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Teaching Technology to Teachers: I Used to Think... but Now I Think...

By Justin Reich — July 28, 2012 3 min read
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I used to think that I needed to help teachers to use tools, but now I think I need to help teachers meet learning goals. I used to think that I needed to guide teachers through new technologies, but now I think I need to create safe spaces for them to play and explore. I used to think that my workshops should be named after new technologies, but now I think they should be named after learning goals. I used to think that I needed to keep my teachers up to date on new technologies, but I now I think I need to give them a framework to think about how to use technology in their teaching that can adapt to new technologies.

These are some of the responses from a helpful closing protocol, “I used to think... but now I think...” that my colleague Tom Daccord and I used to end a two day workshop on Teaching Technology to Teachers.

This is the tenth year that EdTechTeacher has been running summer workshops, and Teaching Technology to Teachers (affectionately known as T4), is our effort to give away, for a modest sum, the entirety of the intellectual property we’ve developed over a decade. We encourage educators to both steal all of this, and then take credit for it.

There are four big ideas in our work with teachers.

The first is that the whole enterprise is about helping students reaching learning goals. Technology needs to be in the service of learning. This seems like such a simple, straightforward concept, but it’s a principle routinely violated in teacher professional development. Far too many workshops are about how to use the features of a [smartboard, wiki, blog, app, toaster] rather than how the use of such a tool might help student learning.

So we remind folks that workshops should begin and end by having people think and write about their learning goals. Workshops and series should be named after learning goals rather than tools. Run your sessions about “collaborative writing” not “wikis,” about “student teaching and presentation” not “screencasting.” Remind teachers that technology PD by necessity focuses on learning activities, but learning activities are pointless unless they are in the service of learning goals.

The second is that teachers need a framework and language for thinking about technology integration. We use Ben Schneiderman’s Collect-Relate-Create-Donate framework in our workshops as a thinking tool to help teachers plan and evaluate student-centered, technology-based projects. It frames the design of our workshops (like this one), and gives teachers a blueprint for thinking about integration. Some folks use TPACK for the same purpose (we find it a little to complex and abstract for teachers to actually use). You might use Understanding by Design, or Universal Design for Learning, or Teaching for Understanding. It matters less which one you pick and more that you pick one. The important thing is that your community have a shared language for talking about good teaching.

The third big idea is that teachers have an extraordinary variability in technology fluency, so instruction has to be differentiated. We use a challenge-based model of instruction (scroll down for examples), which involves introducing tools not by the unconscionably boring “click-along-with-the-presenter” method, but by giving participants a logical series of steps to perform and having them figure out how to do them through play, exploration, peer and facilitator support. Design the challenges so that the basic challenges give folks the key features they need, and the advanced challenges keep people humming.

Finally, if you ask teachers who influences their pedagogy, they will tell you that it’s other teachers. So district professional development plans ultimately need to build towards creating environments where teachers are coaching, guiding, supporting and inspiring one another. Outside consultants and technology coaches can provide a boost, but really sustained change happens when teachers are teaching each other. Professional learning plans need to reflect this.

The trick here is that all this has to do with pushing technology to the margins of “technology instruction.” It’s not about technology, it about learning. It’s not about tools, it’s about goals. It’s not about new gizmos, it’s about enduring pedagogy.

Lots of thoughtful leaders in technology and education have been saying this for a long time. And until it’s part of the culture in education, we just need to keep saying it, one school, one workshop, one group (and I guess one blog post) at a time.

Thanks to the many educators who joined me this week, and you have my best wishes for the rest of the summer!

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher 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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