Introducing Digital Tools to Teachers

Scott McLeod—the brains behind Dangerously Irrelevant—wrote an interesting post recently titled Ed Tech Quarantine.  In it, Scott argues that educational technology groupies often chase new teachers away from technology with our digital giddiness.

He writes:

One of the most common
refrains heard from teachers or administrators who listen to us talk or blog
about all of these new cool tools is “Why do I care about this as an
educator?
” In our eagerness to share our nearly-palpable glee and
excitement, we often struggle to adequately answer the “So what?” question in
ways that are substantive and meaningful to the average teacher or
administrator.

Scott goes on to propose a plan that he believes might make introducing educational technology to teachers easier that includes extensive piloting and perfection of classroom applications of new tools before advocacy with others begins.  He writes:

I believe that an emphasis on pilot testing, experimentation, and
identification of both mainstream educator use(s) and optimal training
mechanisms before introduction to other educators
often would help us quite a bit. Instead of turning off the very educators that
we want using many of these tools, some time spent in the ed tech
quarantine
might go a long way toward facilitating our overall
goal of greater technology adoption in K-12 classrooms.

Scott’s ideas definitely ring true to me, primarily because I live on the digital edge and I’ve seen time and again how my acceptance of new digital tools actually chases my peers away!  They truly believe that I’m an odd bird who knows things about technology that they couldn’t possibly know—so the tools that I embrace must automatically be beyond their own comfort and ability level.

In that sense, I’m not particularly influential when it comes to pushing new uses for instructional technologies because I just don’t look like the average teacher!

Now, I’m also savvy enough to recognize the impact that I’m having on my peers—and I realized long ago that to be influential, I was going to have to do a bit of work on the digital dark-side.  So when pushing instructional technologies, I seek out progressive teachers that are seen as the electronic equals of their peers and work to introduce them to new applications for tools that can help to facilitate collaborative work with colleagues.

Yup.  You read that right.  In my early conversations with teachers, I actually try to AVOID classroom uses of new tools!  While my ultimate goal is to see instruction change in classrooms because of digital tools, I’m also a full-time classroom teacher.  I know full well that changing instruction is an incredibly time-consuming process—and time is the resource that teachers just plain don’t have enough of in our schools.

Instead, my singular focus is to show teachers how
to use new digital tools to save time or add value to their
professional lives.  I start with things like shared bookmarking between members of a
learning team
to reduce cross-team email and to make resource sharing fluent and easy.  I also introduce tools like Google Docs to create
shared lesson plans and team documents
.

Here’s the handout that I use when putting the sell-job on faculties.  It lists several possible “first-steps” that teachers can take to begin exploring digital tools:

Download Handout_Choices_Web.doc

Notice how the tasks listed across the top of the web (where teachers are likely to look first) are all oriented towards facilitating collaboration and professional learning?  These are tasks that teachers are already responsible for and consumed by.

If I can show teachers how to use digital tools to make this work easier, I’m sure to find an ally or two, aren’t I?

Sometimes I feel guilty about my approach because it doesn’t
immediately result in more student-centered instructional practices.
Teachers continue teaching in the same way they’ve always taught.

But the way I see it, teachers’ number one concern is always
time
—so if they can see value in digital tools as professional time
savers, they’ll be more likely to embed those tools completely into
their own lives.  And once those tools become a natural part of their daily work
and learning patterns, they’re more likely to incorporate them into
their instruction.

Here’s an example:

I’ve got a buddy who tells me about twice a week that he couldn’t
live without the feed reader I helped him to set up because it helps him to find current event
titles that he uses in daily instruction
.  He’s also jazzed because he’s stumbled upon a collection of blogs by
librarians that are pushing his professional growth and knowledge of
his content area.

Now, he’s yet to try to introduce RSS feeds to students at all—and
he’s not using blogs in class either. His instruction has remained
largely unchanged.  But I believe that with time, he’s likely to start to show his
students how RSS feeds can change their own learning too—simply
because it’s so important to his own growth.

Does this make sense to you?

I guess what I’m wrestling with is should we even focus on the
instructional applications of digital tools when working with peers who’ve yet to dive into the digital waters?

Can we trust that a person who has their own learning and work
patterns changed by digital tools will naturally translate those new
patterns into their classrooms?

Is the trickle-down theory of digital professional development that I’ve been pushing productive?

Bill, who is saddened by the destruction of a digital generation.

 

8 thoughts on “Introducing Digital Tools to Teachers

  1. Tami

    Bill-
    Thanks for you post. I would agree we you that it has been experience that people assume that because you are open to “taking in” and using new technologies, that you must posses some profound knowledge.
    I think that introducing educators, both in K-12 and higher to Web 2.0 tools gradually and allowing them to “feel them out” gives people a sense of ownership and thus, they are more likely to integrate new technologies into their instruction.
    I believe it takes some “pioneers” to lead the way and show that technology can enhance the instruction you are already familiar with; it does not need to replace it.
    I think that students may also help move technology into the forefront of classroom instruction. I have no doubt that students will start to “demand” it.

