04 January 2013

The Fishing Hole

Samantha by Melly Kay CC-BY-NC-ND
I was recently telling someone that I'm not "techie" enough to work in the area of educational technology. In return, she gave me a confused head-tilt, similar to the picture on the right.

I explained that I just can't get excited about tools. Don't get me wrong, I have tools---both hardware and software---I adore. But I am not the kind to tell you that any of those tools will be a silver bullet for you (or your students). I die a little inside every time I see a conference session or webinar featuring "10 Apps for..." (There are few words I dread hearing more than iPad, but that's another story.) And I die even more when I see lines out the door to attend such a session when the one next door (with an instruction related topic) has a ton of empty seats.

This is the Great Divide for technology. The biggest whine I hear from hardcore edtechers (the ones who would be at the front of the line for an all-the-apps-you-can-eat session) is that they aren't taken seriously by others who work in the realm of curriculum and instruction. But for a long time, techers have billed themselves as appmongers---Come get your technology here! Fresh apps daily! What they haven't done is teach people to fish. That is, to find tech tools that are meaningful for their own classrooms.

There is a place for both. If you've never used an iPad before, then you are going to need some training about how to turn it on, set it up, navigate the screens, and download/sync content. Nearly all of them include a laundry list of apps for different goals. But nearly every training I've seen doesn't go the next step and have a discussion about how to determine what a "good" or "appropriate for the lesson" app is. (Ditto for the app-palooza conference sessions.) In other words, the tech types want to decide what's best for your classroom---and this is where things start to break down for teachers who don't consider themselves "techies." Their eyes glaze over with the lists provided, none of which help them know what to use and when.

But the biggest damage is for techies themselves. In promoting the tech first agenda, they marginalize themselves. They come across to peers as thinking that they have something unique and special, rather than a piece of the larger puzzle of learning. This is why they don't get invited to bigger conversations on teaching and learning...and why their notion of "ed reform" never gets anywhere.

So, here is what I hope to see in 2013 (and beyond).
  • Don't go to the Land of 10,000 Apps sessions at conferences, your local district PD offerings, or other opportunities...and don't present them, either. Ask conference organizers to put a moratorium on these sessions. They probably won't listen (because sessions are popular and mean money), but it doesn't hurt to raise awareness. Do offer learning opportunities for teachers about how to find and select apps and other tools (and how to enable students to find quality content, too). Support sessions or sharing which make meaningful connections between technology and student learning or teacher support.
  • Don't assume you have the silver bullet. Listen to the concerns of teachers about instruction. If you know a tool that helps close that gap, then suggest it. Do admit that technology is not the solution to every problem.
  • Don't talk about how using a particular tool "covers" a standard. Taking notes on a tablet, for example, is no more guarantee of learning than taking notes with a pencil. Making tenuous connections between tech and learning helps no one. Making people feel bad because they prefer a pencil to a tablet does even less. Do contribute to the conversations about differentiating instruction in the classroom. Be cautious about the volume of options you offer. Just because you know 20 ways to do something doesn't mean everyone else is ready to embrace those. Small steps. Build confidence in users. 
  • Don't be passive-aggressive with your peers by posting things that start with "Everyone who cares about x should read/watch this." Just because not everyone looks at the identical tools and ideas you do doesn't make them uncaring or uninterested. Do share your ideas and resources. Recognize that everyone is on their own path and be there to help coach (not necessarily lead) people along. 
I like technology...I'd like to see it find a good balance in the classroom. I'd also like to be able to tell people that I work in edtech and not have them assume that I'm clueless about what goes on in a classroom. C'mon techies...it's time to shift the conversation.

1 comment:

Ms Characterized said...

Well said. I enjoy the technology I have, and would like to do more (if there's a Time Machine app, I'm there). Our science dept is very tech first, and despite their efforts, comes across as the 'don't' crowd.