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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Continuing the Conversation About Technology

By Peter DeWitt — November 08, 2012 5 min read
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Yesterday, on my classroom “walk-throughs” I watched kindergarteners negotiate their way around netbooks. They weren’t using a mouse. They were using the touchpad and their little fingers went searching for a story during their “Listen to Reading” rotation from the Daily Five. Their world at five is so different from the world we knew at that age. Their technological opportunities at five blow away the game of Pong we used to play.

Recently, I wrote a blog entitled Resisting Technology is Soooo 20th Century because I feel as though technology is still a hot button issue. Through Twitter and other social networking tools there are many conversations about technology. When it comes to social networking, as you would expect, most of the contributors have a one-sided view because they’re all very pro-technology.

However, I always wonder why more educators aren’t embracing technology. As much as many educators enjoy Twitter and other social networking tools, there are others who do not want to have anything to do with it. They know it’s not a passing fad but they are resistant to trying it. Is it because they’re afraid of it? Do they not see the relevancy? Or is it that they don’t know where to begin? I believe it’s all the above.

Strong Opinions
When I posted the blog I received a few really great comments. People who post comments on my blog do not have to agree with whatever I’m writing about. Quite honestly, I like seeing the opposing views because they help me get a better understanding of the issue. They were so important to the conversation about technology that I wanted to highlight them here and continue the conversation.

Clearly, when people post comments they do not always use their real names. Some feel secure enough to while others like to use pseudo names to protect their identities...or they just like fun social networking names.

Math Guy wrote “Technology is like any other instructional tool; it can be used effectively in the classroom or it can be a huge waste of time. It’s knowing the difference and finding applications that foster effective instruction that’s the hard part.” He is absolutely right. Having the technology doesn’t make sense if the teacher is not using it effectively. It becomes a really expensive piece of wall art if it’s not used at all.

Technology is a tool that can enhance instruction. However, just because someone has it doesn’t mean they use it. John Bennett, an emeritus professor from the University of Connecticut wrote, “

Really quite straightforward:

1. The learning objectives come first.
2. The technology is important as long as it’s part of addressing the objectives in an appropriate way.
3. For schools or teachers to NOT see appropriate ways to infuse technology use (assuming it’s available of course) into addressing objectives is a cop out!
4. Technology use almost certainly can be students helping teachers; just ask!
5. As one example, PD technology used for Twitter chats is phenomenal! And the relationships made with colleagues, developed while never meeting face-to-face, are amazing.”

John is right that educators have to have their learning objectives first and then build upon them. In addition, building Professional Learning Networks (PLN) through Twitter can be very powerful. It provides the ability to connect with people who can stretch your thinking. Yes, we have those people close to us as well but sometimes we are more open to it when it involves people that are not in our immediate lives.

Math Guy went on to say, “What I don’t see addressed in this article is a problem I’ve seen, particularly in large or wealthy districts--a phenomenon I once saw identified as “technolust” (I only wish I remember the author, so I could properly credit him; unfortunately, Googling this term led to a plethora of, shall we say, non-educational websites). Schools and districts (which are not typically led by the most tech-savvy individuals) buy the newest latest shiniest tech tool, convinced that it will solve all problems. Then they look to save money by not buying the support and/or training packages. The new tool is then foisted off on teachers, who are left to their own devices to figure out the best way to leverage these tools.”

I found this particular quotation interesting. I do believe that many districts are being led by some very tech savvy individuals who have a vision for where they feel the district should be going. There are also teachers who want the latest gadgets and use them very well because they take the time and effort to do so. I wondered after reading Math Guy’s comments whether schools really think that technology will solve all of their problems.

If schools truly believe that technology will solve all of their problems they are seriously mistaken. Technology will only enhance educational practices if it is used correctly. When Math Guy made the comment about support he was correct. Unfortunately, it’s the professional development piece that does get left behind. However, professional development is an issue that has many sides.

It really comes down to whether the educator is asking for the technology or whether it is getting imposed onto them. There are many teachers who ask for new technology tools and work extra hours to learn how to use it. Just like in their personal lives when they buy something new, they take the time to read the directions and figure out how to best use it. However, when the tools are imposed on teachers, they are a bit more resistant and they need professional development to best help them figure out how to use it in the classroom.

I believe there is a lesson in there for all of us. We impose things on students all the time because we know that it is good for them but as adults we do not like things imposed on us. We need to make sure we are providing the same supports to our students that we want for ourselves. Some educators may not believe that technology is important but perhaps they have to trust that it is, just like they want their students to trust them.

In the End
Technology is not going away. It has both positive and negative attributes, just like anything else we use. The reality is that we have kindergartners who can surf the web better than some adults and we need to learn from that. Those young students need to understand that technology is not the end all to be all and the adults need to understand it is a viable option that can engage students in different ways.

Dan Greaney offered us a caution. He says, “Don’t need to be a Luddite to have hesitations, though. Just a budget realist. I still see classrooms with walls of dead computers because the district doesn’t have the funds to keep them up.” The purchase of these tools is important but so is the maintenance.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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