Are our training efforts helping educators or enabling codependence?

I had a Twitter discussion the other night with Jim Twetten, who’s the Assistant Director for Academic Technologies here at Iowa State University and also has quickly become one of my ‘go to’ people on campus.

Jim took exception to the fact that I had poked fun at the ‘Learn about Facebook’ training session that ISU was offering to faculty. I replied that I was concerned that we never seem to hold folks accountable for being self-learners. After all, Facebook isn’t an extraordinarily difficult tool to learn how to use. Most intelligent people (which university faculty generally are) could figure out much of it if they just sat down and messed around for 30 minutes or so. And of course the same applies to blogs, wikis, and many other technologies. They’ve gotten so simple that the learning curve just isn’t that steep anymore.

And yet many educators (K-12 teachers and administrators, postsecondary faculty, etc.) still are extremely unwilling to just sit down and try stuff. Our digital learners, of course, have little hesitancy when it comes to clicking on things just to see what they’ll do. That willingness to probe, investigate, and experiment helps them learn and master the tools.

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.”

It’s a fine line between helping and codependence. And when it comes to educator technology training, I’m not sure we’re always on the right side of that line…

29 Responses to “Are our training efforts helping educators or enabling codependence?”

  1. Amen and Hallelujah! As one of the designated “techie” guys at my company, I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been asked to teach others in my same job how to use technology that I taught myself. I don’t have a degree in tech, I haven’t taken hours of courses, I just enjoy it and figure out what I want to do and how it works and how it applies and I just go. And you can bet that I am teaching my own kids the same way, here’s a little guidance, now go and figure it out. There’s a lot to be said about being able to teach yourself and I think we are doing a disservice to our kids, students, and coworkers by stepping in and practically doing it for them.

  2. We struggle with this, too. It drives me crazy to repeat basic skills trainings to teachers. I am starting to offer one training and then no more. I am asking the teachers to read the directions and figure it out. That said, some teachers use the lack of training as a convenient excuse for not changing or learning. I constantly balance getting things done with enabling. If anyone has the magic formula, please share.

  3. Scott,
    You bring up great points! I tweet your posts for my Tweeps & feel as if I talk to the ones that already try to learn the technologies and are willing to learn more. I wonder sometimes how to reach the ones at my school who are too afraid of having any information online.

    I think webinars and events like the Leadership day help involve teachers in the learning process. To show my PLN how to use SecondLife for Twitter we have organized a newby field trip on Saturday. We have several newcomers to this event and mentors. This is a fun way for teachers to learn a technology that takes a lot of time to learn, but has wonderful educational value for the digital natives we teach. Here are the details:

  4. I teach computer applications at the college level. The “digital learners” in my class think they know “everything” about computers. However, this last year I incorporated a lot of Web 2.0 tools into the course, wikis, blogs, Delicious, RSS, Google apps, etc. For most of these students, all the Web 2.0 apps, except for Facebook, were “new” tools. Some of my administrators at the college, think that computer applications is not necessary at the post-secondary level, but I believe that there still is a need to train these students to effectively use these Web 2.0 tools.

  5. What a driving question for anyone planning staff development sessions! The “how to” portion of any workshop should be only about 25% of the time; the other 75% should focus on pedagogy and how best to use the app instructionally to enhance the students’ learning.

    Best practices are not the same thing as being proficient with a tech tool. And you’re right. Teachers are totally able to learn “how” on their own. What they need support for, really, is the “why” and “what next” questions regarding the use of the applications and tools in their classrooms.

    We also need to promote teachers’ use of each other as professional networks for resources and knowledge/skill pools. Once teachers are committed to a PLN, they will be encouraged to become and remain lifelong, self-taught learners who know how and whom to ask for help if they need it.

  6. Scott,

    I think your points are dead-on. As someone who provides similar training to teachers, I agree that many of these tools shouldn’t need special training sessions. One case in point, the document camera. I spent 10 minutes at a staff meeting at each school…done. However, as some have mentioned, information on ‘best practice’ for these tools in the classroom are necessary. This info is provided in a number of different ways.

