Do we REALLY want to facilitate digital codependence?

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant has me thinking about digital professional development again.  His basic argument:  That schools are facilitating an almost crippling digital “codependence” in educators by offering countless training sessions on simple tools to our teachers. 

For Scott, the conversation began while thinking through the consequences of a staff training titled ‘Learn about Facebook’ being offered to the faculty members of his university.   

He writes:

As someone who does a lot of training and professional development for school administrators, I wonder how much I’m facilitating codependence. In many job sectors, employees are expected to keep up with relevant technologies or risk job loss.

When do we require that of K-12 and postsecondary educators? At what point do we say to them “No, we’re not training you how to use this. It’s easy enough for you to learn on your own. And if you don’t, we’ll find someone else who can.”

Great questions, huh? 

Sadly, Scott’s thoughts are reflective of reality in most schools and districts, where technology leaders often become enablers, patiently waiting for digital holdouts at almost any cost. 

Need an example?

Try this one on for size:  In order to keep my teaching license a few years back, I had to take a course called ‘Getting to Know the Internet.’  While I was completely bored from day one (and yes, it was a TWO-DAY course), the class was FULL of people completely blown away by simple tips about searching the web with fewer headaches and simple warnings about the risk of stumbling across inappropriate content online.  

Now, I won’t pretend to understand the rational behind the decision to offer extensive support for tools that I think teachers should be able to master independently—professional development providers have far more experience in determining what actions are appropriate for the adult learners that they serve—but I will argue that there are real consequences to their actions.

Perhaps most obviously, introductory courses like ‘Learn about Facebook’ and ‘Getting to Know the Internet’ are a waste of resources, aren't they. 

In tight economic times, do we REALLY want our already-stretched-too-thin professional development departments to spend their energies supporting such simple studies?  What kinds of opportunities could we offer if we focused district-wide PD dollars on more meaningful opportunities to explore the role that digital tools can play in supporting student learning?

What’s more, do we REALLY want to spend our already-stretched-too-thin professional development contact hours on such simple learning experiences?  How many teachers sit through ‘Getting to Know the Internet’ courses each year, dreaming up new digital projects that they’ll never have the time to bring to reality because they’re stuck in a four-hour session on a topic that they could learn on their own in about ten minutes?

But most importantly, do we REALLY want to send the message to teachers that they bear no personal responsibility at all for exploring new teaching tools, strategies and techniques?  Whatever happened to our professed commitment to “lifelong learning?”  Can we expect our students to embrace self-directed study when teachers refuse to demonstrate the same independence?

Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but I’m tired of our tolerance and ready to see basic digital literacy and a willingness to experiment be a fundamental expectation for every educator.


18 thoughts on “Do we REALLY want to facilitate digital codependence?

  1. fernando.

    Oh my Lord! That is hillarious… getting to know the internet?!!? I have conducted several professional development workshops on this and am the Edline manager for a large school, and it still blows my mind how some teachers think it is optional to use, um, email! We are now into web 2.0, including systems like and moodle, and some teachers are just finding out about the ‘net for the classroom. The good news is that is by far the minority… but would argue that we will all be in the majority regarding web 2.0 tools, like blogs, if we do not somehow begin to use this in the classroom in the immediate future.

  2. atxteacher

    Dina, I try to not to label teachers as lazy. I approach teaching teachers just as I did teaching students in my classroom. If things aren’t going well, that’s my responsibility. I need to change my instruction to better fit my varied audience. And when a good third of the partiicpants weren’t prepared for the professional development (ie – didn’t bring the required laptop or have posted the required lesson), we adapted.
    I would submit that the same teachers who came unprepared for class take issue when their students do that.I would argue, however, that my expectations for teachers as professionals are different than they are for 6th graders.
    I think we need to have high expectations of teachers as professionals, and I don’t see that happening as often as I would like.
    I’m with you on the face-to-face real-world interaction. If you can get it, that’s a priority. I wouldn’t replace those with technology. I would add to them with technology.

  3. Dina

    The reductionist, finger-pointing tone of many of the comments here, as well as some of your initial post, Bill, saddens me. The reasons for teachers to not respond initially, or well, to tech PD are legion, and I would be surprised if more than a micro-percentage of them result from what is being very thinly disguised here as the plain old “laziness” blame game. Bill, I can imagine how outraged you would be, as well as your commenters, if an educator made this kind of pedagogical accusation against your 6th grade students. Why tolerate it about the teachers to whom you offer PD? Aren’t they simply students of a different kind?
    In closing I’ll suggest one of those legion reasons beyond laziness, which happens to be most often my own: I remain firmly skeptical about the use of any technology that pulls my kids away from face to face, local, sense-based interactions with the world. I’d rather figure out how to get all 90 kids on my team to a decent play, first.

  4. atxteacher

    Can I get an, “Amen!” Deanna – you get back on that box. Time is the lamest excuse. I hear it for everything. I can’t pre-assess kids, where will I find the time? I can’t teach this tech tool, where will I find the time? I can’t…, where will I find the time?
    Teachers don’t read their email over the summer so they can’t be expected to bring their district issued laptop to the first training of the year. WHAT? It should be a professional expectation.
    If we set such low expectations for our teachers, it’s no wonder they have low expectations for our kids!
    Whew! I’m feeling a little better now.

