Educators need learning advocacy, not technology advocacy

Russ Goerend said in a recent comment at this blog:

I’m asking for a simple change in mindset and approach:

Ed tech advocate: We should use Skype!
Learning advocate: We should connect our kids with other schools around the globe so they can have diverse conversations and learn with instead of learn about other cultures.

Ed tech advocate: We should blog!
Learning advocate: We should connect our kids to readers around the world so they begin to understand the connective nature of writing.

Ed tech advocate: We should use Google Docs to go paperless!
Learning advocate: My students need better ways to transparently revise and share their work with more than just one partner in the classroom.

I think the Ed tech advocate has run its course. Not sure there was a big need in the first place. I know I fell in the trap for a while of being tech-hungry and it set me back as a teacher. Now I focus on learning.

You’ve written about how teachers shouldn’t be let off the hook for knowing about, using, and learning the new tools. I agree to an extent. The problem is that “Ed tech advocacy” has not just given them an excuse not to, it has given them a crutch. Why do any thinking when someone else will do it for me? Teachers are professionals. Ed tech advocates have treated them like babies by focusing on tools. Show us the advanced learning that can take place and we’ll learn what needs to be learned to get at that higher-level learning with our kids.

Here’s my response: Maybe.

There are an awful lot of teachers (and administrators) out there who

  1. aren’t interested – despite our best hopes otherwise and despite the urgent need to adapt to a digital/global era – because the current model is comfortable; and/or
  2. believe they can’t because of “the tests” (a claim for which I’m skeptical for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that we already did low-level instruction with kids before “the tests”); and/or
  3. believe they can’t because of other reasons.

Tug of Warphoto © 2006 toffehoff | more info (via: Wylio)

Also, I’m not sure how compelling or urgent the reframes that Russ lists above are for most teachers/administrators. After all, if we’re honest with our assessment of our local situations, most of us will recognize that the vast bulk of the educators in our systems probably have no idea what those reframes really mean. In other words, educators who are not already immersed in ‘connective writing’ or ‘global conversations’ themselves likely are not going to understand what we mean by those concepts and thus will not feel them as a strong pull to change practice.

I agree with Russ that we “technology advocates” should be focused on selling the learning, not just the technologies. But I’m more skeptical than he is, perhaps, that those learning outcomes will be strong pulls – pulls that are strong enough to drive urgency and change practice – for many (most?) educators. What do you think?

72 Responses to “Educators need learning advocacy, not technology advocacy”

  1. “In other words, educators who are not already immersed in ‘connective writing’ or ‘global conversations’ themselves likely are not going to understand what we mean by those concepts and thus will not feel them as a strong pull to change practice.”

    For the most part, I agree. How many people visit this blog that aren’t already on the “we need to change the way school looks” bandwagon? My guess – not nearly as many as those that already “get it.” Why then do we keep blogging and tweeting about it?

    My hunch is that by the time a person starts actively reading educational blogs or participating on twitter, he/she already believes change is needed. No evidence to back this up, but I think the last post (data from TechLearning mag.) supports this. Is the typical/traditional teacher subscribing to TechLearning? Probably not.

    In my masters oral defense, I was asked nearly the same question you posed here, Scott – what’s the rationale for change? Is it “keeping up with the world’s technology changes?” It is meeting AYP? Is it keeping an administrator off one’s back? The ed. techies choose the first. Data-driven folks choose the second. I’m not sure who is choosing the third. 🙂

  2. After all, if we’re honest with our assessment of our local situations, most of us will recognize that the vast bulk of the educators in our systems probably have no idea what those reframes really mean.

    I’d much rather have the conversation of what those reframes mean with my colleagues and administrators than talk about cool tools. It’s actually the reason I stopped doing Tech Tuesday midway through last year. It’s the reason I’m not on our Technology Leadership Team anymore. It’s why my principal has sent teachers in my building to see how I’m using Evernote. Not because Evernote is cool. Because my principal was having conversations with other teachers who were lamenting the fact that they are having trouble documenting the learning process their students are going through in their classrooms. My principal said, “I think I know someone who can help.” Learning needs lead to technology use.

