Education Opinion

Wrong Focus: Teacher-Centered Classrooms and Technology

By LeaderTalk Contributor — October 16, 2011 5 min read
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By Ryan Bretag | @ryanbretag

There is a buzz around me these days about how EdTech is failing to live up to its promise fueled primarily by the In Classrooms of Future, Stagnant Scores.

What is surprising to most when they share this piece with me or ask me my opinion about the failures of EdTech is my response. For the most part, I agree that it is failing but that failure has more to do with us than with the technology.


  1. We continue to focus on the value of EdTech by what the teachers do with it NOT what the students do with it.
  2. We continue to focus on the value of EdTech by what happens to high stakes, standardized test scores.

Teacher-Centered Classrooms/Technology

When the focus of technology is on the teacher and teaching not learners and learning, it is easy to see EdTech as a failure: a waste of time, money, and resources. For many of us, we’ve argued for a move away from teacher-centered only to find a movement and investment in EdTech that is the antithesis of such a movement. We’ve simply added teacher-centered technology to teacher-centered classrooms.

Is it any wonder we find ourselves unable to fulfill the promise we’ve preached about EdTech?

Simply walk into many classrooms (or talk to some that are wanting to change their classrooms) and you will see.

Look at the front of the classroom from the students’ perspective. What do they see? In schools where it is feasible, they see a tech rich experience for the teacher: a computing device, an IWB, a projection device pointing at the front. Perhaps we see a teacher with an iPad, an iPod, or a doc camera. Regardless, we see a very tech rich experience for the teacher - a teacher-centered technology environment.

Now flip it. What do educators see when looking at students?

Paper. Pencils. Print texts. Notebooks. Pens.

What an absolute disconnect!

The expectation is that the teachers have the latest and greatest technology for teaching. Yet, there is little concern about what the students have in their hands for learning. This is one of the fundamental disconnects we experience when it comes to educational technology, when it comes to 21st Century teaching and learning, when it comes to student engagement and empowerment.

We sit back and narrowly think from the perspective of what teachers want - never mind what students want and need.

And then, we have the audacity to judge technology on its success and failures on student learning.


I simply do not understand when we will come to the realization that more and more technology in the hands of teachers will NOT translate into fundamentally different learning.

Is it more exciting for the teachers? Sure. Does it provide a spark in the classroom? Yes, temporarily.

But, it still comes down to the fact that if you are not...

  • moving initiatives towards greater access and use of technology by the students and
  • focusing on enhancing and transforming pedagogy and learning...

...than technology is far less likely to have a significant impact organizationally.


...You have to have it in the teachers hands before the students.
I don’t buy into this nor do I see it as necessary. But many do, so fine. The key is having a plan that moves beyond the teachers or you’ll continue to wallow in a rich experience for them and a spectator experience for students.

...If we are teaching better with the technology, the students are learning better.
Let’s be clear. Teaching and learning are not synonymous with one another. In fact, perhaps our teacher focused use of technology is the problem. The wasted time redoing lessons with new technology to teach a lesson: IWB lessons that were previously PowerPoint lessons that were overhead lessons before that that we simply worksheets or a lecture originally.

And what we see is little to no return on investment because we aren’t transforming anything other than our own self-efficacy.

I’d rather see teachers improving their ability to create contexts for powerful discussion, engage students with diverse approaches, facilitate project-based learning, etc. I’d rather see teachers open the doors to the kids getting their hands dirty with technology. I’d rather see teachers focusing on transformative aspects of the classroom than minor upgrades.

Tech for Tech Sake

Let me give you an example. I recently spoke to a teacher while on a site visit. This teacher excitedly explained to me how this program converted simple review questions and made them interactive with an IWB. She showed how you could display the question onto the IWB for the class to read, they would raise their hands when they felt they had the correct answer, and one student could go up to the board and click on his/her choice. The program would then give feedback on the answer.

I asked, “what if you didn’t have the IWB? What would happen?”

She paused and then said that the question would be shared with the class and they would work in groups of three to develop potential answers. Then, the groups would share their perspective and discuss/debate the potential of each answers.

Between the two, which one is better? The answer remains clear to me.

I don’t blame her nor other teachers like her. They’ve been sold a lot of hype. I actually blame leadership for the lack of courage.

In fact, I’m not sure when it comes to EdTech, you need all this technology to teach better. Where its purpose is strongest is in the hands of students as they create their path and connections. It isn’t when they watch from the seats this high-tech, fun flashy devices and hardware.

I’m just not convinced we are looking at this with logical, rational eyes. But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe behind the facade of student-centered, constructivist classroom rooted in engagement lies are true fundamental belief: at the heart of all of this is a highly teacher-centered environment that has long been rooted with teachers first and students second.

And I’m just not sure that we can continue to call upon technology as a means of transforming education with that as our core.

(Image: Focus, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from toolstop’s photostream)

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk 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.