The pandemic greatly accelerated the use of technology in classrooms. But two years in, with nearly all students now learning in person, how can education technology leaders maintain—and even advance—teachers’ newfound skills while being sensitive to the fact that educators may be burnt out on technology?
One way is by providing ongoing support and resources to teachers without burdening them with additional obligations, said Heather Esposito, a teacher technology coach for the Cherry Hill school district in New Jersey. She has done this by providing ed-tech professional development that counts toward teachers’ required PD hours or by dropping into teachers’ professional learning community sessions to offer support and strategies on improving their teaching skills.
“I’m trying to make it a natural fit, so it doesn’t feel like an add-on,” she said.
Collaboration among teachers actually increased during the pandemic, Esposito said, as teachers started leveraging technology to share lessons, ideas, resources, and best practices, and she doesn’t want to lose the ground educators in her district gained during the height of the pandemic. Esposito shared with Education Week her strategies for building on teachers’ emerging tech skills and combating tech fatigue. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Education Week: How are schools in your district taking advantage of teachers’ newfound technology skills?
Esposito: At the onset of the pandemic, we invested a lot of time and energy into professional development and sharing best practices.
Today, we are still incorporating both in-person and online professional-development opportunities so that teachers can continue to enhance instruction with technology. My role in that has been a lot of supporting teachers. All of this stuff you created last year, how do you now utilize it in a different setting to make an impact?
Are you seeing any tech burnout in your teachers, and what are you doing to address it?
One of the biggest things I was committed to at the beginning of the year is to help teachers feel like, yes, you amassed this incredible amount of lessons and slideshows and all this stuff, but it’s never tech for just tech’s sake. Use it when you remember a success you had with it last year, try it again. Or let me help you reimagine it in a different way.
Even though teachers say there are hundreds of different platforms they should be using, I say don’t. Take a couple that work for your skill set, that lend themselves to your content area or grade.
Teachers have also noticed, especially in the middle and secondary grades, that a lot of the platforms and things they tried last year are actually taking some of the burden off of themselves because they are student-facilitated, student-driven work.
For instance, if a teacher created a HyperDoc or a Google site with embedded tasks or strategies, that’s something the kids are working on at their own pace. And now, a teacher doesn’t have to wait for a project to be turned in at the end; the teacher can pace him or herself by leaving feedback during the process.
I’m helping teachers find some of the ways that technology can help make their lives easier. Like a flipped learning model within the school day—the teacher in that case becomes the facilitator of learning. It’s not just that the technology is there but how you can weave the technology within your class day that can free you up to give you the chance to conference with kids or to walk around the room more because you’re not feeling like you have to stand at the front of the room so much.
I always say less is more. Even though teachers say there are hundreds of different platforms they should be using, I say don’t. Take a couple that work for your skill set, that lend themselves to your content area or grade. That has alleviated some of the fatigue, knowing that [they] don’t have to use everything. You have a toolbox and you pick what works for you.
How about students or even parents? Are they tired of all the technology use?
We try to encourage teachers to blend the old with the new. Not everything should be on a computer. The computer doesn’t have to go home every day. Let it stay at school.
As far as the parents, I think the parents have in general come to see things are a lot easier when you can access your kids’ grades online, when you can communicate for a quick meeting with a teacher via Google Meet rather than scheduling an in-person parent conference. I think we are all in a state of transition where everyone is trying to feel out a good balance.
How concerned are you that tech burnout is going to undermine the gains in education technology that were made during the pandemic and this massive experiment in virtual learning?
I’m not concerned. So, there is this continuum, I think it’s called the diffusion of innovation theory. Everyone falls on the continuum. There are people like me who jump off the boat without a life jacket when it comes to technology and innovation and trying new things. Then there are people who will dip their toe in the water and then jump in. And then there are people who are on the island, in their life jackets, saying I am never, ever going to leave. The people who say they are never, ever going to leave, they are going to experience the fatigue and not come out of it.
Invite teachers into the conversation. Do focus groups, follow up on surveys. That is going to boost morale, it’s going to make everyone aware of where issues might be, so that you can correct them.
But the majority of folks are in a good place on the continuum where the fatigue will pass, they will find their rhythm. They’re going to be fine. So, I’m not worried about what this is going to do to the ed-tech world.
What do you think is the biggest impediment in Cherry Hill to using tech in teaching?
Time. The worst thing you can say to a teacher right now is to focus on self-care, because that requires time, and teachers want things taken off their plate, not put on their plate. Sometimes, when you think about tech, you think about it as something else on my plate.
That’s why I try to frame it as let’s find ways to make this seamless so it’s not feeling like something extra. The most challenging thing is the lack of time or the perceived lack of time.
What else should district leaders, principals, and teachers know about how to improve the use of technology in schools?
They should continually tap into student voice, teacher voice, and surveys. We do a thing called Thought Exchange. It’s a survey with open-ended pieces and it’s anonymous. We have done those at various points of the year because if you don’t ask, you don’t know, and if you don’t know, you’re going to make assumptions. Invite teachers into the conversation. Do focus groups, follow up on surveys. That is going to boost morale, it’s going to make everyone aware of where issues might be, so that you can correct them.