My new goal is to stop talking about education technology.
Those that know me might be confused by this. I’ve built my career around education technology. My job is to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. In my current job, and my previous role as an educator, I’ve learned about (and used) learning management systems, flipped classroom methods, e-portfolios, personal learning networks, collaboration tools, and behavior management software.
I am constantly exploring digital tools and resources, creating tutorials and instructions, and delivering professional development to educators. I’ve spoken at conferences, worked with school districts, and collaborated with other technology integrators.
I have learned a lot – and I still have a lot to learn – but the most important thing I have learned so far is this: most teachers don’t care about technology.
Here’s the more important thing I’ve learned: they shouldn’t.
When I went through the education program at my college, I wasn’t interested in learning how to ‘create and share a Google Doc’ or how to ‘flip my classroom.’ I wanted to teach English. I wanted to teach kids how to actively read, how to engage in thoughtful discussion, how to communicate effectively, and how to be lifelong learners. I wanted to teach kids to be collaborative, persistent, and reflective.
I didn’t want to spend time sifting through iPad apps, learning about different content management systems, or sitting through workshops about QR codes.
I wanted to teach.
I see a disconnect between pedagogy and technology right now: in many school districts, there are curriculum directors and administrators working to improve educator effectiveness through curriculum redesign, evaluations, and initiatives like PBIS … and on the other side, there are technology directors working to put technology devices and tools into educators’ hands.
The result is that we have teachers who know how to build authentic learning experiences, connect with students, and drive learning- and then we also have teachers who know how build websites and flip their classrooms with video lectures. We have teachers who know how to teach- and we have teachers who know how to use technology.
Here’s the thing: using technology does not necessarily make a teacher effective. I am going to repeat that, because I want this to be very clear: technology is not pedagogy. I actually learned that lesson the hard way. I spent my first two months as a teacher building a paperless, hybrid-online, flipped classroom using Moodle, and marching students through standards by having them click through links and complete digital quizzes and activities.Was I efficient? Yes. Was I engaging students? No.
- Good teachers do more than just teach content. When people tell me that they are afraid that computers will eventually replace teachers, I laugh, because the only teacher that a computer could replace is the one who is simply marching students through hoops towards a standardized test.
- Good teachers create authentic learning experiences for their students by building rich, performance-based assessments.
- Good teachers encourage students to solve problems and take an active role in their own learning.
- Good teachers teach skills like critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and curiosity.
- Good teachers know how to create learner-driven environments where failure is considered learning and persistence is an expectation.
- Good teachers know how to inspire students and build a love for learning that can last a lifetime.
And good teachers don’t necessarily need to use technology to do that.
We like to say that teaching has changed, but I’d like to argue that it hasn’t. Teachers still have the same major tasks today as they did before the Internet. Two hundred years ago, teachers still:
- Collaborated with students and other staff
- Communicated with students and parents
- Found and shared resources
- Managed student behavior
- Delivered direct content
- Built rich, performance-based assessments
We had good teachers before the explosion of technology, and we still have good teachers now.
Benefits of Technology in Teaching
If I care so much about teaching, and so little about technology, why did I become a technology integrator then?
To answer that question, I’m going to explain two scenarios that involve working with student writing. Bear with me … this will all make sense in a bit.
The teacher stands in front of the room and models an example of prepositional phrases, after noticing that many students are having difficulty in their writing.
- The students copy the information and practice some of the examples in their notebooks.
- After this mini-lesson, the students log on to the computers and continue working on their essays, paying special attention to the prepositional phrases in their documents.
- The teacher walks around and comments on the student writing. At the end of the day, students are told to work on the essays at home – they save the document on a flash drive and work on the document from home (hopefully).
- At the end of the week, students print their essays and hand them in to the teacher.
- The teacher spends about a week going through each essay with a red pen, occasionally checking for plagiarism issues, and hands the papers back to the students. Some students redo portion of their essays, while other students stuff the essays into their backpacks.
- All students log onto the computers and access their essays online – they are using Google Docs, a cloud computing software.
- All of the students have shared their documents with the teacher, so she is able to go in at any time and comment on student work, wherever they are in the writing process. Because of this, the idea of “draft” has gone away – the writing process has become fluid, and students are constantly working on different aspects of their essays.
- The teacher notices that some students need work with prepositional phrases, while others need help with a variety of other issues: writing topic sentences, contractions, adding clarity, etc. She goes through the documents and adds comments that include links to grammar games on noredink.com, websites that give writing examples, and short videos that teach specific writing topics.
- When the class starts, all the students go through their own individualized mini-lessons, receiving instant feedback, and then call the teacher over to explain their understanding.
- They move on to their essays and continue to write. They use the research tool in the document pane to quickly look up information or cite research.
- At the end of the class, the teacher asks the students to look at their revision history (which shows the timing of how each sentence and paragraph were written) and reflect on their writing process. Students who need to work on their documents at home access their documents from their mobile phones on the bus, iPads, or computers- simply by logging in to Google.
The teacher wasn’t teaching technology in Scenario B – she was teaching writing, just like she was in Scenario A. The difference is that she was leveraging technology to be more efficient (by speeding up the feedback loop and putting students in a situation where they had 24-7 access to their work) and more effective (by individualizing responses to their needs and giving them access to view and reflect on their writing process).
She wasn’t effective because she was using technology. She was effective because she was giving students instant, formative feedback. She was effective because she was individualizing and differentiating her instruction.
Technology was only a tool that was helping her be more efficient in doing that.
The Unchanging Role of Teachers
Look back at those six tasks that teachers do. The basic work of teaching has not changed. Teachers still collaborate, still communicate, still find and share resources, still manage student behavior, still deliver content, and still assess students. The difference is that we now have more tools and resources to improve our efficiency.
- Cloud computing is nothing more than finding a more efficient way to collaborate with students and staff
- Content managements systems are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to communicate with students and parents
- Personal learning networks are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to find and share resources
- Behavior management software is nothing more than finding a more efficient way to give formative feedback of soft skills and track student behavior
- Flipped classrooms are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to deliver direct content
- Electronic portfolios and digital quizzes are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to assess student knowledge
Think for a second about how much the world has changed since the rise of the Internet. Technology has completely transformed the way that businesses operate, and yet, they don’t have the term “business technology”. Technology is only a tool to make what they were already doing more efficient and more effective. We need to start viewing technology in education with the exact same perspective, and nothing more.
This is why I am calling for an end to the term “education technology”. Our focus still needs to be on those tasks that teachers do; our focus still needs to be on education.
Let Teachers Teach
Our teachers became teachers to teach. Let’s respect that and focus back on what they do every day in their classrooms.Let’s stop giving workshops on “Google Docs” or “Flipped Classrooms”. Instead, let’s give workshops on “More Efficient Ways to Collaborate with Students” or “More Efficient Ways to Deliver Direct Content”.Let’s focus on finding ways to make their daily tasks more efficient so that they have more time to focus on building those authentic learning experiences, on individualizing and differentiating their instruction, and on building creative, inspired, and persistent learners.
Let’s stop talking about teaching with technology … and start talking about teaching.