Monday, May 10, 2010

Overcome With Techno-Fear...

Just so you know...this is a bit of a rant....

There has always been fear of change in schools. Take the year 1929. The following quote appeared in The Rural American Teacher:

“Students today depend upon store bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

We see it in our schools today. I experience it in my role as a technology trainer. Teachers often have a great deal of fear when we introduce a new piece of hardware or software into the classroom. Fear is a natural part of the growing process. I have no problem with my teachers being fearful of using new tools, as long as they are open minded to the learning and growing process. My problem is with teachers (parents, community members) is that many are fearful of technology because they either don't understand or because it is simply a different way of doing things. 

One of the biggest challenges I face with teachers is their fear of screwing something up in front of their students or appearing that they (the teacher) doesn't know everything. It is a battle I face everyday. And just when I think I am (and those of us that train teachers in general) think we are making headway and opening doors the loudest voice in the education debate tries to slam that door shut.
President Obama gave the commencement address at Howard University. Before I talk about his speech lets go back in time a bit and remember that this was the President (candidate, President-Elect) that could not go anywhere without a Blackberry. He remarked that he had to have it to conduct business, even quoting in January 2009 that "They're going to have to pry it out of my hands." 

Keeping that in mind, this same President said this just 2 days ago: 

“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter.
With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.” 


Ok, Mr. President, lets talk have a little conversation about Education, Technology and Fear....

I think this is an example of the same fear my teachers have about technology in the classroom. He admits in the speech he has no idea how to use an Xbox or Playstation or iPod. That may be true (but come on, an iPod. He can't even figure out a shuffle? My grandmother has one and uses iTunes. Oh and plays Wii everyday). And I agree with the fact that he says "information becomes a distraction." We have to learn how to filter what is coming in via all our technology and learn what to spend time on and not. We as teacher trainers have to teach our teachers this and teachers have to teach our kids how to do this. But to dismiss iPods or iPads or gaming devices as simply  "a form of entertainment." is a major step backwards. 

This is the pervasive attitude we are fighting with some of our teachers. That these types of technologies don't have a place in learning. But again, I believe his statement, and the fear of others stems from what they do not understand. If he (The President) would take a step back from RTTT (Race To The Top) and the other flawed policies of teacher performance pay and slashing funds from the education budget he should take some time to visit some classrooms. Why not head down to Pender County, NC and talk to my friend Lucas Gillispie who has one of the most successful iPod Integration projects around. Not to mention his use of World of Warcraft with kids in the classroom. Or talk to my friend Ric Murry who is successfully using cell phones to teach his kids history and geography. There are so many other examples and I bet we all can think of something really awesome an educator doing something to make a change in the way they teach kids. 
So instead, Mr. President, of dismissing what you do not understand and calculating the fear we in education are trying to eradicate, take some time, travel the country. Go in to classroom and look at what teachers are doing with technology. You have an open invitation to my school anytime you want to come. And I am sure we can find you 100 others where you will see the future of this country learning in the same ways, with the same tools they will one day use as citizens and job holders in our country. 

In the same speech this same man said that "Education is the answer to a troubled democracy." If that is the case, Mr. President, lets leave education to Educators. I just can't trust it in the hands of politicians...


  1. I love a good rant. The bottom line is that the President (I'll refrain from using my unfiltered opinion out of deference to his position.) does not understand education in the least. If he did, he would not be pressuring states to compete for money. His and Duncan's views on education are short-sighted and will do long term damage to this country.

  2. I heard a sound bite/news report about the speech and was sure that I had misheard what President Obama had said about iPads, iPods, etc... it just didn't make sense! I, too, am surprised (probably more shocked) that he was cautioning these grads about these devices. I whole heartedly agree with you that we need to figure these things out, not avoid them! In the words of another president: 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself..' (FDR).

  3. It is in the best interest of any government to have its populace ignorant. Any way that information can be disseminated must be discredited at the risk of the government losing its status as our "parent". They don't want us to know much, especially about what they are doing. This is just more of the same...

  4. I have heard Mrs. Obama make comments about how essential her iPod is to her everyday life. And I bet you their daughters are both very proficient in such devices and applications. Yes it's easy for certain types of information to become a distraction, but we have to teach students (and teachers) that's there good, credible, reliable sources of information that's accessible by multiple means.

  5. I find myself running everything Obama says through my internal "who's he talking to" analyzer. In this case, I wonder if he's not trying to appeal to the anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-elite contingent (an alarmingly large portion of American society).

    Does he really not know how to run an iPod, or is is just trying to be an Everyman?

    There is certainly a concern about information overload and the inability to critically filter data, but let's be progressive about that, shall we?