  5. Deanna

    OMG! You and Scott are so right on. If I have to show one more teacher how to do one more simple little crappy thing in creating their Blackboard course sites, I’m gonna scream. People, spend some of your own time exploring the technology! That’s how I learned it and now I know it inside and out.
    I refused to offer any “Tech Tuesday” PD this year (i.e. how to use the Elmo, resources at the LearnNC website, how to use United Streaming). We’ll provide you the resources and equipment; you need to pony up the time to the real professional doing your job, which by the way includes integrating instructional technology and information literacy skills into your content area.
    And don’t tell me it’s a time issue. It’s a priority issue, in my book. “You make the time to do what you want to do.” You know how to use your freakin’ iPhone, iPod, iWhatever thing-a-ma-bob, so how about integrating that into your professional life.
    Okay, stepping down off the box…

  6. A. Mercer

    I am one of those, “thank you I’ll figure it out myself” types like Paige. That being said, if we keep offering nothing but “how to use the tools” workshops, then that’s all they know about and you wind up with Pete’s scenario, where that’s all they thing there is. We KNOW that it works better if we teach kids with technology, not the tech tool, why do we still do trainings about the tools? I find when I do trainings that “integrated”, I have folks at different levels of tech knowledge, but they all get something because the folks who know the tool, may not know how to effectively implement it in the classroom. OTOH, the folks who don’t know the tool, may have a lot of experience with managing classes doing projects so they get the implementation part of it off the bat.
    Who’s fault is it that we are still offering those brain dead classes? Shouldn’t we differentiate our instruction? Wouldn’t this work to fill in gaps that all of us have. I don’t know it all, I’m sure there are things in Excel that I could still learn, but I don’t need a class in Excel to do it, I need a class in tools for class management, and using tools for projects with my class. Let’s start offering that, and see what happens.

  7. Emma

    When our students have different levels of ability we offer support/scaffolding for those who need it. We don’t say “You should all be starting at the same point, so why waste my time helping those who are not there?” Same with teachers. We are all at different levels of technological knowledge. I am one who would love a course in using the SmartBoard. Please continue to offer these courses for those who need them. I guess your main concern is that these courses are often required of everyone. Just maybe the instructor will be able to show you something you don’t know saving you time in research. Then again, maybe these courses do not need to be required of everyone. But I still hope school systems will continue to offer them for those of us who need and appreciate them.

  8. Paige

    I couldn’t agree more! Case in point: I just got a SmartBoard. I am a very tech savvy person and told my admin I have no problem figuring things out. There are tons of videos and how to’s online. They are still insisting on doing a training course. Seriously? Why waste my time and the trainers time? “We” need to start being more pro-active and stop expecting to be hand held though all technology.

  9. Joel Zehring

    “do we REALLY want to send the message to teachers that they bear no personal responsibility at all for exploring new teaching tools, strategies and techniques?”
    The question of responsibility is economic. Teachers would be happy to explore new tools and strategies if their efforts yielded professional or monetary profit.
    In other words, teachers don’t eschew responsibility, they lack the vision and initiative to fully monetize their skills.
    I’m building a very local brand as a private tutor. Demonstrating effective professional development in the classroom and in front of parents directly affects my bottom line in terms of clients. I develop my practice because it pays.
    Additionally, when the budget cuts come calling (or the public school monopoly tumbles), I want to make myself look as desirable as possible, so I publish my professional development as much as possible.

  10. diane

    I agree that teachers should accept some responsibility for their own PD.
    But doesn’t Scott sponsor Leadership Day each year, operating under the premise that “Many of our school leaders…need help when it comes to digital technologies”?
    Shouldn’t the leaders be leading?

  11. mmwms

    I’d have to agree with Pete that often people don’t know what they need to learn (a whole information literacy problem in itself). I see it as a result of the fact that most classroom teachers were themselves “good students” under a model that defined “good students” as those who did not do much besides be compliant with what the teacher asked them to do: reguritate on command and keep quiet otherwise. Such natural selection for those who require external motivation for change makes for very few “fearless clickers” who permit themselves to play around and master technological tools. Perhaps it’s largely a matter of buy-in to that misleading, and to my thinking erroneous, “digital native, digital immigrant” dichotomy. We’ve created this impression that students can and should be expected to adapt and assimilate to new tools, but that adults, just because of their “adultness” are excused because we are, in a sense, just visitors to the digital landscape. (Yes, the metaphor needs work, but I hope you get the gist).
    At any rate, great post. Thanks as always.