    It’s the conversations we have that matter, that’s what advocacy is all about. Having conversations about tools is what gets us to the point where 90% of respondents to T&L’s poll think they’re good to go. Now, as a commenter pointed out on that original post, they’re comfortable. Learning those tools is easy. EASY. The conversation is short. The use is simplistic. The learning doesn’t change.

    Count me in as a skeptic that showing someone Skype, blogging, or Google Docs will create an urgency to move to greater depths of learning.

  3. I was reading this blogpost and smiling. Scott, you have hit the nail on the head. Those of us that are immersed in technology can talk the technology talk. However, most teachers are NOT immersed in technology and when those of us who are, start talking “techno bable” they tune out. To them, we are talking about things (GoogleDocs, twitter, blog, etc..) that they have no knowledge of and that makes it kind of scary for them.

    I completely agree with what you say here. Let’s talk about “learning”. That is a topic that teachers understand. As it is appropriate, we can introduce the technology to “support” the learning.

    When you talk about the curricular outcomes with teachers they cannot argue with you. Those are the things that they MUST address with students. If a teacher is having trouble addressing “some” of the outcomes then they are more open to some new and different ways of teaching and learning. At that point you can have the discussion with them of how technology could help address those outcomes.

    When you start a conversation with technology many teachers throw up a wall. We want to break down those walls and bring more teachers “into the fold”.

    The most frustrating thing for me is how slow change is in education. If the business world changed as slowly as education does there would be a lot of defunct businesses.

  4. In my opinion it’s all about the entry point for teachers just coming on board with using technology to drive student learning. Matt, you are correct that most teachers who are reading blogs and participating on twitter already understand the need for change but how did they get to that point?

    What if the ed tech advocates didn’t exist on blogs and twitter? Who leads that change and where does it happen? Teachers that are just starting to make that switch often are doing it because they are beginning to see value in blogs and twitter (or whatever technology is being used). Or they have been influenced by another teacher who has shown them the value through their practice in the classroom. If ed tech advocates are not there to spark change, who does it?

    As much as I hate to say it, sometimes it’s the tool that excites the teacher. We are all kind of geeky here. Think about the excitement you had when you first picked up an iPod Touch or a Flip Camera (I know, outdated example)? You probably immediately wondered how you could use that in your classroom. You were excited and motivated to improve your students classroom experience. Then, after the course of reflection, reading blogs and tweets, and contributing your own, you started to think about how the device could truly improve student learning.

    I believe it takes the ed tech advocate, in some cases, to drive that spark. It’s the learning advocates who come in later and takes it to the next level. Does it always work like that? No, but let’s be honest, many of our teachers are light years away from truly making their classrooms digital and engaging for students.

    • WE are all kinds of geeky. Others are not. We assume way too much when we think technology motivates other teachers. And we need to think carefully about our own motivations. Our student learning should be what drives us. When technology use drives us we are easily distracted by the tech and we often surrender our decisions to the technology. Yes, technology can make decisions for us. If we have students do a google search for a subject rather than read a book, we have decided to provide our students with decontextualized information. Maybe this is what we want, but i doubt it. And even if it is what we want, how many *consciously* make the decision. very very few. Most of us just do what the technology wants us to do.

      • Geeks, nerds, dorks, whatever … I despise them for their social awkwardness, their love of pop culture, their slavery to trendy tech, and the way they think they deserve an elevated status in our society because so many ubergeeks have stumbled upward, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and all those other idiots from Silicon Valley who make facebook, twitter, etc.

        Give me the level-headed, pragmatic, working class citizen who doesn’t have time for any nonsense who puts their nose to the grindstone and gets the job done without fanfare.

        Too many Gen X/Y educators are trying to produce yet another generations of silly ubergeeks like themselves, instead of, yes, *normal* people.

        Teachers, just *teach,* for crying out loud! I really get tired of my fellow colleagues and their perpetual undergraduate mentality, which feeds off the inner geek that needs to play as much as they need to work.