  6. Didn't Obama USE social media aggressively during the campaign in order to get elected??? So when it doesn't serve his needs, it's evil? Or take it a step further- when social media accelerates the public knowledge of the truth about his administration, he discounts it as a "distraction". Students must be taught to use the social media tools in search of truth.

  7. I think it's sad that so many people misunderstood the president's point. It wasn't that technology is bad, per se (he himself is a techy sort of guy). The point is that with all these gadgets in our homes and pockets, we're in an information overload sort of world without realizing it. Honestly, how much dedicated and focused thought can be had on a single topic or opinion when 100 twitter updates floods our phones, RSS feeds fill up every ten minutes, etc.

    I was reading an article from the Times about this, and an old interview by Michael Eric Dyson just this weekend. They made the same point - that we are in an era where information is bombarding us to the point that we don't dedicate time and space to digest the information and the arguments, form our own opinions, break down what someone has to say. In this regard, as much as the technology can be a benefit, it can also be a burden.

  8. I think that it is ironic that there are so many posts about this... taken from "soundbites" that came from the media. If you READ the speech, the whole speech, you will see that YOU are helping the President make his point! He was NOT saying that technology was bad. He was saying that this generation should strive to USE TECHNOLOGY WISELY, become EDUCATED about it's use, and NOT let the overload of "soundbites" and "selective facts" that are posted on all of the social networking sties be their only source of information. He was actually suggesting that we find SMART uses for technology, and not to fall prey to the way some outlets are choosing to use it... please folks.. get all of the facts!

  9. Steven,
    Thank you as always for your transparency and candidness. I did not hear the speech (I guess it would behoove me to go and read it) but could what is written be misinterpreted. I can't imagine that as you said the President who just almost two years ago changed the face of campaigning with an intentional Twitter and Facebook presence. I can only hope that he meant "can" become a distraction. These tools can become a distraction without proper education on how this information can be used for engagement and empowerment. We have to be vigilant and purposeful--following the leadership of many members of our PLN. I hope it doesn't mean what it says. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I share your frustration about resistance to tech by teachers simply because it is a different way. I encounter it in training sessions as you do. I do believe, unfortunately, that you took President Obama's words out of context, however. He is a highly intelligent man who successfully used social tech to get elected. I share his concerns that unbridled use of tech is pointless and can lead to distracted, unthinking individuals. It's about finding and using smart tech for true Lifelong Learning.

  11. Have to agree with Mrs. D, how very subjective what could be a powerful statement for educating our students has become...find me a teacher who doesn't believe that the power of any/all technology tools can be wasted by the mainstream who don't take time to disseminate and intelligently take in the vast mass information overload...

  12. Thanks everyone for the comments. The discussion here is awesome!

    I would agree that we have information overload in our society. We are hit from all angles, on many devices. The idea of being connected nowadays is really altering the way we live. I don't know if anyone saw the recent study of college students where they were asked to unplug for 24 hours and researchers saw similar withdrawal symptoms they see in other types addicts. I am even guilty of always having to check my RSS feeds or having trouble unplugging. And I completely agree with what Mrs. D says about being educated in this age of information overload. We should strive to use technology wisely and we should be teaching kids to do the same.

    What I take issue with is the flat out dismissal that technology tools like iPods, iPads and gaming systems are not "empowering." Dismissing them simply because they are the sources of information is another example of the fear of the unknown. I see it with my teachers, my parents, and the community in which I work. We as a society have to adapt to the ways our information is accessed. We have to come to terms with kids (and adults too) spend lots of time on the cellphones and other devices.

    Look at the evolution of the newspaper. The information is the same, just the way we access it is different. Are we better off, or worse off? Hard to say. but having instant access to information is a huge leap for our society and our kids in school.

    I am just bothered by, who should be our biggest education advocate saying something that could so easily be taken out of context. We have to face it. The world, for better or worse is being reduced to sound bytes. We have to choose what we say carefully. That goes for you, me and the President too.

    For those wondering, I watched the speech 3 times before I wrote this, read it again afterwards, and again right before reading this. And I still have the same feelings. I think he could have said what he said and yet not have been so dismissive or had the sound of techno-phobia.

    Great comments everyone! Thanks! I appreciate the discussion!

  13. It's easy to dismiss the use of technology when one is not familiar with it. My 72 year old mom just got her first laptop with wireless Internet access. She's had it about 2 months. Her Internet was down the other day. She told me this weekend she always scoffed at those who were so "into technology." Well, now she's into using the Internet for information, and not having it for about a day was very unsettling for her! Talk about a change in perception!