Reflecting on Educational Technologies

The past couple of weeks have been a study in contrast and application. I've been working with a teacher-student teacher team conducting research in a public school head start classroom. I've watched my student teacher work with 3, 4, and 5-year olds. These preschoolers are using Fischer-Price digital cameras to identify patterns in nature, and within the classroom. These students are in the morning session. Afternoon session pre-schoolers are learning the same content but without the use of the digital cameras. It is surprising how well they can compose their images and with help upload their "good" pictures to the photo printer. The project is more involved and includes coloring, "writing", and telling their stories for transcription and inclusion in their own hardbound books. During this same couple of weeks, I've noticed colleagues who still carry a paper gradebook, print out all email to read on paper, etc. If this were simply a matter of preference, it wouldn't be worth posting here. However, what I witness is fearlessness and fearfulness. What I notice is learning as "play" and learning as "work". I'm going to be 56 on my next birthday so I come to ed tech as a mature woman. I don't see my openness to technology and its inclusion in life and learning as a function of age. Why do you think some of our colleagues are so tech avoidant?

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Comment by Joseph Chmielewski on April 27, 2007 at 4:13pm
I spent ten years as a school district technology coordinator, but I am not sure that there is much of an issue of technology avoidance, at lease nowadays.

It would be rare to place the use of technology into a category of a phobia, that is something like a fear of snakes, a fear of heights, a fear of enclosed spaces, etc.

Avoidance also seems pretty strong. Is the use of technology like the putting off visiting the dentist, delaying doing the spring cleaning, not wanting to visit the in-laws?

But, if school districts had trained our teachers properly, then technology would not have been singled out as a separate issue, and its use would be transparent.

For example, you would not offer a class in horse hair, canvas, primer paint, the design of pallet holes...you would offer a course in landscapes, portraits, composition, design, or specific techniques.

Why did we train teachers on how to work the software? We needed to have trained on Reading, English, LA, Math, Science, etc.; and use the technology as a matter of fact. The benefits of using the technology would have surfaced, the increases of student performance outcomes would have been undeniable. Every teacher would have clamored for more technology resources.

The technology should be easy enough that its use is transparent. If the technology isn't that easy to use, then the technology has to pay the teacher back in value and benefits. If the amount of work required to obtain benefits is greater than the value that accrues, then teachers who don't bother can't be considered to be avoiding the technology. They are just not receiving enough in return.

For example, if it cost more to drive to work than we were paid for the day, we couldn't justify keeping the job.

Another issue is that most of the work that teachers perform in planning (and following-up) for their classes is completed at home. Purchase of computer equipment for home use is not tax deductible, and, although prices continue to fall, may place strain on the home budget. (Some full-time teachers, with children, may be eligible for welfare around here, i.e., Texas.)

Another issue may be fear of failure, a fear of loosing face, a fear of being seen as making a mistake, a fear of being shown up by someone, a fear of being seen as inferior, a fear of being perfect...or the other side of the coin...having to be perfect, having total control, having to maintain authority...

In this case, the technology only brings innate attitudes to the fore, but personal habits and personality quirks; not the technology, might be the cause of the observed behavior.

On the other hand, those teachers who believe that computers and associated trinkets have no place in our schools may still hold to these attitudes. But, they generally keep these beliefs cloaked so that they can avoid low marks when they are evaluated.

A belief that computers were over purchased and under used is defensible. Likewise a belief that students should spend a lot more time reading great literature.

In other cases, teachers overwhelmed by the demands of job and family, just don't want to add more work, whether that effort would pay off or not. And, we should not fault those teachers.

Basic research in stress management advises us to not accept more jobs and more responsibilities at times of life changes and great stress. But, it isn't our business to snoop into the recent personal or family events that might have created a personal environment where the most personally supportive course of action is to resist taking on any changes (such as acquiring new habits of instruction with the use of technology).

I would like our focus to be on teacher empowerment. I think that teachers that bring their interests, hobbies and experiences to class, teachers who let their energy and enthusiasm show, teachers who map instruction to their personal excitement bring an asset, whether they use technology or not.

Empowerment means that we focus on our teachers' strengths, and great teachers share much more of their talents with students than their less effective colleagues.

We know that it is a mistake to squeeze all students into the same "grade level, achievement level" mold. Teachers deserve the same consideration. Empowering teachers means prizing and honoring what those teachers do.

And, when we support and empower with the freedom to choose and experiment, we are more apt to see teachers migrating to the technology...and using that technology in ways that are meaningful to their students' learning.

Let's celebrate teachers and allow a lot more flexibility and variability in how teachers decide to deliver instruction.

If technology make a teacher's job easier and more productive, it won't take long before the teacher seizes the benefits.
Comment by Lynne Wolters on April 28, 2007 at 2:33pm
Joseph and Skip - thank you for your thoughtful responses. I should have been more clear. The tech avoidance is among my collegues at the university. I have been working with ed tech professional development with classroom teachers for 6 years. For the most part, I have found them to be more than willing if they see a tangible benefit for their students, believe they have adequate support for development and implementation, and, frankly, encouragement for their efforts.

Skip, I found that the cameras acted as a bridge or connection to the learning in a very meaningful way for these preschoolers. I found that virtually all of the students took a sense of pride in having digital cameras as learning tools and demonstrated much more direct connection to the ideas being learned.

Of course, I would never recommend only using ed tech - more like have it available as a learning tool - just as crayons, water tables, and other learning centers are learning tools.
Comment by Lisa Parisi on May 7, 2007 at 6:02pm
What an interesting topic. I, too, Lynne, come at the technology age as a mature woman. I somehow survived undergrad. and graduate school, as well as my first few years of teaching, without computers. How did I ever manage?

I recently began teaching various computer skills classes to my colleagues. I just finished teaching a course on the use of the SMART Board and am presently teaching a course on utilizing a website as a high level communication tool and presentation venue for students. The teachers in my classes range in age from early 20s to late 60s. All have the same fear...if they push the wrong button, they'll lose everything. It is hard to convince these teachers to just play...the children do it all the time. That's why they constantly teach me about function buttons, etc. But teachers have been taught that every action has a reaction and, for many, if the reaction "messes up" the computer, then they can't fix the mess.

I keep working on it. My "homework" each week after class is to "play". Click on everything, download, upload, play around. Some are getting it. The others follow along and write down every new trick learned by their colleagues.
Comment by Lynne Wolters on June 8, 2007 at 10:15am
Lisa and Candace thank you for sharing your own wisdom and observations. The articulation of these experiences helps me to capture better ways of explaining, coaching, and planning. Candace your words powerfully articulate the core of the matter. My best to each of you for a "playful" day!
"L"
Comment by Hilding Lindquist on July 3, 2007 at 5:51am
Hi Lynne,
"Play" ... ah yes ... and so I invite you to become a founding member (one of the first 10*wink*) in Playground 2.0 ... which you can check out over on my page. We even have a wiki site for groups members! Are we sophisticated or what?! *wink*
Best,
Hilding

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