    For most, the luxury of time to “sit down and mess around” just isn’t going to happen unless they are in a training session. One model we have tried with success is a rotation of sessions (ie. presentation tools, PLN tools, IWB info) that all staff cycle through and then 1.5 hours at the end of the rotations for staff to select which sessions to go back to for deeper exploration and assistance with planning for classroom use. Our teachers have really enjoyed this format and it helps to address the ‘one size fits all’ frustration many feel with all kinds professional development and training.

  7. You make some great points. I think many teachers are like some honor roll students in my class: they only care about their GPA and will jump through any hoop for their A. But as soon as I give them an open-ended problem with multiple solutions they panic and want me to solve it for them. They excel at following the rules and are great at “tradiional” learning of textbooks, questions, and tests.

    Many teachers were good students and actually like the structure of NCLB telling them exactly what to teach (although they would never admit it even to themselves). They like to teach from sterile textbooks because they are organized and structured.

    So… when told to use technology and to actually figure out how to themselves, they are lost. Just like the grade-caring student they have rarely been challenged to think. I was this kind of student to a degree and have since learned a lot about problem-solving and thinking from working construction. My boss would challenge me to figure out how to pour concrete in varied situations as every job was different and there was no textbook on what to do.

    That is why many teachers resist figuring things out for themselves. That is how their school experience taught them and probably how they teach their own students: spoon-feeding everything.

  8. Hi Scott,

    I think you miss the point about “tech training.” If it is good, it’s not about how to push the buttons (one CAN teach that to oneself), but how to use the technology for educational purposes and its ramification for education. I would vote for a class on “Facebook” if using the tool for the broader instructional purpose was the outcome.

    You can’t just teach a person how to drive a car. You have to teach them to read a map as well.

    Hope this makes sense…


  9. “That willingness to probe, investigate, and experiment helps them learn and master the tools.” If classroom teachers aren’t willing to do this, then how can they expect their students to be willing to do it? Frankly, I’m tired of attending technology training in my district. I’m usually more familiar with the app than the trainer because I’ve already figured it out for myself. My principal signed me up for podcast training before we left for summer break. I spent the time updating my Shelfari site. I agree with Sharon Elin that it’s the “why” component that is missing in many of these training events. I’d love it if my district planned “sharing sessions” instead of training.

  10. “…employees are expected to keep up wh relevant technologies or risk job loss. When do we require that of K-12 and postsecondary educators?” YES!! And for my PA certification I, and every other educator, must accumulate a bunch of training hours. Why not learn something?

  11. Indeed Doug! Some of us had to learn how to use tech tools in the classroom on our own too. I wonder why some have done so and some refuse to do so?

  12. I appreciate your post Scott, and I’ve asked the same question about my small training sessions on tech issues at my own school. I come to the conclusion that I’m willing to accept the role of enabler if I can get some of our teachers to use the tools. If it were not for our trainings, the issue would not be that teachers would not be willing to work through issues on their own. They would probably not even attempt using the technology.

  13. I am interested in and worried about the amazing LACK of curiosity many people have. I think Doug is right on when he says it is not about pushing the buttons, but about what tech can do for you and how you can use it.

    I also am amused when I run into a kid that thinks he knows everything about tech because of his birthdate. Susan is right. Effective use of Web 2.0.

    We need some of each kind of training… some button pushing and some creativity. We do need to be told what technology is out there and what it does and how to do it. Musicians call this “building technic.” Yes, you may be able to do some of that for yourself. But it goes much faster if someone can show you. We also need to see what some of the creative uses are for inspiration. What have others done with this software? What is a classic use? When is this a good choice?

    I think some people are still worried about breaking something when it comes to computers. It is actually pretty hard to break a computer without dropping it in the fish tank or backing over it with the car. Bad keystrokes or bad clicks aren’t going to do it.

