Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some Thoughts On The Current State Of Edtech...

Recently I have done a lot of speaking to different groups on the current state of technology in education. The first thing I tell people is that I am not really an expert. I am not a professor nor have I done years of research to prove some theory. What I do have is classroom experience. What I do have is direct contact with students and teacher and know how technology works and doesn't work in my building and my district. 

I have a lot of opinions about technology and technology in education that I mostly keep to myself because who am I? I am low on the totem pole of edtech. But there is one thing that really bugs me when some that are high up on the totem poll talk about. Technology as the answer to all our educational problems. 

Technology is not "the" answer to our educational problems. There are many in our profession who travel this country and the world saying that tech will save us all. And that is just not true. Sure, we are a technology driven society and need to have students who understand how to use technology appropriately but take a look around. All this great technology and we still have millions out of work, budget shortfalls and countless other problems. 

Putting all of that aside, technology is a crucial "part" of the solution. But again it is not "the" solution. Being that it is part of the solution it has to be embraced by all in education. We as teachers, administrators, school board members and parents can not simply cast technology aside as "another fad" in education. We all have to be both learners and champions of technology in our classrooms and offices. 

As a Technology Integrator it is my job to help classroom teachers understand that with just a few simple changes to their classroom (via the use of technology) they can have big gains in learning. Beginning this year our 8th grade Language Arts teachers felt they needed to extend their classroom beyond the time they had in class together each day. They took it upon themselves to start class blogs where each day they would post something simple; a poem, quote, very short story, and ask their students for reactions in the comments. At first the comments from the kids were very basic. (I liked this, I did not like this, etc.) But soon, in each group there was that one kid who never spoke out in class and didn't really participate in class who had the most insightful comments. And from then it opened the door to some amazing stuff, that would go on for days. The students would have long conversations about deep, and thought-provoking ideas. 

This then translated to the classroom. The students were move comfortable around each other so when it was time to share writing in the class everyone volunteered to share. No one would hold anything back. These classes bonded all because their teacher introduced something simple like a blog. 

Sounds cliche I know but honestly, maybe it isn't so much anymore. We are educating a generation of students who, for most, all these technologies we have access to in schools, they have had access to from the moment their were born. The iGeneration as they have been called have come to expect a different style of  education than anyone of us are used to. Kids can't sit in rows for an hour while some boring person stands in front of the class with an overbulleted power point and then expect those same students to be "globally competitive" and "ready for the 21st Century" I hate to break it to a lot of people and a lot of school districts but the prep time is over. We are well into the 21st Century. If there are schools and districts out there still talking about preparing kids for the 21st Century, they have missed the boat. Their kids are already behind. 

If these kids are not walking into a classroom where they can use a laptop, or cellphone or iPod or clickers, or interactive whiteboard, they are behind.
If these kids are only tested in their ability to take a multiple choice test and that is the only measure we are using to see if they are learning, we are subjecting them to a limiting education.

If we are not creating classrooms that center around the students, fostering an environment where kids can create using podcasts, Photoshop, Twitter, Google Sites and others, then we might as well throw our hands up and forget about education all together because it would be disservice to this generation to continue in this manor. 

There are lots of other problems with education but access, availability and use of technology in the classroom should not be one of them. There are pockets of goodness out there. We as a profession need to seek them out, promote their awesomeness and strive to make real change, the change our kids need. 

Because it isn't about us. 


  1. Steve,

    I think a lot about the point you stress at the beginning regarding people who treat technology as the "cure-all" to education's problems. What concerns me is the number of extremists when it comes to using tech...or not using tech. I don't think tech is a definitive answer, but I also acknowledge the need for students to manipulate tech and be adaptable. Sometimes I would refer to this as a "centrist" view of technology, but there may be another term. It just appears to me that we have too many people who emphasize tech over learning and those who ignore tech and deem it unnecessary.

    I always try to tell teachers that they need to design the lesson then see if there is a tech application that can extend the learning. This way they keep learning at the center and not the tech. It seems to work for most especially coming from a technology coordinator.

    I can't even comment on your discussion points about using the tools in the classroom and being behind as you have phrased it perfectly.