        I grew up in a culture that expected adults to act as adults and not as retro adolescents. Playing was something for children, not serious adults.

        For example, Jerrid doesn’t look like a college professor with a PhD. He looks like an undergrad, dressed in slacker jeans and a T-shirt, peering into some silly device sending inconsequential messages to people he he’ll never really know in a conventional way.

        • I can’t think of the last time I deleted and/or censored comments on my blog, but I’d really prefer that we make our points without devolving to personal insults. I think we can vigorously debate ideas without personally attacking individuals. Please?

          [and, yes, I probably should have said this earlier on some other posts]

          • “[and, yes, I probably should have said this earlier on some other posts]”

            Most certainly, Scott, especially a few weeks ago when your esteemed colleague took some potshots at me.

            But my point remains the same, the culture that feeds the education profession is the reason why there’s failure. It starts with how adults should separate themselves from anything that kids are involved with. There used to be boundaries, which is what made society successful.

            People knew their place. Kids knew their place. That’s not happening anymore, which is one of the reason there’s failure.

            We don’t fail because we aren’t putting cell phones into the hands of kids.

            Values have been corrupted. It all starts with morality and values.

          • What is so funny about Mark, is that he is THE example of how people read/see/hear what they want to. Their prior knowledge and assumptions create the lens through which they make meaning. He pays attention to the things he wants to and selectively ignores the things that don’t fit with his agenda.

            In a previous conversation he and I had, I defended myself to the point of posting videos of myself teaching (in which I was wearing a shirt and tie – as I always did when teaching, and maybe even a suit). He also fails to recognize that I am probably the closest thing to an ally he has on here. Of course, I try very hard to make my dissenting points with compassion.

            Since he is more interested in starting arguments, I will not engage him (I tried, i really did on a previous post). But thank you, Scott, for reminding us all that we ought act like professionals.

          • A few truths:

            EVERYONE has an agenda.

            EVERYONE is selective and only pays attention to what supports their own agenda, especially those pushing to place gadgets in the hands of school kids.

            Sales and marketing types, of which there is no shortage on these blogs, are masters at selective fact sharing and holding singular mindsets.

            If they weren’t selective, then they’d acknowledge that yes, perhaps it isn’t a good idea to give a kid a cell phone, because of the research into the effects of EM radiation.

            So please, let’s be honest and point fingers at ALL guilty parties.

            I have no problem admitting that I am biased. At age fifty, I’ve certainly earned the right to guide my own thinking and speak as I see fit. My own opinions are what’s important to me unless I am in a classroom either teaching or being a student.

            Blogs are NOT classrooms, but vanity venues to assuage egos, which is one of the reasons I stopped mine.

            People thought it was my job to stroke their ego with agreement for agreement’s sake or phony plaudits, so they could in turn return the favor.

            I find such an arrangement nauseating, at the very least.

            So my mission to assail those whom I believe are ruining the education professional with their faulty values, corrupt morality, and boring personalities.

  5. It seems to ms that we need both voices loud and clear. There enough different kinds of people who teach that any approach that moves even one teacher in the right direction is a good approach.

    I come at this as a tech geek who uses but not preach tech. I speak with teachers about learning and throw in a tech solution when the time is right. I find that each teacher I’ve met is open to changes at very different times (some seem never to get there, but they will).

    So, keep tech and learning advocacy around and use the right one St the right time to improve learning.

  6. “…sometimes it’s the tool that excites the teacher.” Andy, while this may be true, my concern is when the tool-based excitement encourages the teacher to continuing doing things the way they’ve always done it…but just with a shinier tool. Google docs/apps and wikis might just encourage teachers to post their lecture notes online and in the interim, teacher continues lecturing. Same teacher-centered model we’ve had for years, but now the teacher thinks he/she has “arrived” (see TechLearning stats). All the while, students aren’t necessarily benefiting through improved/deeper learning Any concern with this being a negative effect of the ed. tech focus? It is for me.

  7. Hi Scott, I really enjoyed this post. I actually worked for a school district in the IT department, and reading this made me think of it. There were way too many teachers to count who had never even been able to log onto email.

