How can we still say no to tech in classrooms?

  This article is adapted from one written by shaubo, a high school principal in Stony Plain, imageAlberta, Canada.

Why aren’t all teachers embracing technology?  Why are some jumping in with both feet, some paddling around in the kiddie pool, and some well back of the water?

Come on in! The water's fine!

Is it stubborness? Fear? Intimidation? Perhaps – but it could also be a genuine concern that the embedded use of technolgy doesn’t change anything about the material they are addressing.

Some teachers question why it may be more beneficial to students to use GoogleDocs to write an essay than it is to do it on a word processor at home and submit it?  Why is doing an online slideshow on a project more relevant than a paper poster? How does making a video change what is learned?

Here are my thoughts on why the use of technology and social media is often limited, and why it’s use in the classroom is essential:

1.  I’m concerned many teachers don’t see the true importance of collaboration.  Simply put, collaboration is an essential 21st Century skill; and cannot be limited to the classroom during a set time period.  Using online tools to collaborate and create allows students to combine their best thoughts and ideas, regardless of the time of day or where they are – ultimately creating a deeper learning experience.  I’m reading ‘The Global Achievement Gap” by  Tony Wagner  in which he discusses how corporations and academia are relying on their employees to be strong collaborators and creative, critical thinkers – not just with their colleagues down the hall, but with ones around the world. Learning is a collaborative effort and making peer-editting and/or authentic discussions a part of the assignment increases this skill.

2.  Most teachers are auditory or text-based learners.  This has a lot to do with why we have excelled in school.  Unfortunately students today are visual or visual-kinesthetic learners, and this has developed because of digital bombardment.  We see images as a complement to the text we read. Digital learners see text as a complement to the images they see.  I’ve heard a few teachers use this information as an argument for the need to teach todays learners about the importance of text, and I’ll admit, I believe there is some merit in that idea.  I ask myself however, why would we not modify our style to one that best fits the learner and the world?  If most people under the age of 25 are digital learners, why do we continue to prepare them to learn in a way that most likely will have little to no use within the next generation?  We have no problem altering the way we teach to reach students who need coloured paper to increase their comprehension levels.   We all have strategies to deal with students who have ADD or any other number of learning disabilities.  We differentiate our instruction.  It’s now time for us to develop strategies for our digital learners.  For a thorough and detailed discussion on this, see Ian Jukes’ work.

3.  I believe many educators do not recognize that, rather than schools being at risk of failing our students, we are at risk of becoming obsolete or at the very least, irrelevant to our students.  We force them to reference textbooks that are out-of-date before they are published.  We don’t allow them to use their personal devices in class.  We make them come to us for the information they could just as easily get online, and in a manner perhaps better suited to their learning style.  This worked for us.  We assume it will work for today’s students.  Unfortunately for most, it does not. We must develop our curricula and teaching to a standard that connects with today’s students and is relevant in the world.

4. Although we understand the importance of creativity and critical thinking skills, many teachers believe that these either cannot be taught, or if they can, simply evolve over the years of study.  I believe we can teach students to be creative – often by simply giving them authentic tasks and asking them to solve them, with our support, but without prescriptive guidelines.  Critical thinking comes from asking students to research, weigh the evidence, and make an informed decision that they can defend to the teacher and to their peers.  Think about how many online and social media techniques there are that can support this type of learning.  Take the online experience away, and we severely limit the scope of learning.

Is this just a problem only teachers face? Yes and no. Teachers I know believe they are doing a good job, and they’re right.  Students are engaged, test results are good, graduation rates are high.  Why do they need to change?  Because students are often failing to exhibit deep learning about the subject.  Technology opens up doors for them to ask questions teachers may not know about, to extend their learning, to find an area (perhaps even outside the prescribed curricula) in which they have a true interest.  The default is to limit ourselves to what can easily be measured by the standardized tests.   What we as teachers need to embrace however, is that this deeper learning will in turn support continued (and perhaps increased) success on assessements, regardless of their format.  Why would we not want to enable students to achieve the deepest learning and interest possible?  It’s about more than preparing them for the test – it’s about preparing them for their future the best way we can – we don’t know what that future will look like, but I’m pretty sure we know what it will NOT look like – like today’s classroom.

So, as educational leaders, how do we help to change this?  I believe it starts with supporting and encouraging teachers to step outside of their comfort zone.  This must become an expectation of teaching.  Teachers expect their students to do this every day.  It’s time we expected it of ourselves – both as teachers and administrators.

  • Administrators need to model online and digital teaching/learning techniques in our interactions with teachers – our staff meetings must include digital learning and sharing of successes. And yes, that means we have to learn it!
  • We must make the effective use of technology something we look for and provide feedback on when we do supervision and evaluation. It’s no longer good enough that they use an interactive whiteboard or post homework online.  We need to look for teaching that uses technology in a way that deepens learning.
  • We must insist on collaboration among teachers in this area – and insist this collaboration not be limited to the school or the school division, but a PLN that stretches to a global level.

As principals and leaders, are we ready to do that?  If you want to lead a school or a school division, you need to be.  As I met and discussed this issue with a number of delegates at a conference I was recently at, it donned on me why this may be more difficult than I originally hoped.  This was a national conference for educational leaders, and the majority of delegates were significantly behind in adoption of technological supports in education.   As George Couros discusses in a recent blog post  to push the teachers, we must first push ourselves.

I’m not asking everyone to dive into the deep end right now.  I do however insist you get off the deck chair and at least paddle around the kiddie pool.  Just like every little kid who watches the other swimmers, I think we’ll learn we want to be in the diving tank sooner than later.