    When I run into a tentative tech student, I start talking about my attitude. If a technology isn’t behaving the way it should while I am working with it, I get excited because I am about to learn something. (I think Madeline Hunter would call that anticipatory set.) When you get to that stage it is OK to poke around a bit. It is very hard to break a computer, so why not? What’s the worst that can happen? It is already not working right… I am often surprised at how this helps the tentative over the hump.

    We do need to follow-up so that these people work at it enough to make it work for themselves. If the tentative know no one is looking, they may give up way too soon. Tough to balance that follow-up without enabling.

  14. Scott poses some excellent questions, as always. While technology races forward (and some of us with it), I’m forever struggling with how to help those who, to varying degrees, struggle to keep up.

    To the very specific incident that Scott refers to at the top (Facebook seminar), we had quite a bit of (surprising) demand for that. And almost to a person, the requestors expressed concern over privacy and identity theft issues as the main thing holding them back from “diving in.” I can’t fault them for that — they see students and other fearless technology users dive in without those concerns and some fall victim, sometimes in very public ways. So part of the “training” is imparting an understanding of safe practices and, yes — a “how to” on security parameters and settings.

  15. concretekax, your observations are spot-on. Many want a list to follow, step 1, 2, 3 and so on. Just like chapters 1, 2, 3, etc. provide the structure of the class for them.

    Thanks for your comment. Doesn’t solve the problem, but it does give me a reference point for those like that with whom I work.

    Scott, thanks for this post. Very timely it seems.

  16. Love this post. I ran two sessions this week with learners of all abilities. In the Google maps/earth segment, I showed the basic tools on the screen and quickly how to maneuver/add information. then I let them go to complete tasks. It is obvious that it is not done like this as they were unsure what to do. In the end though, they liked the opportunity to learn this way. It is unfortunate that it is a foreign way to learn for teachers and that some cannot jump right into it. As a teacher who has taught herself most of what I know and then built a PLN of people much smarter than me, I bristle when teachers tell me that they don’t have time to play with the tools. We all have the same 24 hours, how do you fill yours? Anyone who knows me, knows I have my hands into a lot of things, so please give me a break. I choose to spend it differently, I choose to be a learner and not wait for someone else to fill me up.

  17. I have many colleagues who take pride in seldom using email – particularly of the “reply all” variety – or knowing how to copy-and-paste in Word. This attitude is heartily encouraged by the administration. The catch phrase is “Just pick up the phone.”

    The question of “Are we creating dependence?”, then, is too far removed from my experience to be relevant. I don’t know if this is true in other work sites and professions, as well, but I suspect it might be.

  18. I discussed this recently in an article “Lifelong Learning is Not a 9 to 5 Job”.

  19. This is a topic that resonates in many aspects of leadership. I responded with a focus on technolgy for Leadership Day 2009, but would enjoy some dialogue regarding other realms of leadership! Thanks Scott for throwing out your reflections – it’s great fodder form professional growth. Here’s my post:

  20. Scott,
    I think you hit the nail on the head here. It isn’t that a tool is especially difficult and requires training. It is an unwillingness to learn. There needs to be an expectation that teachers learn independently. We expect this of our students. We don’t sit down and explain every little aspect of their learning. There comes a point when we expect them to take the knowledge they have and use it to construct new knowledge. This expectation should hold for teachers!

  21. Great post. Two thought here:

    1) We would never tell our students, especially the younger one when say, learning how to read or to do complex math…”I’m dissapointed because you couldn’t figure it out yourself.”. On the contrary, we work very hard to help the newbies and the delayed learners master the skill with a lot of 1:1 attention. After all it is easy for the teacher because they can read!

    I’m not necessarily defending those who are willing to push themsleves. I too often get frustrated because many of the teachers whom I train don’t “get it” as fast I I’d hope them to. After all, I do right? But they aren’t me. I need to remind myself to have patience and what I might consider to be “so easy” is truly a major conceptual leap for them.