    I agree that we must focus on learning also. I think there are very effective ways to combine the two to benefit the student.

  8. If we don’t reframe as Russ has suggested, we end up with new tools and old craptastic pedagogy (i’ve copyrighted “craptastic” so please don’t use it without my permission) 🙂

    If we make our arguments about the tools, we do not address the fundamental problem of schools. If we don’t focus on learning, our “new” schools are going to look like the old with a shiny new coat of paint.

    If you focus on the tools, you give teachers an excuse to not evaluate their students learning. Instead, you distract them and ask them to focus on the technology.

    If our arguments aren’t rooted in learning, what is the point?

    This is more than combine the two arguments. I would argue the tech adoption argument needs to disappear. Tech adoption is a top down approach. We *hope* that if teachers use X technology, their teaching approach will improve. This is like when an admin tells teachers they must do X, the administrator *hopes* the teacher actually does it, but cannot know for sure what kind of implementation is happening. We can put technology in teachers toolkits, but we don’t know what kind of implementation is happening.

    Instead, we need to get ourselves and our colleagues wrestling with fundamental questions about teaching and schooling. Some examples:
    “what does it mean to learn?” “What are my goals for students?” “What skills/knowledge/etc are my students learning now that will serve them 20 years from now?”

    When teacher wrestle with these kinds of questions amazing shifts in THINKING happen. Only after these thought-shifts should we introduce new ways of doing things.

    We have to remember that teachers are learners and new information will be interpreted based on their past experiences and fundamental beliefs. If we don’t address the fundamental beliefs, we get no where. If I hand a lecture based teacher a classroom set of laptops, they don’t abandon lecture, they put their lecture online. Nothing is different.

  9. Papert (1987) wrote about this and called it “Technocentric”. Essentially, by seeing learning through the myopic lens of technology, we loose sight of the pedagogy that prompted the need for change in the first place.

    • And his and others (Postman for example) ideas continue to get ignored. Unfortunately this ignorance is justified by saying their ideas don’t apply to current technology because web 2.0 has transformed the tools. Yes, it has, but the same cautions and pitfalls exist, just in new ways.

  10. Maybe instead of selling the learning or the technologies to the educators, we should be “personalizing learning” and empowering the students?

    This is what Will Richardson defines as Network Literacy.

    He says, “Network Literacy is the ability to create, grow and navigate personal learning networks in safe, ethical and effective ways.” He says we need to help students identify their passions and then immerse them in “passion based” learning environments where they can then pursue their interests in Personal Learning Networks. He references the work of John Seeley Brown when he discusses this.

    • May personalization isn’t quite the ideal we want. When we personalize instruction we promote individualization. When students are constantly surrounded in an environment that focuses on the individual, we should expect very selfish people to develop. The notion of personalization does not promote community membership. So while meeting individual needs is good, there is a tension. If we make life too individual, our students will not care for the community or others. Their is something to be said about the social role of schools – “individualized instruction” might undermine that role.

      This is just something to think about, i’m still wrestling with this myself.

      • If you disagree with it then stand on the mountain top and scream about the injustice that being foisted on our kids!

        You’ve read all these other posts written by hucksters trying to profit off the backs of our kids, turning them into a little GIGO machines so the creeps in Silicon Valley can apply for membership into the Billionaire’s Club!

        It’s really sick. No wonder truly responsible adults such as myself see ourselves as protectors of the innocence of children.

        Let kids be kids and let adults be adults. The two should not overlap. Products for adults should not be marketed to kids, and vice versa.

  11. I was thrilled to read this post. I have been saying for a while that the tech we use is only worthwhile if it fosters a deeper understanding of a concept. We can get kids doing all sorts of techy things, and all it will be is busy work, just on a laptop. If you ask a teacher what are the 21st Century Learning Skills, I bet he can’t tell you. We must first identify those before we can make decisions about which instructional methods and then which tech will help kids learn.

    I do believe, though, that standardized tests, especially those tied to merit pay, influence curriculum and also pedagogy. I’ve seen it myself.

