just because they have grown up with the technology, it doesn’t mean they know how to use it thoughtfully. Critical thinking is a big problem for the millennial generation, as Siri, Google, etc., encourage them to accept the first result, or response, as the authoritative solution.
This is true of our Senior Seminar students as well, whom I also speak to before they embark on their first professional endeavors as teachers. I caution them to take the time to understand what it means to think critically about what their needs are, and those of the students. This goes far beyond technology, but technology without thought, is just the typical smart board or touchscreen TV that is an expensive projection screen.
Younger teachers, like veteran teachers, may get excited at a training about a new app, the next Poll Everywhere, etc., but it matters little if they haven’t taken ownership of the discovery process and why that technology is relevant to their instruction and students, aligned to a specific curricular context/objective. In discovering the technology, learning how to use what they have found for a specific purpose and then teaching it to their peers, young and veteran teachers alike can develop and convey the excitement necessary to engage with those tools in the classroom with students.
3) The Students.
I recall teaching an instructional technology workshop to teachers in 2001. I spent an entire week with a wonderful group of teachers, each of whom were thrilled to be paid a larger than usual stipend to attend. On the very first day, one of the teachers shared that she had never used a computer in the classroom. She was afraid of the computer and not afraid to admit it. She moved it to the back of her class, after unplugging the large projector from it (which was a rare benefit in a classroom then), so the students could play with it during free time. That first day, the librarian and I (the class was held in a high school library and the librarian was a participant), convinced her to allow the students to help her to complete a Web quest in class. She did so the next day and excitedly reported back how wonderful it was for all.
That’s the heart of this message: allow students to teach.
Empower them to take ownership of as much of the discovery, construction of learning experiences and integration as you possibly can. This is a scary proposition for teachers because it introduces chaos, or a lot of unpredictable, potential interactions in a closed system. Many teachers want to pre-construct something exacting. It does make things easier, but is it the best way for the students to learn? I would posit it is not.
Just like with the teachers, students need to discover, apply, share and teach what they are learning to others; this increases the likelihood of retention, promotes ownership of one’s own learning, draws out the passion from within, and much more.
The teachers I teach, to note it again, do not know what they do not know. Teachers often default to how they were taught (don’t we all?). With a great volume of incredible learning resources online, the increasing ease and speed of use of technology, we have never been so fortunate and able to empower and engage our students as we can today. Instructional technology can be a fantastic and empowering aid to the entire culture of learning, and it can be done well once we transparently address these three assumptions.
There are many other avenues I could explore, but to keep this message succinct, I will conclude by stating that deconstructing and going beyond our assumptions empowers us all. By doing so, we can create learning environments where students can create and nurture a passion for lifelong learning, health and wellness, and personal and professional happiness and success.
Educator rant concluded 😉