Ed tech quarantine?

Quarantined_2 [cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

This is a picture of the Mobile Quarantine Facility built by NASA for astronauts returning from the Moon. It’s basically a modified Airstream trailer. The idea was to isolate the astronauts until it was determined that they didn’t have ‘moon germs.’ Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins stayed in this quarantine trailer for 65 hours after their return to Earth (Welcome back, heroes. Get in this trailer!).

Of course my pathetic brain saw this and immediately started thinking about educational technology. How sad is that?!

This MQF (gotta love those government acronyms!) got me thinking about whether we technology early adopters need a self-imposed moratorium on talking about new technology tools, at least in certain settings. 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.

So when a new tool comes out – TwitterDiigo, whatever – maybe we should hold off for a bit before we start blabbing to educators who don’t live as close to the ed tech edge as we do. Maybe we should voluntarily follow a process that looks something like this:


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.

I don’t know if I’ve gotten the quarantine process exactly right. And of course many of you already do some version of this. But I think this is a concept that generally should be kept closer to the forefront of our brains. What do you think?

28 Responses to “Ed tech quarantine?”

  1. Yes, as one of those that is not an early adapter this would be helpful for me as an administrator. Because teachers are so busy now with little time to think about learning new tools and then embedding them into units and lessons the leaders such as yourself need to consider answering the Influencer questions.

    Why should I do it, is it worth it? (What is the benefit to me and to my students?)
    Can I do it? (Where do I use it and how do I use it?

    The process you describe I believe is necessary to find answers to these questions before rolling out to most of the rest of us. Those answers are necessary for us to open our doors to consider change.

  2. Martin Jorgensen Reply June 18, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Last year I launched http://www.lightningbug.com.au … and then rebuilt much of it after getting feedback from students and teachers that gave the site a try. Paper testing of a product is valid to a point, but you only really know how effective it will be when you put it in front of the kids!

    Seems to me that maintaining an element of trial and error in your teaching is what keeps it fresh and interesting anyway?

  3. I absolutely agree with you. As a new(ish) ICT lead teacher, I tend to get so enthusiastic about new gizmos, that I scare off exactly those people that I’m trying to influence and inspire. I’ll keep your advice in mind next time!

  4. I agree with your idea here, but think that you need some practicing teachers in the testing room with you sharing ideas. I teach full time but get just as excited as the rest of you when new “cool tools” are found.

  5. I agree to a point. It would benefit any pioneer to remember what it was like prior to their epiphany about using technology. I remember the lost instructional time waiting for someone to just rewire my LCD projector. I remember the feeling in the computer lab for the first time with students, unsure if I was in control and how to protect myself if every kid just up and went to an R-rated site.

    The fact is that teaching is hard, and while I and many of us have discovered and embraced the ease and success that technology brings to our classroom, I do not for a minute blame those not willing to take that leap of faith.

    I find that the most effective leadership is in being available and pushing my agenda at other levels of the district. For instance, I’m not going to hold my staff hostage at a faculty meeting trying to preach from my pulpit. However, as of this year, my Speech & Debate team began a student written, performed, produced, and publicized podcasting network. We were selected to present at CUE in Palm Springs, and we’ve gotten some great attention for our district.

    Cut to the present. Today I have a meeting with my superintendent scheduled to discuss what I can do to help integrated tech curriculum into the district and to pitch a district-wide podcasting program.

    The teachers find out about one’s successes and want in. That’s how you bring them to the fold.

    I remember what it was like to be a Luddite. And while I want to move my district forward, I need to do it with respect for those who may not share my philosophies as a pioneer.

    Our responsibility, however, is to the students. And what we cannot do is allow those who won’t move forward to dictate whether we do move forward. It can’t be an “if” we adopt technology issue, but with forward motion, I can accept the issue of “when.”

    Keep pushing, but with respect from whence we came.

  6. Couldn’t agree with you more! Not being able to show what the new tool is useful for in the classroom and to a less-techy teacher is very hard to do. There are teachers who DO look for these new tools and are ready to implement them as they see fit. A network of some type should be in place so all these teachers can work together in “quarantine” to work out the classroom uses and teacher training. Great idea. Keep it rolling.

  7. I would agree that focusing your efforts to ensure success of either a new technology or a new strategy is a good idea. Then you can have your most enthusiastic individuals share the hurdles which will be encountered for those less enthused individuals. I would also comment that it is not a bad thing, in my opinion, to have a few conservatives on staff. One of my big weaknesses is the love of the new. The new is not always the most effective. An example of this is the new student management systems out there. If you have one that works, you might want to stay with it until some of the bugs get worked out of the new ones. Otherwise you will spend a great deal of time debugging when you could be using that time in a more productive capacity. By allowing the early adopters to work out some of the kinks, you build capacity so you alone are not troubleshooting for your entire staff.

