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RHSU Classic: The Relationship Status of Teachers and Educational Technology: It’s Complicated

By Rick Hess — February 19, 2020 1 min read
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This month marks the 10th anniversary of Rick Hess Straight Up, making it a propitious time to revisit some favorites from the past decade. For each of the Top 20 which run this month, I’ve offered a quick reflection or thought as to why it remains a personal favorite.

I can’t recall how or why I first met Roxanna Elden; I’m just glad I did. I do recall that at the time she was teaching down in Miami and was working on what would be her terrific teacher-advice book See Me After Class. She was one of the first regular RHSU guest bloggers and she was always fantastic. She consistently wrote with the kind of sharp, incisive humor that you can find in her acerbic novel Adequate Yearly Progress. I owe Roxanna a big thanks because this particular post was responsible for one of my favorite moments of my early blogging career. I recall walking into a Salt Lake City-based education technology firm around 2013. It was one of those West Coast open offices, and there, painted on a wall that must’ve been 30-feet high in large red letters, was a paragraph from Roxanna’s piece—looming over 150 employees. Anyway, here’s the piece in its entirety. Please enjoy number 8, originally published on Nov. 7, 2011.

Note: Roxanna Elden is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. She is a national-board-certified high school teacher currently teaching in Miami. Many thanks to Rick for inviting me to guest blog this week. When I blogged last year, I tried to offer a teacher's point of view to reformers, researchers, and policymakers. This year, I'd like to share our feelings with another sector of the edu-world that has been on our minds lately: Dear educational technology, These days, we run into you everywhere. People who say you're just what we need have gone out of their way to introduce you and are quick to criticize us for not showing more interest. So why aren't we more into you? Well, if you want to win teachers over, you have to understand where we're coming from. You're not the only one we're seeing. When teachers claim our calendars are full, we're not just playing hard to get. We've probably had several other tech-dates this month, including multiple computer-based reading programs for which we have to herd kids into the school library to use the computers. Each of these probably involves a diagnostic assessment, plus corresponding practice and makeup assessments, each of which requires the library to stay closed for the day, which means kids can't check out any actual books until well into the third month of school, once we've finished assessing why they're not good readers. We want to know you respect us. Teachers have plenty of experience with products that require two hours of tedious busy work for every hour they "save." During a first impression, we look for signs that innovations in technology are matched by a genuine desire not to waste our time. High-tech isn't always best for this: A 90-minute webcast of an underprepared presenter mumbling through a PowerPoint presentation in another school's auditorium is arguably more insulting than making us sit through a bad presentation in person. If you want to start things off on the right foot, show the same consideration for our needs that you claim your technology does for students. We've been hurt before. Teachers want products that are user-friendly—and won't leave us feeling used. It will be hard for us to trust you again if we have to find out about password problems in front of our students or troubleshoot during computer-based high-stakes testing. Please, work out your own issues before introducing yourselves. We get suspicious when you promise us the world. These days, if students were motivated enough, they could get the equivalent of a college education through their smart phones. Or they could spend all day playing video games and watching porn. Even the best high-tech solutions don't override the bugs in human nature. Kids who struggle with reading will struggle to guide themselves through computerized directions. Cheaters will find high-tech ways to cheat, and students whose printers seem to break the night before every due date will have similar excuses for why they couldn't watch their online lessons when we "flip" our classrooms. Sure we'd like your help, but you'll get further with us if you don't pretend to be something you're not. Sometimes the problem isn't you. It's us. Your software is only as good as our schools' hardware, and many schools still have slow computers, or not enough computers, or don't have the Internet capacity to stream videos and interactive lessons into multiple classrooms. Your three-minute video may take five minutes to load on our interactive whiteboard, which feels like 20 minutes in a class full of rowdy 7th graders. If high-tech lessons take a toll on classroom management, or require us to track down the IT guy our school shares with three other schools, don't be surprised if we decide we're just not compatible. Deep down, we still believe in love. Sure, we've got some trust issues from being burned in the past, but that doesn't mean we're nostalgic for the days of clapping erasers and calculating grades by hand. Teachers have had good experiences with technology, too, and we'd love to have more. The good thing about teachers is if you treat us right, we're loyal and we'll tell all our friends how great you are. For now, trying to take it slow doesn't mean we're not interested. We just want to know we can rely on you before we introduce you to our kids. —Roxanna Elden

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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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