  12. Reflections of a Techie

    My dear friend Bill Ferriter is writing about another one of my hot topics!!! Go Bill. His wondering is about how we will change our profession into lifelong learners. I have to say that this is a topic that is…

  13. mratzel

    Dear Bill,
    As always, I run into the same problems that you do. My latest source of amazement came in the graduate school classes I just started teaching. Mind you these people are getting a Master’s Degree in Education, so you’d think they’d be up to speed on many technologies. Not the case.
    I made the statement that teachers enrolled in the Professional Teaching track should end with experience using many different kinds of technology so they’ll at least be familiar. I also believe that teachers who are getting a Teaching with Technology emphasis should be able to not only use but design technology learning experiences.
    This statement came under fire from another professor there who doesn’t think education graduate students should be forced into learning technology….they believed it was the education that was overriding. Somehow they didn’t see the link in their mind’s eye and/or don’t realize that integrated the technology to a point where it isn’t separate is the whole point.
    Throughout my time, I’ve been fighting with the “forces” that want the tech focus to be more like hand-holding PD (which you described perfectly) rather than pushing them to discover, teach themselves, experiment and design for themselves. Fortunately many people at this institution (and the ones directing the program) see things more my way than this professor with whom I disagreed. But it is another symptom of how unwilling our profession can be in learning new things for them.
    Why is it so hard to shift the responsibility for learning from “them” to “me”? My lifelong learning is not someone else’s responsibility or right or privilege…it’s mine. But this attitude seems to mirror our overall NCBT malaise to do the lowest level learning possible and leave critical thinking and problem solving to someone else.
    To that I say…NO thank you. I’m going to keep pushing myself to stay current, to read more, to think more and to reflect on my own practice more. It keeps me young and engaged…besides it’s fun.

  14. Matt Townsley

    I believe Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Now I can add Bill Ferriter, “Whatever happened to our professed commitment to ‘lifelong learning?’ Can we expect our students to embrace self-directed study when teachers refuse to demonstrate the same independence?”
    Not much pushback here, Bill. Until the culture of our staff changes, good luck seeing any meaningful transformation in the way we embrace technology and/or teach “21st century skills” – two commonly referenced buzz phrases around the edublogging realm. When our colleagues refuse to be learners themselves, can we realistically expect the students in their classrooms to “catch” much more than a stagnant and lifeless view towards education as well?

  15. Pete Caggia

    I provide and plan tech PD for our school and I am always asked to come up with a survey for what people want. It’s always the same: Excel, Photostory, BlackBoard, e-mail (?!).
    The problem with surveys is that teachers don’t exactly know what tools they even need to learn.
    I have stopped offering classes on particular programs. Instead, I offer sessions on specific outcomes. “Come this Tuesday morning to learn how to create tools for classroom management”. Surprise, we’re learning Excel today. I get a very different audience this way.
    I, too, am frustrated by the lack of teachers “figuring it out”. It’s a time issue, too.
    This is exactly what I mean when I say there’s a fine line between empowering and enabling. They have drastically different results in the long term.

  16. James Walker

    This is the 80-20 rule in action. 80% of the innovation is done by 20% of the teachers. Working as a tech coordinator, I would spend 2 hours a week in a classroom working with a teacher and the students helping them develop Web 2.0 skills. When I would show up a week later non of the skills or apps we worked with the previous week were used in the curriculum (80%).
    Yet other teaches would jump on any suggestion I made and start using a new app or skill daily (20%). Age and years of teaching did not seem to matter. Now if I could get them to work together.
    The admins need to lead the way by using tech in their everyday job and model tech use for the 80%.

  17. Renee

    I was thinking about this issue last night. During pre-planning, I will be one of three teachers trained in our new online system to track grades, attendance and standardized testing scores. It is a “train the trainer” sort of day and we’ll be expected to come back and train the rest of the faculty.
    Not that I mind helping other teachers, but we are supposed to teach our students about transferrable skills, yet some teachers seem unable to transfer skills from one program to the next. We are required to submit weekly lesson plans and have an online database for this purpose, but we still have teachers who refuse because it “takes too long”. It doesn’t. You just have to take the time to figure it out.
    Where, do you think, is the mental block that keeps some teachers from just getting it done?

  18. Nancy Blair

    When Scott first posted his co-dependent theory and I agreed via Twitter, I got labeled a “tech snob” for expecting people to teach themselves. Nevertheless, I still agree completely with you and Scott about the potential for co-dependency, even though that likely makes me an enabler.
    I’m working hard to get my co-workers to use technology by “helping” and “showing” how tech tools can support their work — things I figured out on my own. My rationale hangs on the hope that they will at some point USE the tools and begin to explore and learn on their own. Without that push, the alternative is to let them find their own way (IF they ever do) in their own time (IF they ever make time). I’ve had limited success. I’ve gotten several people to use wikis and converted some to Twitter by sharing the power of the PLN. Now I’ve been asked to provide an overview of tech tools to a group of consultants — tools that would be useful to them in their work with schools. At least they’re now asking.
    I also agree that there is often a disconnect between what is needed and what is provided for professional development. For example, I was once asked to provide a faculty with training on cooperative learning. Within ten minutes, it was clear to me that they already knew LOTS about cooperative learning. It wasn’t knowledge and strategies they needed. The problem was poor classroom management — lack of procedures and routines — prevented implementation of cooperative learning in their classrooms. I changed the focus to incorporate more information about the procedures that needed to be in place in order for the strategy to work, but too many presenters would just go on as planned.

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