I was afforded a great opportunity recently. After visiting a large local education conference, I attended a get together of a number of people who had gone through – or are presently participating in – the same masters program for educational technology that I had completed in 1991 from Long Island University. It was a social gathering but the topic of every conversation was of course education.
The group was made up of men and women all working as educators, but very knowledgeable of the effect of technology on student learning. They were all at least familiar with the latest technologies, if not proficient in their use. What seems to have been a thread throughout many of their discussions was the struggle or at the very least the frustration that they had with convincing colleagues of the value of tech in the process of learning. This was especially true of the decision makers in their buildings or districts.
I do not question any educator’s goal to offer the best opportunities for their students to learn. Where we differ is what those opportunities should look like. While some may be conservative in their methodology, I favor working with the tools students will be required to use in the world they will live in. I will not teach kids to be ready for the world I once lived in. It seems counter-productive.
Relevance is very important in this discussion. Change takes place so fast today that educators who are standing still with their learning about their own profession are actually falling behind, widening the gap with their more connected colleagues. Technology is continually evolving and we will never keep up with all of its changes, but we need to at the very least be aware of enough information to make considered decisions on the direction and use of technology in learning. Sometimes technology will not be the answer.
The goal should always be about the learning, but technology confuses the issue. Technology is costly, and it requires training both the teacher and the student. It also evolves, changes, or disappears altogether. Replacement or updating is never-ending. This is not a model that the education system was built on. Back in the day when one bought a textbook it remained unchanged for decades and everyone could read, so there was little training required. A percentage of wear and use took its toll, so there was some replacement needed. This is not true of tech with maybe the exception of the overhead projector. That is 80-year-old technology that has changed very little and requires little or no training as long as someone knows how to change the bulb.
Transparency in education has become both a blessing and a curse in education. Learning was once delivered in silos that were based on control and compliance of students and teachers alike. Technology again has dramatically changed that dynamic in education. Collaboration, both local and global, has torn down those silos for educators who have embraced it.
There are still graduate and undergraduate teaching programs that are rolling out educators without even an adequate appreciation of technology in education let alone a mastery of it. School districts make major purchases of technology, but cut out the professional development needed to use that technology as a cost-saving initiative. All of this adds to the gap between educators who are successful in teaching with tech and those who hang on to methodologies and pedagogies of the past out of necessity, because it is all that they know.
Administrators are not immune from this learning gap. Their deficiencies however have a more profound effect because of the education decisions affected by their lack of tech knowledge. Digital literacy is a necessary element of the teaching profession, but you don’t reach a point of being digitally literate and then stop. It requires continual learning because it is continually evolving. Of course placing decision-making power in the hands of those who are digitally literate may compensate for this. The question then becomes: “Is their digital literacy relevant?” An educator who can do a PowerPoint presentation may be digitally literate in terms of PowerPoint, but what about iPad, chromebooks, Google docs, social media, and several other applications or technologies influencing learning today. Relevance counts.
If we are not going to adequately teach all educators what they should know of technology, then, as a fallback position, we should at least support and listen to those educators who do know of its benefits and drawbacks in making education decisions. Of course the best road to take is one that leads us to continual, authentic, relevant, and respectful professional development.
If we then evaluate the effect of technology on learning we might get a more accurate picture of successes and failures. The educators using it would be more informed and better prepared making educators more supportive of tech overall.
Tom Whitby is an author, teacher, blogger and founder of #Edchat.
This article first appeared on Tom Whitby's website My Island View.