    2) I think this was mentioned in a comment above. Almost more important than the training listed above is the follow up for how this tool can be used for better learning. So what if they know how to wiki or Podcast or ning or wordle….how do they use it better and more powerful than what they are doing now?

    That requires a good teacher and a good technologist. I guess a teachnologist?

  22. I think Deci’s work on motivation is relevant here. In schools we place, in many instances, devices that turn what should be naturally an intrinsically motivated behavior into one that is extrinsically motivated. How many students would enjoy art classes or literature classes more if they did not have to worry about their grade? When did teachers have to have a training session to keep up with technology effecting their profession? How can we take back intrinsic motivation for technology PD? Clearly the carrot and stick approaches don’t work for reasons of motivation. Both the carrot and the stick render anything they are applied to as being governed by extrinsic reasons.

  23. Very interesting post. I’ve been working to support K-12 teachers in technology (and I am a career K-12 teacher myself) for over a decade. I agree that it seems we ought to expect college degree professionals to be able to learn many of the simple new web-based applications on their own. Someone at lunch today, during a discussion of upcoming IT training for the next school year, mentioned how teachers love to have detailed written documentation to supplement the live training sessions. I frequently hear this and I have spent umpteen hours with screenshots creating the “manual” that goes with my training. I think this also may be a form of co-dependency: why can’t the trainees use the help system provided by all applications as their documentation? Maybe that is one of the first things we need to train teachers in: how to learn computer applications on their own and use documentation provided online to get answers to their questions.

  24. I’m encouraged and inspired by this good post and all the comments to offer a course on teaching yourself how to think with the Web. A teacher asked me the other day about something and I said, “google ‘this and that,'” and you’ll get your answer. She thought I was giving her a list. It was a surprise to her that the search engine might actually hold the answer to a question like that.

    Workshops hopefully are evolving to include the impacts and benefits on pedagogy. But it’s still difficult to get there to that, then the buttons, mouse clicking, etc. is still preventing the tool to be used at all.

    Codependence is a real problem and it’s perpetuated every day by folks who do their business in non-digital, more “comfortable” ways. Doing something with a computer of course doesn’t always equate to the better or more efficient way of doing something. Yet, the role digital technologies will play in the adult lives of today’s kindergartners is so profound that we have to honestly ask why we remain so fixated on paper. There are profound benefits to digital media (copy, distribute, re-mix, publish). When the tools to work and learn with these tools exist (you have access to them in your schools), we ought to be exploring them in lieu of deploring them.

    I’ll still provide support for my teachers with online tutorials, but my face time with them will be dedicated towards best practices and discussions in using digital tools in meaningful ways that promote higher-order cognition and engaged learners.

  25. Maybe it’s the title of the training that needs to be changed. Learn about Facebook sounds like a bobo course and a waste of everyone’s time. But Facebook and Privacy Issues doesn’t.

  26. Scott, it’s nice to actually see this addressed. I do think, though, that some teachers may perhaps still need to be taught how to teach themselves technology, rather than being taught the individual technology itself. Not everyone is tech savvy, but everyone can learn how to be.

  27. I like that you bring this up, brother Scott. I do spend hours a week helping teachers who don’t feel comfortable sitting down and messing around. I’m going to be pushbacky here though. In my K-4 teaching experience, many _kids_ don’t share that inclination. To lump all students into that “so good with it all” category is to propogate an injustice: It’s simply not that simple.

    Contrariwise, to lump all teachers into the “too busy or too unwilling to mess around with it until they know it” category is to do the same. I’m not sayin’ those folks don’t exist–they do–but there are also the ones who are persistent, resilient, and exploring; just the sort of teachers we need for the next few years, until…

  28. ” A teacher asked me the other day about something and I said, “google ‘this and that,'” and you’ll get your answer. She thought I was giving her a list. It was a surprise to her that the search engine might actually hold the answer to a question like that”

    Why are people like this employed as teachers? Seriously….


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