  8. I agree to the necessity of making the relevance of the tool clear to those we are trying to help use it to enhance learning. BUT “Our kids can’t wait”. The relevance of our educational system continues to diminish in the eyes of our students. Our jobs as educators become harder as we use these tools – not learning the tools, but giving up the control of learning and taking the risk of not knowing when we let our students share in the adventure of learning. Many teachers find it frightening to not know the answer – we should instead find it a sign of a successful learning environment.

  9. I agree with the other posts but add a question like “How do I do this task in alow or no-tech way, and how will this new technology make me more understandable, faster, efficient, engaging, or useful?” (The true test of any technology!


  10. This is an interesting idea. I think that it is also important to identify the educators (on all levels) who are the ones on the bleeding edge, and are the ones walking in space who will do the work of experimenting and refining and eventually be the ones to communicate to their peers about the new tools being developed. As it is, the speed of technology and development is faster then the speed of imagination, so the periods of quarantine are getting shorter and shorter.

    But this raises another important issue and that is what about the huge number of teachers who have no or little access to any technology, let alone bleeding edge stuff. They may have old machines, limited or no internet access and very little training on how to integrate active technologies in their learning environments. How can we effectively continue to develop and use tech while at the same time developing outreach training programs to bring them to the place that we passed long ago. I think that this is actually much more of the challenge then the period of quarantine.

  11. I absolutely agree with you. I would like to create ed tech toolboxes for teachers who would like to get connected. Maybe the toolboxes could be organized into skill levels or levels of interest.

  12. Quarantine might be a severe word for it, I like process, and a process is needed. I see the benefit in processing new technology so that it shows relevance as it relates to students, classroom instruction, and teachers. Teachers are busy and it does take time to learn and adapt lessons to new technology. The dilema is that the time span to process the technology is longer than the time span of the new technology being produced. When teaching students technology I have finally come to the conclusion that you need to let them take the lead , they are far more effective at finding relative uses for the technology. As a teacher it is my job to observe, guide, facilitate, and curb inappropriate uses. I would like to see the student as an equal part of each of the steps in the ‘Ed Tech Quarantine Process’ not just be part of the pilot. I wonder if that would speed up the process, make it more palitable to teachers, and give ownership to the students that will be using it.
    What do you think?

  13. iPhoned – please excuse typos

    Agree to a point. I like a previous comment that the kids can’t wait. I also wonder why a teacher doesn’t have the higher level thinking skills to analyze what a tool can do, synthesize the tool’s function with what they need in class, and create a way to use it. If they did this, the quaranteen would not be required, would it?

    If I demonstrate that a tool allows people to gain first-hand insight into a particular subject by using the IM feature of a cell phone, teachers should be able to determine if their class could benefit from this technology. They should be able to answer the “So What?” question.

    Too often teachers are thinking on lower levels about tech tools, and they are not willing to go beyond basic recall of function.

  14. In the book study we are doing, I posed the question about using the students to change/influence teachers in the adoption of new Tech tools/skills. I wonder how many if any have programs in place to do so? There was a school who has begun a tech club and using that as the quarantine area where new skills can be developed and then when the quarantine is lifted, they hope for a viral spread of the new tools/skills throughout the rest of the learning community. I thought this was an excellent idea and wonder just how many leaders are using their students as trainers?

  15. Interesting discussion which leaves me pondering: Does your school district have a technology integration plan? Is there language in a job description(s) that lays out who is responsible for coordination technology purchases, staff development and curriculum? Where are the decisions made to purchase online content, fund web development and research best practices for interlacing 21st Century learning with everyday, in class instructional methods? Have you had Board level commitment to both fund and make policy to support technology integration?

  16. Although I like the quarantine concept (and process seems more palatable), I also agree that for some it needs to be available “right now” and keeping it from them could be detrimental. As one that is definitely catching up instead of leading the charge, my biggest challenge is the incessant terminology with lack of explanation. We (or you that are knowledgeable) talk like this is information that is inherent in our language systems. I’ve never used Twitter and can’t say I understand why I would – nobody has ever explained that to me – blogging was similar, but I saw a slight positive and started. Our approach to introduction is often over the heads of those we try to reach because we are enamored and they are not. Tech or not, this is accurate. How does the individual learning basic e-mail jump to blogging, twitter, and wiki when it is clearly out of their reach of comprehension. This is like asking a 7th grade basketball player to shoot the NBA three. It just isn’t there, and there are steps necessary to get there. The problem is that the arc keeps moving back as technology continues to develop.

  17. This is a great idea, and a concept that I hope others consider.

    I am presenting to a number of educators this July whose job it is to help “sell” tech in schools, facilitate it, etc.; in short, they work side by side teachers “integrating” technology, for better or worse.

