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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Teaching Opinion

Response: Ed Tech ‘Has Over-Promised & Under-Delivered’

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 23, 2016 15 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

This week’s question is:

What are the most common problems with ed tech and how can they be solved?

In Part One, Larissa Pahomov, Anne Jenks, Jared Covili, Billy Krakower, and Heather Staker will share their thoughts. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation Larissa, Anne, Jared, and I had on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Jon Bergmann, Aaron Sams, Jake Goran, Steven Anderson, Derek Cabrera, and Rebecca Blink contribute their commentaries. I’ve also included comments from readers.

Response From Jon Bergmann & Aaron Sams

Jon Bergmann (@jonbergmann) and Aaron Sams (@chemicalsams) are pioneers in the Flipped Class Movement and co-founders of the Flipped Learning Network. They are co-authors of Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day and Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement. You can learn more about using flipped learning to create a gateway to student engagement in this webinar:

Click, Click, Click: The biggest problem with Ed Tech?

Have you ever sat through a mandatory technology PD session from your district? Is your experience like ours where somebody was up in front showing you how to login to some system and showing you all the right “clicks” to make, and when the session was complete were you as frustrated as we were? Or has your district purchased the latest new piece of technology and you went to another mandatory session on how to use the new “box” in which you were shown how easy it was to use, where to click, and how to help kids click in all of the right places? And what is up with all of the clicking? Did you wonder why you could ever use this in your classroom or were you skeptical about the promise of the new gadget? Sure, there were some applications in your class, and if it worked, could make what you do easier, but deep down you knew that something was amiss.

Good teaching is not about where or what to click. Good teaching is about building quality relationships with students, helping students make connections to the real world, building students individual cognitive networks, and having our students enjoy learning for the sake of learning. Technology will never solve all the ills of education! Nor should it!

So what is the biggest problem in EdTech? The biggest problem is that we have been teaching teachers and students how to use technology without giving them the why of technology. We have mistakenly believed that giving teachers and students new software or a new box will help fix education, but the technology has over-promised and under delivered.

In case you think we are anti-technology, we are not. Technology has a place in education--a big place. The world has changed. Students have ubiquitous access to information that we could have never conceived of even ten years ago. And technology certainly has a place in the world of formal education. But we need to rethink the purpose of the technology, we need to rethink how PD is done in our schools, and we need to rethink how technology can be used not to simply do what we have always done better, but how it allows us to support good teaching and deeper learning.

The guiding principle in all of educational technology should start with good teaching and good pedagogy. Only after we have started with these can we then ask the question: What is the best tool for the job? If that tool is technological, then we need to learn how to use it. And once educators understand how a technological tool supports good educational practice, then there is a reason WHY they should learn it.

We often talk about this in the context of flipped learning which we pioneered. When we were first asked to teach others how to flip their classes we made the mistake of focusing our PD on video production. Our workshops were all about the how of video production. As we have iterated and evolved the model we have come to realize that flipped learning is NOT about the videos. It is about the active and engaging work students can now do in the classroom. The focus of our training is now about good teaching and pedagogy. Once a teacher realizes just how powerful a flipped learning environment can be, they then have to realize that there is a need to learn some technological tools, and only then will they need to learn where to “click.”

There is no doubt that the tools of education are increasingly technological in nature. But we should never forget that technology is simply that, a tool to help humans complete a task. So instead of teaching educators how to use technology, we should first teach them why a technological tool is the best way for students to be engaged in their own learning.

Lets get EdTech right. Lets start with good pedagogy. Lets start with helping teachers see why technology is a powerful accelerator of learning. Then, and only then, should we teach them how to use the technology.

Response From Jake Goran

Jake Goren is in his third year of teaching-after finishing two years as a Teach for America Corps Member at a charter school in Queens, NY, he is now a science specialist for lower school students at Avenues: The World School in New York. He is a special education certified teacher, who formerly studied architecture and sustainable development:

Ed Tech can be either a blessing or a curse. I find it is most similar to the weather-when it’s nice out, everything couldn’t be better; but as soon as that first cloud appears, you could suddenly find yourself in the middle of a category five storm. In my experience, the most common problem with ed tech is that it simply doesn’t work the way you planned-activities and tasks that previously took a few minutes consume entire lessons.