    The conversation about this is most important. My school will be having it within the next year as we head to accreditation. I will be interested to see where it leads.

  12. Students are going to use technology whether the teachers are there with them or not. This week I submitted a proposal for the creation of a Social Media role in our school. The success of this proposal will depend on whether the committee can see past the applications to the potential they hold for learning.

  13. I think I am with Russ on this one. At the end of the day it is the learning that counts, and framing the discussion in terms of that can really help being teachers around- how can they be against learning.

    That said, the point you raise, Scott, is an important one – often people don’t realize how these new digital networked tools can fundamentally change practice – “reframe” as you describe it.

    However, if you don’t tap into their primary impulse for doing what they do I doubt you will get their serious attention. The technology types will remain “technology types” divorced from their realities.

    The way around it is by providing compelling examples that show (a) that the old ways aren’t working; and (b) ways that these new technologies can influence learning.

    Often this means providing opportunities for teachers to become learners – to see the content they have been teaching in new ways, made possible by technology.

    I could write much more but this will suffice for now. ~ punya

  14. I can’t recall ever conducting strategic technology planning that wasn’t rooted in learning objectives. Given that, it is important to recognize a key aspect of implementing any strategic technology plan, especially plans that involve transformational technologies, is advocacy of the technology. I often observe education technologists advocating for education technology tools, sometimes based on the tools’ “coolness” factor. But that doesn’t mean serious discussion and consideration of the education merits of those tools related to organizational objectives hasn’t already taken place prior to pushing the technology out. The bottom line here for me is that I know of no education institution that is admired for their implementation of education technology in support of learning that does not have strong advocates for technology tools in the form of education technologists.

    • Your “bottom line” got me thinking. Unfortunately there are educational institutions that are admired for their implementation of education technology (period). Often the “in support of learning” is implied and when it is implied, it is usually absent.

  15. I see a lot of talk about “transformational” technologies. Yet, we seem unwilling to discuss how this transformation has both good and bad aspects. Transformations and revolutions come with much death – so, what dies when we introduce “transformational” technologies. I think Russ’ comments are trying to prevent the death of learning.

    Also, when we introduce these technologies that connect our children to the world, we hail the awesomeness. But when children enter the world, what happens to their childhood? Could these technologies be furthering Bracey’s “Death of Childhood”

  16. Well done to put things so clearly. And a great follow-up debate.I would put it stronger than advocacy – I would say we need to evangelise about the benefits to learning – faster, more efficient, deeper (eg Sugata Mitra on TED). If technology can bring the benefits of networks into play let’s focus on what ‘network’ means – a ‘net’ to capture people but also something you need to ‘work’ at – and that’s evangelising for learning. @derekrobertson were debating recently how to demonstrate, for example, the benefits that the paradigms in technology can bring to learning and vice versa, for example how can we learn from games technology in the way it captures and motivates young people to do better – gaming technology is good at:

    giving ongoing feedback
    incentivising learning
    using personalised profiles and reports
    trusting in the ability of the learner
    nurturing growth mindsets
    maximising potential for peer assessment
    presenting purposeful and relevant learning intentions
    ensuring assessment is not done ‘to’ but ‘with’ learners
    giving learners the ‘best chance’ of success.

    That’s all about learning!

    • You mention that technology helps make learning fast and efficient and deeper. I see depth and speed as contradictory and since when is really deep learning efficient. If the history of our society is any indicator it takes a long time and many wrong turns to learn. What is made more efficient is memorization. This is not learning IMHO.

  17. The timing of this post and the follow up comments is excellent for me as a principal. I made the decision at the beginning of the year that I would train myself to not mention a tool unless I could explain how the tool helps learning. This means that I ask about standards and benchmarks, skills, knowledge and purpose. The other day I threw out blogging during a conversation with a teacher and I had to follow up with an e-mail explaining all of the learning stuff. There are three ideas that I take away from this discussion.
    1. Many of us all struggle with this issue and it is not an easy one to address.
    2. Sometimes you have to just talk tools. That will help motivate some teachers. I have an idea that the really good ones can latch onto a tool and find powerful ways to use it.
    3. I wonder if Russ evolved from a “Tech Advocate” to a “Learning Advocate”. I have this hope that this is a normal progression that educators make over time.
    Thanks for helping me with my learning.

