April 26, 2007 by Scott McLeod 33 Comments
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UPDATE: I made a PowerPoint slide of this quote that may be more useful to you.
I’m adding a few words: teachers, administrators, district level leaders? No, it’s not okay. I hate to hear, “I’m just not good at technology.” That is no longer acceptable. We owe it to our students to dig in our heels and explore the possibilities…
I don’t think we will achieve the results we want if teachers are required to integrate technology. We will see more boring powerpoints, weak applications, and lazy teachers. I think we would much rather have one excellent teacher who uses technology expertly and effectively than a majority of teachers who use technology poorly because they are required to. If we force teachers to use technology, we are undermining their effectiveness as teachers. Technology does not _make_ you a better teacher.
First who gets to decide which technologies are important?
The Powerpoint thing reminds me of an excerpt from Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco about the planning of the Iraq war:
[Army Lt. General David] McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging issue: He couldn’t get Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld: “It’s quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense…In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary order], or plan, you get a bunch of PowerPoint slides…[T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides.”
That reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld’s amateurish approach to war planning. “Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD’s contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology—above all information technology—has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionall governing the preparation and conduct of war,” commented retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a former commander of an armored cavalry regiment. “To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness.” It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer’s glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.
Business organizations fall prey to “death by Powerpoint” all the time; we must be careful in education that we don’t lose the forest for the trees.
Have we passed a point in time where you can no longer be considered a good teacher if you don’t use or integrate technology?
I want to preface my remarks by stating that I am an Instruction Technology Specialist and a proponent of computers in education. I have been making good use of computers and related technologies in my class room or supporting teachers in their efforts to do so since 1993.
That said, my response is, unequivocally and without hesitation, Yes, it is…
It must be left to the discretion of the individual teacher to decide whether or not a particular technology or any technology will further the aims of the lesson, unit, or subject matter itself.
Frankly, I consider it arrogant on our part to insist that technology be used when other tools my be as effective or even, dare I say it, more effective?
It is our obligation to demonstrate the ways in which technology can enhance learning, as much it is our charge to help teachers develop the skills needed to decide when and how to use it. If we are successful, we won’t have to insist that teachers use technology, they will choose to do so when they deem it appropriate.
And another question is,
Given the reality of our modern age and the demands of our children’s future and the reality of their proficiency with digital tools, is it really okay to require them to use paper and pencil methods to demonstrate what they know or have learned in our classrooms? Is it really okay to limit them to “traditional” methods in demonstrating their mastery of a subject?
Is it really okay to require group projects and then NOT tell them about group collaboration online tools (Google Docs, Zoho)???
I think we are asking the wrong question…it is not about the technology it is about pedagogy and the skills students need to flourish in a digital world full of global connections. There must be systemic change and our curriculum must reflect this reality …as we reshape out curriculum we reshape teaching….. but it is one step, one person at a time.
Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful replies so far. Some quick thoughts on my end:
1. Carolyn, the teacher always should decide what technologies, if any, are appropriate for a particular lesson or learning objective. To that extent, Tom and I are in agreement.
2. Jethro, I’m hesitant to equate ‘use of technology’ with ‘BAD use of technology.’ I don’t think anyone would argue for the latter but I have trouble saying that any and all uses of technology will be bad. In fact, if we train teachers well and support them appropriately, we should see very little of what you and Carolyn note.
3. Fred, my personal answer to your question is YES, and I think it gets at my answer to Tom too. Tom, as I just noted above in this comment, there will be some / many occasions when digital technologies are not appropriate for a particular lesson or learning objective. That said, I believe that teachers are not fulfilling their moral obligations to prepare students for their technology-suffused, globally-interconnected futures when we can look back at the end of the school year and realize that when we aggregate all of those individual, day-to-day decisions, few teachers incorporated modern technologies into their instruction in any meaningful way on a regular basis. We all know that for most teachers digital tools and digital pedagogy are still seen as add-ons rather than an integral aspect of their practice. That’s what troubles me, particularly for those disadvantaged students who will not have access to technology-enhanced learning opportunities anywhere else, and that’s why I threw my quote up for comment.
Looking forward to further comments…
Barbara, yes, I agree that it is about the pedagogy, but it also is about the technology. Can you teach students how to be productive digital global citizens without using technologies? Sometimes, but there better be a lot of technology in there too. No?
Here’s the problem I see with the one person at a time, small steps, gradual transition perspective:
The world around us isn’t waiting for us to make gradual transitions. It’s making revolutionary, not evolutionary, transitions every 5 to 10 years. I don’t think the “get a few teachers on board this year, another few next year, another few next year” model isn’t up to the challenge:
What I think is that teachers need to be willing to try.
I think there are many incredible teachers, and many incredible lessons that can happen without technology.
But SOME of them need to be happening with technology, because you are right that students aren’t waiting for us and the global work environment they will enter expects them to be proficient and informed users of technology.
We don’t serve them well if we don’t give them ample opportunities to do so.
And as educators, don’t we need to be modeling a willingness to be life long learners? To model life long curiosity and openness to trying new things? Because isn’t that what we are asking of our students?
