Silicon Valley often likes to portray teachers as Luddites, lumbering slowly from blackboard to whiteboard. It is their conservative and fearful attitude to technology, so the argument goes, that is stopping pupils from accessing the wondrous digital world that could transform learning.
That is, of course, complete nonsense. Teachers are not, by and large, resistant to technology. What they are, however, is immensely practical – as they are with any potentially useful teaching resources that they can get their hands on, whether they be cardboard and glitter or video clips and Raspberry Pis.
The education technology evangelists have always promised disruptive revolutionary change. Those who have been around a while will remember previous failed promises. The book Urban Myths About Learning and Education cites Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” of technology. A new invention, or “technology trigger”, leads to a “peak of inflated expectations”, which is then followed by a crash to a “trough of disillusionment”. However, once all the fuss has died down, users gradually figure out how the gadget is useful until the point it reaches a “plateau of productivity”.
It is a pattern that schools have witnessed time and again. It happened with iPads: these were initially hyped to be education’s second coming; then critics rubbed their hands when schools began switching to buying Google Chromebooks instead.
Admittedly, tablets have not transformed our schools beyond recognition, but nor have they been an unmitigated disaster. Instead, they are devices that teachers are using in myriad different, creative ways – but only when they are actually useful to support learning in their classes.
If teachers aren’t embracing technology as quickly as some would like, it’s not because they’re raving technophobes. It’s because they lack the time and money to do so (as well being constrained by the curriculum and other top-down policies).
When the government grabbed headlines last month for how it was going to make schools monitor and block terrorist-related websites, it was teachers who were the first to point out how technologically naive that was. They were fully aware that pupils being radicalised who wanted to share such material would not use school IT, but would do so instead using their own 4G phones, or via Bluetooth, as they would with porn or any other prohibited material.
Teachers are often more savvy about trends than many of their non-teaching friends because they work with young people. They will have often understood Minecraft, Snapchat, WhatsApp and so on long before their office-based pals have even heard of them.
In fact, for many teachers it’s hard to imagine a world without technology. But that’s just what we asked one teacher to do: spend a week tech-free to see how she would fare, old school-style.
What it showed her was that technology has to be put in its place: “Remember that its purpose is to serve the education of our students. If you do not take control of it, it will take control of you,” she writes (pages 24-30 in this week's TES magazine).
It wasn’t the obvious tech that she missed the most in the experiment but the “invisible” kind – the emails and social media that everyone now takes for granted. And that’s the funny thing about the whole technology debate. Those Luddite teachers that Silicon Valley types are fond of invoking are, ironically, often to be found on Twitter.
This article is from the 15 January issue of TES. Pick up a copy of this week's TES magazine in print or online and get a free ed tech supplement. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Or find the magazine in all good newsagents.