  18. Reading all of this is something that makes me go back and forth, kind of like watching a tennis match. Yes, we need to use technology. Yes, the learning is more important than the technology. Yes, the technology is key to successful learning for many. Yes, there are those that technology won’t matter. Yes, some teach better with technological advancements and are motivated and excited. Yes, some will resist like a mule. Ultimately the part that bothers me about the focus on the technology is the presentation. I just worked with my administrative team to “rephrase” an attempt to introduce blogging to the full faculty. Some were already blogging. Some groaned out loud. The part that we did, and I think effectively, was to avoid that trap of saying, “We are all going to blog. Here is how often. Here is how we are going to monitor it.” Instead the team suggested it as an alternative to meeting the needs of the students, allowed guided practice, demonstrated some successes, and provided follow up. Not everyone found this as beneficial as we had hoped, but several did. Some are using it daily…some less…some none. Bottom line is that is was an alternative that made sense to some and improved communication for those individuals. If we would have mandated it, I can guarantee that we would have seen several teachers drop in their effectiveness in the classroom because of attitude or “another item on the plate” situation.

    • The problem with asking the faculty as a whole to use a certain kind of new tech is that students see it as busy work, much like we see through revisions to state requirements. It’s old wine, new bottles to them, too. If they start using any kind of new tech in several classes (blogging, wikis, whatever), it will be like we all got a discount on journals, and we’re ALL having them write. They’ll know it (whatever the tech is) is a new buzzword.

      I have begun to use blogging in my classes, and it will be successful if I use it sparingly and if I explain WHY I am having my kids write to a blog instead of handing me a typed assignment. If they see the purpose in the use of the tech, it will be more successful as it will be a relevant exercise that they see will enhance their learning.

  19. Jerrid – I didn’t say fast and efficient, I said faster and more efficient, unless you think the systems we have across the globe are optimised for efficient learning?? Like everything else in education, it’s not what you use, but how well you use it. Depth of understanding can come from applying ideas in new contexts and synthesising concepts to solve problems and create new knowledge. We now have the tech that can support both bringing people and ideas together efficiently – deep learning can then happen. Or not, if not used well.

    • That is a pretty fine line betweeen fast and faster. Either way your statement implies that faster and more efficient is desirable, I think not.

      Also, technology has bias, it calls out to be used in particular ways. So while we’d like to think we can choose to use technology how we want, there are strong implicit messages embedded in the design of technology. One of those messaged in digital tech IS efficiency (as you alluded to), however, efficiency (as i alluded to) is not compatible with deep learning.

      • I have to say I’vee followed your argument in this thread pretty closely. Before I begin let me share my bias, I’m an out of work secondary math teacher, who is going to school full time at MnSU in Educational Tech (MS) while developing ideas for online tutoring centers (for profit/n. f. p). It seems like the only variable that hasn’t been discussed is the level of technology itself. Many of us view “technology” as what’s new and digitally developed, but wasn’t the mechanical calculator viewed as technology too? Not that I’m arguing, I’ve agreed with Russ’ viewpoint has to how technology should be applied.

        A closing example, is that when I apply for funds for classroom technology, they don’t want the wonder/speed enormousness of the tool, but “What will you do with it if you get the funds for it”. I had to show a developed lesson, both using components of eliminating what students already knew, from what they needed to know, and using guided practice that without the tool (not requiring depth of calculation understanding) take much longer than by hand.

        So then, to ask for such technology (funds), would that be right or wrong IYHO?

        • I see no problem with asking for funds to help support technology in classrooms. I am very concerned with how technology is used and even more concerned with how technology is talked about in education. Many people will have us believe that more technology is the way to improved education. What I have seen is that more technology leads to no fundamental change in teaching. What is even more concerning is that as technology become more and more “pushed” the bias of the technology will become reflected in our teaching practices. Instead of valuing deep engagement with ideas, we’ll start to value compilation of information. Our tools reflect our goals. If our goal is to make students into information compilers, than we should continue on our merry way. If our goal is to make our students discerners of information, then we need to shift. Google does not discern, it sorts based on popularity. Prezi doesn’t discern it adds a layer of entertainment. Twitter doesn’t discern, it removes layers of nuance. Blogs don’t discern, if give equal voice to novice and expert.