    Great post!

  2. Excellent commentary. I might add that touting technology as a "cure-all" is nothing new. In the 1800's, there was a must-have technology in order to have a modern classroom. Know what it was? The stereoscope. You were simply being left behind without one. If you had one, you could give your students the world. And a long string of subsequent technologies followed up to the present day.

    The difference between then and now is the role of the students. Before, the students were a passive recipient of the information through technology. But with the technologies we have now, the students can have an active role in the creation of the information. Very powerful stuff!

  3. I haven't heard anyone say that technology is a cure-all. I've heard people tout the benefits of using technology in schools, but I haven't heard those people say technology is "the" answer-- just a piece of it.

  4. Thanks for the excellent post! I particularly like the idea of a small daily teacher post that will engage students in commenting. A new version of 'Daily Writing'. I've found that students are enthusiastic about writing meaningful comments when it is done on a wiki or a blog.

  5. I agree with your insights about what's important but as Anonymous says, I've not heard anyone saying what you suggest about tech being the cure to our problems. Do you have some examples? Even if you aren't willing to call someone out, I'd like to know a bit more about your premise. I think we have to be careful arguing against ideas that may or may not even exist.

  6. @Dean and @Anonymous,
    These thoughts of Tech being the answer do exist, if not just subtly. Jumping on the bandwagon of the latest fad or hardware is troublesome to me and many of my colleagues. The district in Minn. and the university buying up iPads to give to all students is, in my mind, a district/university that is desperate for an answer (and publicity) to their troubles. But I might be wrong. Sure, I believe the university is doing it to lure students. However, I don't see the logic at this point of the district doing it. There are better options out there, in my opinion. But again. I might be dead wrong and I look forward to seeing how those programs work.

    But the best example is a personal one. I used to work in a very technology rich district. Whatever teachers wanted in terms of tech it was often purchased, no questions asked because the leadership in the district felt that the more "stuff" we put into the classroom the better off everyone will be. But the problem was there was no consistency and there was a belief in the senior leadership that technology would transform the schools, kids and community. And it just did not happen.

    What you have to understand about this district is that it is a very small rural district with a very low income level of its residents. However, education was a priority there. When I began working there I thought I was lucky. I had all kinds of hardware, software and access available to me to attempt to begin to integrate, which, up to the point I began working there, had not happened.

    But as I got further and further in my job I began to notice some disturbing trends. A piece of hardware was purchased, say a bunch of laptops for 3-5th grade. I would spend countless hours working with teachers and students on using them in the classroom. Then they would test at the end of the year and the district would see no improvement so they would scrap the laptop program in favor of interactive whiteboards, after just one year.

    For me that is a problem. But it didn't stop there. Every teacher was expected to use technology everyday, all the time.Ok, fine. When I would try to take time in my PD to talk about content or pedogogy I was taken aside by senior leadership and told all the teachers needed to know was how to use the tech not understand how it fits in. My job was to teach them how to use it and that is it. The district through if the teachers just knew how to use it kids would just "get it" and the district would appear as if they were doing great things. Even as an integrator I know there is much more to learning than just tech. But I could not convince any one otherwise.

    But I know this isn't the case in just my district but in districts in several places. I have colleagues that I talk to that tell me similar stories.

    We have been talking about technology in the classroom for so long, yet it seems we are still trying to find its place. It is just troublesome to me. Tech is part of the solution, but what does the overall solution look like? I think that is the billion dollar question.

    Dean, on a side note I appreciate your comment and your insight. You always challenge me to think in new ways.

  7. You said it very simply, "...creating classrooms that center around the students..." This is truly where education must be no matter what technology tools are being used.

  8. Great post. The "overbulleted power point" needs to go. I believe that a debilitating reason instructors do not integrate technology into their classroom is out of fear: They are fearfull that their students may know more about the technology than they do. I don't think you can teach without learning, therefore instructors who hold this fear should turn it into motivation to LEARN.

  9. Steven,
    You are so right, technology is not the cure. What is transforming about technology is the connections it allows us to make, the stories it lets us tell, the lives it lets us reach.