    My topic is “Sharing Resources,” and my point is going to be…

    a) tell us about the service/product/tool you use,
    b) tell us HOW you used it,
    c) evaluate the use of the service/product/tool

    There’s no shortage of places to find the new, emerging tools. But I find places (i.e., blogs, discussions) covering these three points lacking, and I think that would be of value to these folks and others in their profession.

  18. The pioneers always get the arrows.

    This model of piloting/testing will cut down on the number of disasters.

    It will also put the “big rollout” out a little bit. That helps in several ways. It can lower the costs (iPhone pricing anyone?) and can give you an opportunity to discover the problems with the technology and to see if it is a technology that will become enduring.

    I just wouldn’t want the process to be overly slow. Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim…

  19. Hey Scott,

    Looks like I’m jumping into this conversation a bit late—but I figured I’d jump in anyway…if only to polish my thinking a bit.

    One of the steps that I’ve been taking when introducing teachers to technology is NOT focusing on classroom uses of new tools at all in my initial stages. Instead, my singular focus is on showing 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 or using Google Docs to create shared lesson plans and team documents.

    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 own 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 his feed reader 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 our peers?

    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 productive?

    My mind is rolling now….

  20. And maybe we can also speak to educators to find out what their needs are in the classroom, and have them actively engaged in seeking out the tools that will help to fill this need.
    maybe 🙂

  21. Stop thinking like an Learning Technologist and start thinking like a sales manager – because that is who you are if you are involved with Learning Technologies in education.

    Good things about it

    The products are generally good and if presented as relevant usually sell themselves

    The purchasing ethos of your market ‘if it is good for the students then it is good’ is fairly reliable

    Bad points

    The market is saturated with other products (memes) competing for brain space in teachers heads – AFL, ESL/SEN, Modern Management structures, Extra-curricular commitment, reports, face to face hours.

    Therefore your message, delivery and after sales service has to be extremely strategic. You have to speak the same language as your market – and geek is not chic!

    First round – ‘leverage apps’ (as noted by Bill)that digitalise previous practice and save time. Build trust and assess level of ‘risk’ your market is will to engage in (this is set by the school and the individual) for what level of ‘return’

    2nd round – customised apps for teachers and departments that are transforming practice and/or engaging with other school initiatives

    All the time sell your best practice – be an advocate or get someone to do it for your (Tipping Point – what are you Hub, Salesman or Marvin? Most tech people are the last – giving advice freely with no agenda connected, but you must have all 3 to pro-actively shift the school)

    Stop thinking applications and informal or professional dialogue and start think sales campaign.

    HTH Burt

  22. I think you’re too quick to diss professional dialogue, Gilbert, don’t forget – “The way to change the culture is to change the conversation.” – Joel Henning (from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3636/is_200708/ai_n19511986 )

    What’s a great marketing campaign if people don’t think they need it? The best way to get teachers to want to implement something is to have them talking about what their real needs are. If tech can really satisfy the needs (and I think it is one of the ways to address needs in ed today), we’ll get there.

  23. I think you make an excellent point, partly because I feel before teachers/admins new to the tools grasp one, we are already pushing more new ones on them.

    I think one thing we can do is sort the wheat from the chaff for them–saves them time, and then we can be more focused in what we share.

    Tweenteacher, love your comment, too–we can’t allow the reluctant to hold back our students at all. But by being more measured in our own approaches we can be more effective for everyone.

    And I think the truly ubiquitous tools will “out”!

  24. What a wonderful variety of responses to an interesting topic. As a principal I find that it’s helpful for me to first show students and teachers that I know how to use technology to help me do my job. As I’m doing this I can generally determine how the technology may or may not fit into student learning. By me doing this it delays my running out to show everyone the new toy and it allows me to develop ways to explain it. It also puts me in similar shoes as a teacher who has to figure out how to incorporate the technology into his/her classes. I figure that I may as well go through the same process as what the teachers go through. It can be difficult to find the best fit and use for a technology and it takes some people longer than others.
    One example from this year is blogging. I purposely held off on pushing blogging until I could truly explain what it is and when I could show people how it can be used. After setting up a blogging site for our faculty and then slowly building it up with the help of others was I ready to start promoting the tool. I am now able to speak intelligently about how it can be used and I can explain how I set it up.

    The key point here is that teachers and students should see the leader using the tool to help him/her do her job better. Then it’s time to have the conversation on how it fits with instruction.

  25. Blair:That is what I like to read about! Thanks for your input. Would like to hear more about the topics you choose for the blogs and how it is working so far. Has it encouraged staff to try and how are the students allowed to contribute? Your idea goes along with my original comment on Ed Tech Quarantine and letting students into the process along with the teachers and administrators.

  26. 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. H…


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