Recently, I took my first grade students to a local park as part of a year long trip series where we studied the seasons by observing their effects on that park’s plants and animals throughout the year. For our mid-year trip, I decided to switch from a physical worksheet to a digital document using the app Showbie so we didn’t have to bring as many materials to the park. I brought my students into my science classroom and quickly demonstrated how to download the form and annotate it using the pen tool. I then asked my students to download the forms and practice writing, at which point a storm began to approach. Some students didn’t have the correct version of the app, making annotation in the way I demonstrated impossible. Others weren’t connected to the internet, making downloading the worksheet impossible. One student was at 2% battery and couldn’t even bring her iPad on the trip. I thought to myself, “a pencil and paper would never have these problems!” After giving each student the individual attention required to fix any and all technology problems, we were ready to leave for the park a full twenty minutes after I had planned.

All of that said, and the “curse phase” of technology being over, the ability to use technology on this trip greatly enhanced my student’s education. They were taking pictures that we could look at later in the year as the seasons changed. They simply clicked “done” and all of their work immediately uploaded to me. Last, and not without merit, my students were engaged and excited to learn, much of which was because of the technology they held in their hands.

The mantra “you live and you learn” couldn’t apply more. Always expecting a storm, I slowly am figuring out ways to be more prepared-checking app updates before the trip, reminding students to charge their devices, and more to come soon I’m sure.

Response From Steven Anderson

Steven Anderson is a former teacher and Director of Instructional Technology, a member of the ASCD Faculty, and a 2012 ASCD Emerging Leader. Anderson is author of The Tech-Savvy Administrator: How do I use technology to be a better school leader? (ASCD, 2014) and co-author of The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning (Corwin, 2014):

The most common problem with edtech is “first adopter” syndrome. A lot of what we see in Edtech , at conferences, and on trade show floors is flash-in-the-pan stuff that provides little instructional value. Even the methods used by these tools can be questionable. What educators need to do is have a more critical eye when it comes to anything in technology, pedagogy or in education in general. Don’t just take the word of some tweet on Twitter or a blog post. Think critically about what that technology does (or doesn’t do) and if it is really necessary.

Response From Derek Cabrera

Derek Cabrera, PhD, is an internationally recognized expert in cognition, systems, and learning, and teaches at Cornell University. His theoretical models of “systems thinking” have made impact worldwide as the basis for individual learning and educational change as well as organizational learning and design. Dr. Cabrera is currently senior faculty at Cabrera Research Lab in Ithaca, New York. He is the author of Thinking at Every Desk: Four Simple Skills to Transform Your Classroom. Watch Dr. Cabrera’s TED Talk on how thinking works:

There’s a lot of talk about the use of technology in schools today. School districts across the country make significant financial investments in technological tools for use in the classroom. There are three common problems with ed tech today.

First, while there is no question that technology can enhance the educational space, good technology should be used to improve and facilitate effective pedagogy. Pedagogy should drive technology, not the other way around. As such, the biggest problem we face today with ed tech is the disconnection between our choice of tools and our underlying pedagogical principles and goals. All technology should directly support best practices in teaching and develop simultaneously two things in our students: 1) mastery of subject content, and 2) awareness of how we learn as humans.

Second, in general, technology can amplify good or poor teaching practices. It can also extend opportunities to learners who would not otherwise be afforded them. Khan Academy is an example (www.khanacademy.org). Prior to Khan Academy, there were primarily sage-on-the-stage-style teaching practices delivered by one lecturer who professed her knowledge in front of 30 kids. After Khan Academy, we now have the ability for an individual to impart her knowledge in front of three million students, providing educational opportunities to a far larger audience than before. That more people have access to an education that they may not have had access to is no doubt an improvement based on technology, but it also means that poor pedagogical practices could be amplified by this same technology.