Why do educational technology initiatives always focus on integration into lessons? There is another part of using technology in the classroom that is just as important. All teachers must complete administrative tasks: grade papers, record grades, take attendance, write letters to parents, etc. Every minute spent doing these things takes time away from interacting with students. Students will do better if given more personal attention by the teacher.
Effectively integrating technology into a lesson can be difficult. Using technology to complete mundane administrative tasks is less difficult. Doesn’t it make sense to start with the things that are less difficult? If technology can give a teacher five extra minutes interacting with students each day, over the course of a school year that is two full days of student contact.
At the risk of sounding extreme, I imagine this dilemma sounding (shortly if not already) as ludicrous as the (hypothetical) one where educators speculate about the need for electric lights in the classrooms.
As a teacher, I strongly believe that teachers should be empowered to do what makes them the most effective in their classrooms. That being said, I also believe that the use of technology in classrooms is extremely effective and sound pedagogically. Therefore, the only logical limits are fear (a teacher issue) and technological capacity (a district or building issue).
I really appreciate this post and this discussion.
I feel it is ok for teachers not to use tech in their lessons. Some teachers can be great without ever opening up a windows app. As long as our students are engaged, that is the most important part.
I understand that tech is the wave of the future, but if our students are so burned out on tech by the time they reach “the real world” what travesty have we done?
A good mix of tech/no tech and a variety of pedagogues is what makes our students great!
Tech can help more in the mundane tasks of grading papers with the use of a writing tablet and a screen casting program. That way the student can see the corrections on the computer screen and hear the teachers comments. By grading any writing lesson this way saves the teacher a huge amount of time of paper and pencil grading and also provides the student with some meaningful comments and demonstration on the computer screen.
In special ed. the problems double because the teachers do not understand the integration of Assistive Technology and how it needs to be set up so these kids have the same access to the technology as the students in general education. So add another layer to this situation.
Getting teachers up to speed on the new technology through a variety of training models is another dilemma. We are taking a look at learning styles which is huge for those of us who are “Technology Immigrants”. I know for myself the learning curve for acquiring these skills is double to my colleagues who are half my age and with this learning there needs to be much repetition or the new skill quickly fades away.
I think some day we’ll look back on this discussion where we thought of technology as something separate from education and marvel at this distinction.
We don’t spend time talking about whether or not teachers should use books or chalk or overheads or any other tool of the classroom, and as far as I’m concerned, technology is part of all of our lives and it’s just something we use, like we use a desk or a car.
And soon we’ll just quit marveling over “winding up” the model T, and we’ll just get in it and drive.
It is not okay. Those who argue against worry about death by powerpoint. But is it not our obligation to ensure that including technology in student learning is not that. We don’t get to just say “we require you use technology” and then walk away. We must provide support and create understanding on why these THINKING skills are important for 21st century learners. We MUST provide training and develop a program that gets buy-in from teachers. The technology is the tool to greater thinking skills, not the end in itself and it is NOT RIGHT for teachers to be able to say, I don’t think those thinking skills are important and instead I want to make sure my kids learn about Egypt (pick your random curricular topic).
Understanding how knowledge is shared, understanding how information is manipulated, and evaluating sources from an online, wired world is NECESSARY. Teachers should not be allowed to say, “yeah, that’s not for me…” You know what? They’re right. It’s not for them…it’s for their students, and it’s time that ALL teachers understood that….it isn’t about what you want to know or what you know already. It’s about what the kids need to know.
“We don’t spend time talking about whether or not teachers should use books or chalk or overheads”
Nor have we employed an army of “chalk” specialists to ensure that chalk is being used in every classroom.
It always bothers me when people tell me how to teach. It is far worse coming from those who frankly don’t seem to care what it is I teach, as long as I incorporate technology.
There are current discussions about how to teach reading (whole language vs phonics) and how to teach math (constructivist vs traditional). Those discussions, about what to teach our children, and how to teach it, they are worthwhile.
As we all know children are the promise of our future, what is the hesitation all about???…
How little faith we have in the goodness and promise we have in our hands everyday. We need to protect our children, not secure them in safety of a harbor. When there’s a storm is when they should be harbored.
As an elementary principal, I see definite value in trying to anticipate the needs our students will have as they move into college and beyond in 2014 or later. Seamless integration of available technology is absolutely essential for our students. I struggle with finite budgetary opportunity at the same time I try to expand our available resources. As the elementary portion of a unit district, we often receive the high school’s old computers when they get upgraded units. That does not make it easy for elementary buildings to begin the process of incorporating this into our regular lesson plans.
That being said, I continue working with my community to bring opportunity to our building. I just don’t know how I can keep up with the advancements without more financial resources that just don’t seem to be available.
There’s a tricky philosophical line here that many of us are afraid to cross… we all harbour this deep appreciation for the autonomy and professional judgment of teachers, and yet, by merely being here, we are acknowledging the transformative power of technology. What does this mean for our answer to Scott’s question?
It means that he asked the wrong question.