          I’m not anti these technologies (use them all the time in my teaching). I am against the anti-intellectualism that pervades discussions about educational technology. It is time we stop pretending our tools are neutral instruments. There is a reason a shovel is used for shoveling. So what are our “new” technologies designed for? I don’t think deep learning and wisdom are built into those designs.

          I’m not saying get rid of technology – I’m saying teach our students about these issues. Teach them to be critical consumers of technology. Teach them how the technology causes them to lose important aspects of themselves.

          I’m also saying we need to stop for a minute and think about teacher use of technology. Right now, we have a lot of people saying “do”, we need more people saying “think”.

  20. Jerrid – Sorry, mate. Don’t follow your logic that faster, more efficient learning is not desirable, presumably then deep learning is slow. I think not.

    And I would not call for all learning experiences to be based on tech – collaboration, context and relevance, for example, come into play.

    As with many educational discussions, I think there are too many false dichotomies around. We need some synthesis.

    • I agree that too often false dichotomies are used – I don’t mind them as they help illustrate important lessons. However, in this case, i don’t think the dichotomy is false. Really deep learning is not a fast or efficient process. This is why our overstuffed curriculums are such a problem. And since digital technology is biased toward speed and efficiency, they are not “the” or even “a” fix for education. In fact, I believe digital technology use will most likely take us in the exact direction we as educators have fought against. The problem is that we’ll be blinded by the tech and all its promise that we’ll miss the hidden message.

      So, if you are going to consider my points you must be willing to accept two propositions 1) tech is biased 2) deep learning is a slow, non-linear, unpredictable process. If we don’t agree on these, we’ll likely not ever agree. But that is ok.

      • When you say tech is biased, do you mean that tech as the answer is biased? Forgive me if I’m thinking of this too deeply.

        Also on premise 2, at previous schools I’ve worked at, they want to see “progress.” and I couldn’t sell them that if they really wanted depth of learning, that it meant NOT finishing the textbook/following the beat of the drum…feeling that there exist no jobs for me that agree with my ideals…and may be forced to exit education.

        • I mean the technology is biased. Think about powerpoint. It has a bias toward increased information density. The design of every technology contains inherent bias.

          There are schools and administrators who recognize deep learning takes time. You need to find those places and work for them! 🙂

  21. Yay Russ! I agree, the focus needs to switch back to learning and let the tech act as support, not be the main event.

    Evidently, it’s an issue that raises emotions. Why is that? I think if we can come to the core of THAT question we may get closer to advocating for authentic learning for our students.

    Of course, Scott, you know I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while now 🙂

  22. Oh boy! Let’s disagree.
    1. Virtually all dichotomies in education are false – it’s too complex a subject to be otherwise because learning is complex.
    2. Of course tech is biased: that’s why age-old skills such as critical thinking are even more vital in 21st C.
    3. Deep learning is not necessarily slow and not sure how you even begin to get to that hypothesis.
    4. I’m remain perplexed with statements such as ‘we educators’ are fighting, or even should fight, against tech. Proper, critical use, yes.
    5. It’s what overstuffed curricula are overstuffed with that’s the problem, not shallow or deep learning.

    In Scotland we’re trying to view the curriculum in 3D – breadth, challenge and application including higher order thinking. A climbing frame and not a ladder, so I am aware of the messiness and unpredictability. (And see

    • 1. Virtually all dichotomies in education are false – it’s too complex a subject to be otherwise because learning is complex.
      – yep, virtually all are false. I’m saying THIS one isn’t. Learning can be quick and shallow or slow and deep. Give me one thing that is a complex idea that you learned in 15 minutes or less and I’ll concede…not the idea must be complex. Learning to create a blog is not complex.

