photo by Markus SpiskeLast week, I met with a group of twenty-four candidates for our Masters in Arts of Teaching program. I loved the excitement in the room and the idealism of the group. They wanted to change the world. And they will. However, I noticed a certain pessimism when it came to technology. I spoke for a few minutes about why educational technology matters. I mentioned the power of the personal learning network and the value in not only learning from global peers but also making stuff together. The community isn't perfect but they have been a support group, a creative guild, and a cadre in an informal, ongoing professional development. I mentioned the way technology is reshaping the world and why it's important to understand these trends and think critically of the medium itself. Yet, when asked about the importance of educational technology, only a few rated it as important. I'd love to say that this is because technology has become normal and ubiquitous. (I'd also love to say that I didn't just look up ubiquitous to make sure I was using the word correctly, but that would be a lie.) However, that doesn't seem to be the case. Many of the future teachers said things like, "technology is a great thing when it works," or "I did fine without technology" or even "I think it's distracting to real learning." For years, ed tech folks said things like, "The younger generations will embrace technology in the classroom." But I'm not so sure. When I taught a technology workshop, I noticed many new teachers who viewed it as a nice bonus but not as transformative. I noticed many more who believed that technology was inherently distracting and addicting. It has me thinking about why so many new teachers are so resistant to using the current available technology:
- They are worried about classroom management. They view it as a distraction. How do you get kids to stay focussed on their work rather than posting things to Facebook or sending pictures on SnapChat?
- They view it as a consumer device. We live in a consumer culture. Our students are not digital natives so much as consumer natives. It's no wonder, then, that so many of them view technology as shallow and addicting. They haven't seen the creative potential of our devices. Few pre-service teacher candidates have created larger, edited documentaries or podcasts. Fewer still have used digital tools for modeling.
- They believe technology is unreliable. There's a weird double-standard here. Teachers will say things like, "The Internet always goes down," and yet I have seen nothing more unreliable at a school than copy machine.
- They tend to teach the way they were taught. There is a comfortable, "it worked for me" element, that dominates lesson planning. New teachers tend to look back fondly on certain learning experiences and then try to replicate it. While this often works, it can stifle change and get in the way of creative change.
- They've experienced bad technology integration. We've all experienced the text-vomit PowerPoint slides. Many of us have seen online classes that were nothing more than a book club on a 90's-style discussion board. It's uninspiring. We need to share more stories of the great things classroom teachers are doing in K-12 environments.
- Techies have done a bad job admitting what isn't working. In other words, we've oversold technology without adding a nice dose of technology criticism. Remember when the One Laptop Per Child initiative was supposed to spark an intellectual revolution in Africa? Many current pre-service teachers lived through the hype and are naturally skeptical of the snake oil solutions be offered.
- We need to change assessment practices. As long as we continue to use standardized tests as the metrics for student learning and teacher effectiveness, teachers will be risk-averse with technology. They won't experiment. They won't take the time to do a longer, deep-thinking global collaborative project.
- Schools reward compliance. There are many things that can go wrong with technology and teachers are scared, because schools tend to freak out when anything off-line happens online. For example, bullying is a student to student issue but cyberbullying is a teacher management issue. Many new teachers are terrified of students going to the wrong sites, seeing the wrong content, or not behaving well.
- They still don't have access. This is a very real thing. Many schools have policies that prohibit students from bringing their own devices. Most of these schools have failed to invest in technology. While many adults have a 3:1 device person ratio, many schools are still requiring teachers to reserve time in the computer lab.
- They aren't connected. When I talk to students about social media, they tend to view it as a personal place for a few close friends. There's nothing wrong with this. However, I believe in the power of a personal learning network. It has transformed the way I teach. It has opened up opportunities I had never even considered before.
What Is the Solution?
I'm not sure that there is a single, easy solution. However, here are a few things we can do to change this trend:
- Explore technology criticism. Allow students to share their valid concerns about how technology is reshaping community and communication. If we come off as techie fan folk, we lose the opportunity to explore the nature of technology.
- Use technology for connective ways in higher education. Find ways to facilitate global collaboration projects. As it is, universities spend tons of money to go overseas. This is a good thing. However, what are we doing to allow genuine cross-cultural collaboration to happen afterward?
- Push for content creation in undergraduate classes. In other words, go beyond the lecture and into the realm of multimedia creation.
- When teaching lessons about technology integration, offer ideas about how to pull this off in schools with limited technology.
- Include technology scenarios in courses on classroom management. Explore any double standards that students might have.