  2. Tracy Rosen

    “Does any of this make sense to y’all?”
    OH YES!!
    Yes, we need to align our teaching with student needs and yes, we need to honour teacher needs at the same time.
    It’s a dance, the dance of change. And we need to honour that, too.

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Hey All,
    Thanks for the feedback on this post! It seems like it resonated—which is very cool.
    Here’s some thoughts:
    Wendy wrote:
    I would also add that we in Ed Tech must not underestimate the value of what our teacher colleagues are already doing and the need to consider their individual teaching styles and educational value in every new tool we propose.
    Brilliant comment, Wendy. I definitely think that we need to consider individual teaching styles before introducing new tools.
    Sometimes schools make blanket decisions about new tools that are going to be required of everyone—-but if those tools don’t naturally fit into the work an individual teacher is already doing, transfer is unlikely at best.
    Considering the kinds of work teachers are naturally drawn to—which will vary across classrooms—and then selecting appropriate tools to enhance that work will definitely encourage adoption.
    Jenny wrote:
    It worries me that the kids see the benefits and embrace what’s new but the teachers lag far behind.
    This worries me, too, Jenny—primarily because our classrooms are only getting more disconnected from our students.
    Every time that we choose to ignore technology that our children have embraced, we essentially make our rooms uninteresting and inefficient to them.
    I always think of the kid who has a digital solution for every paper driven classroom project I create. If I told him he had to use paper products as opposed to his digital solutions, it would take him longer and cause him greater frustration.
    How’s that supposed to encourage a “love of learning?”
    Melanie wrote:
    Forcing that teacher to use those tools in the classroom first wouldn’t have helped him see the value because he would have only done it out of compliance.
    You know, Melanie—I’ve never been a compliance kind of guy! (Actually, that’s a professional weakness of mine : )
    But sometimes I wonder if compliance will ever have to play a role in tech adoption.
    I’ve got a regular reader and friend who is an administrator, and he constantly pushes me on the compliance idea. His argument is that until you make certain things essential expectations, many teachers won’t move forward at all.
    And while I’m comfortable waiting for trickle-down results, administrators are responsible for moving schools forward NOW!
    Do you think there’s ever a place for compliance?
    (If I had to answer that question today, I’d say no—but ask me again tomorrow and my answer might be different.)
    The Head Monkey wrote:
    He describes how in his university classes he would read the newspaper online and email while the prof was lecturing. He said he could answer the prof’s question even if he wasn’t paying direct attention, so what’s the issue?
    Great questions, Monkey!
    I haven’t had time to check out the original post yet, but I think my initial reaction would be that if students are emailing and reading the newspaper as opposed to paying attention to my lesson, then my lesson stinks!
    Teachers—whether we like it or not—are in direct competition with a fast-paced world and learning environment. Our kids expect the opportunity to be engaged and entertained today.
    That means we need to create learning experiences that are irresistible to them. As professionals, we need to tailor our instruction to align with the students we teach.
    I’ve always been of the belief that off-task behavior in the classroom is a result of poor instruction. There are days when my kids are COMPLETELY engaged in what we’re doing—-that proves to me that it is possible for them to stay focused.
    I’ve just got to find the right learning experiences to make that engagement happen more and more often.
    Does any of this make sense to y’all?
    Bill

  4. The Head Monkey

    Hi Bill and everyone:
    Great post but it made me think of a post over at SpeEd Change. If you are not familiar with his blog it is about trying to get schools to be more accessible for students with special needs. He describes how in his university classes he would read the newspaper online and email while the prof was lecturing. He said he could answer the prof’s question even if he wasn’t paying direct attention, so what’s the issue?
    http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/06/in-praise-of-distraction.html
    It got me thinking a little about why some teachers are hesitant to bring tech into their classroom as well – the misuse of it. Or was he misusing it?? What do you all think? Should this be a separate post? Thanks for yet another great post, Bill.

  5. Wendy Drexler

    Hi Bill,
    Eloquently stated! It never (or rarely) works to force teachers to do anything. I had the best luck with Skype when I presented it as a way to contact friends and family for free. Once teachers saw how easy it was to talk to family, some experimented with their classes. I agree with you completely. It often feels like baby steps. But, when I think back over a full school year, I’m proud of what my colleagues have embraced one teacher at a time. I would also add that we in Ed Tech must not underestimate the value of what our teacher colleagues are already doing and the need to consider their individual teaching styles and educational value in every new tool we propose.
    Wendy

  6. Melanie Holtsman

    Bill,
    Thanks for the post. It looks like ed tech will be the majority of what I will do next year and this topic has been much on my mind. I agree with you totally. Forcing that teacher to use those tools in the classroom first wouldn’t have helped him see the value because he would have only done it out of compliance. As soon as it “clicks” for him that his kids could benefit as much as he does…he’ll take off with digital planning. It is frustrating to those of us fully involved, but others need the baby steps.

  7. Jenny Luca

    Thanks Bill for this post. Like you I get so excited about the possibilities for educational change using new technologies and get frustrated that others don’t embrace them as readily as I. You’ve made me think about what I should be working on to move teachers forward. It worries me that the kids see the benefits and embrace what’s new but the teachers lag far behind.
    Jenny Luca.

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