The question, “Is it okay to allow teachers to choose whether or not to incorporate modern technologies into their instruction?” can only be answered with an emphatic “Yes, of course it is!”
Teachers need to scan and select, from a wide array of options, the best, most engaging method for bringing their students into the learning, and that’s why we demand such a high skill level of professionals.
The question he REALLY should have asked is “Is it okay to allow teachers to NOT POSSESS the skills and knowledge to use modern technologies fluently as part of their instructional repertoire?”
The answer to that one is a resounding “NO!”. Given that the opportunities are made available for professional development and learning, refusal to become fluent at the things we demand of our students is professional negligence of the first order.
Can we imagine accepting that our Opthalmic Surgeon was refusing to update his skills and insisted on carving up our cornea with a scalpel rather than by using a laser?
We teachers should be held to no less of a standard.
When you are capable of using the technology at will and with great aplomb, then certainly, you can choose to use it or not. You have earned that right.
If not, then perhaps you should consider a career with lower expectations.
Jim, I concur but I’m also concerned about this:
Everyone, see Karl Fisch’s post on this topic:
I love that this discussion has continued since April. That alone is a testament to how technology can transform the way we do things.
I have to say that I fall on the side of NO, it is not okay for teachers to deny students the experience of using the essential tools of the immediate future. This is not a “someday” proposition. Technology is embedded into almost everything we do, not just in business, but in our daily lives, from banking and communication, to information gathering and organizing, our students are not truly prepared to be successful members of our society without technological skills.
These are the kind of frank conversations we need to have with educators. However, we can’t lay everything on their shoulders. I’ve written about the importance of legislators, community members, and administrators needing to prioritize new skills that are essential to our students.
Your question summarizes the disconnect between the skills that are essential in a 2.0 world and vs. the content that is taught in the class.
Here’s a few of the sites I use with my students — hope they’re useful:
I agree with Fred’s comments. While I use technology in my classroom as often as I can and love almost everything about it, I find the question both simplistic and self-serving. You could ask this question in many, equally absurd ways.
Given the realities of our modern age and the demands of our children’s future, is it really okay to allow teachers to choose whether or not they incorporate facebook and iTunes into their instructions.
(caveat: looove facebook and iTunes)
(also: which “realities or our modern age” are we talking about? The ones that involve a protracted Iraq war, the realities of a stagnant economy, the increasingly consumer-based society?)
I teach teenagers. They are already using technology for education. We don’t have to encourage them to do so. They look up web sites to help with homework, have online discussions with their classmates, journal, text, find information about things of interest, research jobs and colleges. Why don’t we let them help us figure out how to use the technologies for better education?
Imagine your day without your cell phone or blackberry or ipod. Why are we forcing our teens to live without theirs? They are carrying very powerful tools in their pockets. Are we afraid to talk to them about what could help them learn better? What we need to do is help them use the tools in the best way possible. Blogging, wikis, podcasts are all incredible and simple ways to incorporate technology.
We have to rearrange our brains when we think of using technology. It’s no longer going to the lab and looking stuff up or word processing a document or even designing that perfect web quest. The amazing thing is, we no longer have to have a computer per kid. Itouch, cell phones PDA’s have the same computing power, are cheaper and need only a wireless connection. to work.
Sadly as with many innovations in education, teachers are not given time to catch up, to practice, to learn. And, it’s very difficult to change the way we teach, especially when the government seems to want to force us to test, test test. But, the students need our guidance as to how to use these powerful tools. And they will use them with or without us.
We must remain open at all times to use ever increasing new tech for our students. The innovations happen faster than daily so they must be free to explore the stretches of their minds. There’s nothin’ sad about it cause it will insure the advance of the globe. We are increasingly becoming far less bounded by borders when it comes to information about new ideas.
Food for Thought
Does good teaching mean were using modern technologies?
Some excellent food for thought.
A key question from Scott
One of my favourite bloggers, Scott McLeod, recently posted the question below on his blog. Hes always asking great questions. The interesting part is reading the comments from other educators and teachers. On many occasions, the most interesti…
You Are Excused From Thinking
Scott asks an excellent question.
Given the realities of our modern age and the demands of our childrens future, is it really ok to allow teachers to choose wether or not they incorporate modern technologies into their instruction?
The answer, o…
as a teacher, though I’m not a fast learner, I can say that technology is really support me to be an effective teacher.
We as educators need to use technology in our classrooms. Why? Simple answer, we are living in a technologically savvy world and the students that sit in your classrooms are more receptive and willing to work and learn via technology. Using technology does make you a better educator. If you are able to transfer your knowledge to your students in a more enticing and inviting way, why wouldn’t you use it if your students will learn that much more and better via an alternative mode of communication. Not using technology (something as simple as a video, pulling up a website related to your lesson, a picture related to your lesson) are all forms of technology. It doesn’t have to strictly be Powerpoint, nor does it always have to be skill and drill lectures. We need to provide our students with alternative means in which to learn. If we do not, then we are failing our students and ourselves as educators.
[...] it possible for a teacher to be an excellent teacher if he/she does not use technology? [see this key questionfor another way to ask [...]
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