A third common problem with educational technology is the notion that we can replace teaching with technology. We should use technology to enhance teaching and learning by creating a flipped classroom, which is the use of technology outside of the classroom to facilitate direct pedagogy in the classroom. In essence, technology allows for direct instruction about content to become an individual activity, where students can learn the “information” of a lesson as homework (through a video-recorded lecture, for example), so that teachers can utilize in-class time to build students’ understanding of that content by structuring it in a meaningful way. This allows classroom time to become more dynamic and interactive; teachers can work with students to construct and deconstruct concepts, see relationships among them, and look at ideas from multiple perspectives. The educator can become a guide for students as they apply concepts to their daily life. This can lead to not only a deeper understanding of course content but also to a better understanding of how one learns in the first place.

Educational technology, therefore, can be a powerful mechanism through which we can both extend the reach of opportunities and transform the interaction between teachers and their students. It can allow teachers the time to focus our pedagogical practices towards not only WHAT kids need to learn (i.e. course content) but also HOW they learn. In this way, we can create self-awareness among students that transforms them into lifelong learners who master both the basic curricula and an understanding of how they learn.

Response From Rebecca Blink

Rebecca Blink, Ph.D. has been an educator for over 20 years serving as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and district-level administrator. She has published educational works including Data-Driven Instructional Leadership (2007) and Leading Learning: Combining Data and Technology in the Classroom (2016). Currently, Rebecca serves as an Account Executive for Compass Learning in the state of Wisconsin:

Barriers to Technology Use in the Classroom

There are potentially two barriers to integrating technology in the classroom - the readiness of the teacher to utilize technology in the classroom and the access to technology and devices. If a teacher is not ready to utilize technology to enhance his curriculum and lessons; then he needs some training in order to do so. Preparing teachers for this type of 21st Century learning that includes devices as personal as a watch on the wrist; was unimaginable just a few years ago. Now, we are preparing students to live in a world where we have no idea what will exist when they become adults in 3, 5, 7 or 10 years. As educators, we continue to prepare students for jobs that do not even exist today. That is mind-boggling concept when you think about it. We do not even know what careers will exist by the time our students graduate from high school. Instead of preparing them to go to college, enter the military, or enter the workforce upon high school graduation; we need to really start preparing our students to be innovative thinkers and problem solvers, rather than information gathers and givers. We need to challenge our students to be creative and willing to take risks.

Our students have grown up with technology at their fingertips. They don’t even remember the world before cellular phones, digital music, or watches that can measure your heartrate and your sleep patterns. When they were born, some of those devices (if not all) did not even exist. They have grown up with the ability to “Google” something if they do not know the answer or want to find out some information about a topic of interest to them. Students today are used to being able to communicate with anyone around the world instantly. Using a technical device of some sort is natural for them. They know no other way. Students today are “digital natives.” Students today have access to technology and often have multiple devices from which they can stay connected. Integration of technology into the classroom, however, can be limited by the number of devices available in the school. Schools that have limited funding for devices must take advantage of the technology the students already have and incorporate those tools into their classrooms.

For more on this topic, please look for “Leading Learning for Digital Natives: Combining Data and Technology in the Classroom,” coming soon to bookshelves near you!

Responses From Readers

Peter Greene, who writes the great Curmudgucation blog:

My school has been a 1:1 school for five years now, first with netbooks and now chromebooks, and the top tech problems continue to be:

1) The frequency with which the tech simply doesn’t work. The computer won’t boot up. The student can’t get onto the desired program, site or app. This can occur for a variety of reasons ranging from hardware to software to the student treatment of the equipment. But on any given day that I plan use ed tech in my class, there is a 1% chance that 100% of my students will be able to participate seamlessly, easily, or (on a bad day) at all.

2) Student resistance to ed tech. The notion that ed tech will be greeted with open arms by digital natives is kind of cute, but not related to my reality. My students do not like to read from the screen; most would rather have paper copies. By a slimmish majority, they do like writing on the tech. Cultivating the habit of looking up answers to any question just as soon as the question comes up-- that’s one of my ongoing challenges. My digital natives are no more excited about using computer-based tech than people my age are electrified by the chance to use pencil and paper.

3) I’m in a rural/small town area. A significant number of my students still live outside the reach of the internet.

Thanks to Jon, Aaron, Jake, Steven, Derek and Rebecca, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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