Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Three Ed-Tech Myths

The University of Walden released their study of more than 1,000 education professionals, examining attitudes towards "the effects of technology on student learning, behavior and skills." The report debunked five common  myths and revealed some disturbing attitudes.  I'd like to look at three of those in this post. You can access the complete report (or a five page summary) here.

Myth #1: Newer teachers and those with access use technology more frequently.

Not true.  While younger teachers may use social networking in their personal lives, that doesn't necessarily translate to their teaching pedagogy. In the study, teachers with 10 years of experience or less made up only 28% of teachers who frequently use technology. Part of the problem may be that over half of newly-certified teachers surveyed stated they left college feeling ill-prepared to incorporate technology into their lessons.

And just because teachers have access to technology, doesn't mean they use it.  Only 29% of teachers not using technology  said it's because of limited access; 49% said they don't use it because it's not relevant to their lessons. More on that later.

Myth #2:  It's more important for students to use technology than teachers.

I confess, I believed this one myself.  I thought as long as teachers had a grasp on a tool, they didn't actually have to understand it thoroughly themselves.  Had I just taken the time to think that through, I would have realized the fallacy.  First of all, if you don't use technology yourself, you're less likely to incorporate it into your teaching or your assignments. Secondly, without a thorough understanding of the technology and its limitations, how can you design a lesson or assignment that makes the best use of the tool?  Or help students to use it creatively and meaningfully?

Nor will students necessarily "figure it out" for themselves.  I think the whole "digital native" idea does a HUGE disservice to students, because it implies they intuitively understand technology and don't need to be trained its use. To be blunt, that's garbage. They may be a genius on Facebook, but that doesn't mean they know how to use Ning thoughtfully to develop a project.  And if you don't know, how can you teach them?

More significantly, teachers who use technology frequently place a stronger emphasis on the so-called 21st century skills. Whether teachers who use technology value those skills more highly, or whether the technology itself necessitates using those skills remains unclear, at least in this report. Having seen (and assigned!) plenty of brain-dead "tech projects" in my day, I don't think using technology automatically means students are working in the upper levels of Bloom's.

Myth #3:  Teachers and administrators have shared understandings about technology use.

Really?  That's  a common belief?  The study reveals a fairly large disconnect between how much technology use administrators believe is happening, and what teachers are actually doing. Only 66% of teachers said their administrators are supportive of technology use, compared to 92% of administrators. Despite the above evidence that many teachers  believe technology is not appropriate to their lessons, and their failure to emphasize important skills, 59% of administrators state their schools strongly support 21st century skills.


Of all of this, I'm most disturbed (but not surprised) to find that so many teachers find technology irrelevant to their discipline. As the report states, "In a world where technology penetrates every aspect of the most successful and innovative organizations, this is a telling finding." Just because you can teach without technology, doesn't mean you should. That's somewhat akin to shunning books in favor of the oral tradition. We are not preparing students for life in the industrial age, but life in the information age. Students who are not taught to use media and technology in sophisticated, creative ways are not just disadvantaged, they are made irrelevant and teachers are derelict in their duties if they fail to embed these competencies into their curricula regularly and often.

Our job, as media specialists, is not just to train teachers and students in the  WHAT's and HOW's of technology, but also the WHY's and WHEN's.  We really must do a better job (and I include myself in that) of not just showing them tool after tool, but of

  1. Evaluating tools and selecting only the best/most useful to share.  It's far too easy to be overwhelmed by the barrage of what's available. If it doesn't a) make their (or the student's) job easier/more productive or b) allow them to do something new, why use it? Along with this, of course, goes suggesting appropriate technologies to use.  How many times has a teacher said, "You need to show me how to set up a blog!" only to find out what they really need for their purpose is a wiki?
  2. Frame the lesson appropriately.  How would you frame a tech lesson?  ‘I’ve got a way that you can do your lectures in a much more interesting fashion, we’re going to learn all about PowerPoint,’ or [are you] getting up and saying, ‘Kids will be much more excited if they’re helping you construct what they’re learning, and so we’re going to learn about wikis.’ (qtd from the report)  We have to take the emphasis off technology and ground it firmly in what we know about learning and students.  Technology is not the point; it's the tool.  When was the last time you had a pencil lesson?  Yet teachers frequently have "technology lessons."
  3. Giving practical examples of and suggestions for their use. I suspect by far the largest problem for most resistant users is districts tend to throw computers and smartboards at them, give them one days' training (if that) then say, "Here, go use them," with very little understanding of how they can be effectively incorporated into classroom routine.  
  4.  Following up.  I am horrible at this, and I really must improve.  How many times have you checked in with a teacher or student after showing them a new web 2.0 tool?  Once?  Maybe twice? We need to check-in regularly, offering suggestions or re-training as needed, linking teachers with other faculty using the tools successfully.  We should regularly showcase best-practice examples of technology use, including brainstorming sessions. I know, the big problem is time, time time.  Talk to your administrator. If it's a priority for him or her, believe me, s/he'll make the time.
UPDATE:  It should be mentioned that this report is based on teacher/admin perceptions.  One does wonder whether the findings would hold up with a more concrete study.  I suspect many of them would.


    1. "Technology is not the point;it's the tool."

      I have to admit guilt here. I have gotten caught up in the "newness" and "wow" factor of some tools and shared them for that reason, rather than analyzing to determine if they are the best tools to accomplish our goal of student achievement.

      Thanks for the reminder!

    2. Fran, we're ALL guilty of that! The first time I had students do documentaries, I had decided I wanted them to do a video project, and built the project to support the tool. AACK! Live and learn...

      I think we need to be careful with students; it's easy to overwhelm them. I showed them way too many tools to help with research papers last year. This year I'm going to pick three and stick to that. THey don't need to know everything that's available.

      With teachers, especially teachers who are already pretty tech savvy, it's ok sometimes to just say "hey, look at this really cool app." I have a buddy at work I do that with, then we'll sit and think of how it could be used. Other teachers, those more tech-anxious, you have to be careful not to overwhelm, and also very concrete about the pros and cons.

    3. Thanks for saying this so sweet and succinct. Gonna borrow your thoughts for a meeting with my AO next week! Cheers!