      2. Of course tech is biased: that’s why age-old skills such as critical thinking are even more vital in 21st C.
      We agree here.

      3. Deep learning is not necessarily slow and not sure how you even begin to get to that hypothesis.
      See my reply to number 1.

      4. I’m remain perplexed with statements such as ‘we educators’ are fighting, or even should fight, against tech. Proper, critical use, yes.
      You mis-read my comment. I did not say we should fight against tech, I said we have been fighting against certain ways of doing things – such as making education solely about finding “right” answers. I’m saying we fight against esoteric facts as curriculum, but our tech use might actually take us in exactly the direction we don’t want to go.

      5. It’s what overstuffed curricula are overstuffed with that’s the problem, not shallow or deep learning.
      Curriculum is a technology. The natures of our curricula create the bias of that particular technology. So when we design a technology in a certain way (in this case “overstuffed”) there are consequential biases (in this case superficial rather than deep learning).

  23. I as read the debate that takes place over this topic of technology in the classroom I am left with a lot of questions and not a very clear stance on the topic. I am currently enrolled in a curriculum and instruction course that focuses on literacy in the classroom and much of what we are taught to use as ways of teaching literacy skills is via technology, like Wikis and Prezi. I feel that incorporating technology in the classroom is crucial for teaching literacy because so much of the time students are plugged into a technology source. To me teaching through technology is like giving students a home field advantage to learning. Having said that, I also feel that schools have put way too much pressure on teachers to use technology. I think teachers should be able to use technology however they see fit in their classrooms.

    • The “home field” advantage is an interesting point, but there is an underlying assumption you’re making. Kids’ homes are technology rich. For many kids this is not the case. From a different angle, if kids are so immersed in technology at home, maybe we should encourage them to experience “other” media. 🙂

  24. I guess trying the old approach of reductio ad absurdum just shows that we ARE dealing with false dichotomies! I’d rather not engage in that, but can’t help thinking about ‘insight’ as one of the highest forms of learning – and we know that happens in a flash.

    You won’t persuade me that deep learning did not occur in Einstein’s brain a millisecond after he watched the first atomic bomb explode in a test in a US ‘desert’.

    Erin mentions “I think teachers should be able to use technology however they see fit in their classrooms.” This sums up one of our problems in education – teachers may often (albeit in good faith) do what they like rather than have an evidence-based agreed set of practices.

    And that goes especially when using tech.

    • Only have a second but…. Chance as well as insight favors the prepared mind. Any insight Einstein had was the result of having thought about physics and matter for many many years before he witnessed the atomic bomb. It is easy to think insight happens in moments of inspiration (which they do), but forget about why insight happened to that person (because they had been thinking for a very long time about the topic). Some times I have a “flash” of insight about my teaching, but i would not expect my brother to have the same insight because he does not think about teaching as much as I do. So, you see, the moment of insight is quick, the preparation for insight is a very long process. So, learning might be best described as punctuated equilibrium…moments of quickness, but overall the process takes a long time.

  25. I have used technology to connect with teachers throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, when I tried connecting out of the country (Canada) the equipment would not allow it. My school has the Tandberg system and I coordinated with classes from California to NY on many subjects and all students were included. I have had 35 video conferences this past school year which were extremely effective.

  26. Ah, Jerrid. Einstein was not thinking one iota about physics nor did he rely heavily his previous deep thoughts in physics (I’m beginning to sound like Douglas Adams). His deep insight was about him and his team of co-physicists having changed the world forever! Young children before the age of three months go through an explosive phase of learning, the greatest growth of any age and they too have insights! Glad you agree we can all learn at the speed of light, given the right conditions and context.

    • You’ve misunderstood. I’m glad you’ve illustrated how difficult and slow learning is & why an online environment doesn’t lend itself to deeply contextualized learning – too easy to “exit” instruction and dismiss ideas when someone can’t react instantaneously.

  27. We should all meet for a beer sometime, to mull over and build on what we have in common. I’ll leave with a few observations using my experience (all the way from my first teaching job starting 1969 in the east end of Glasgow, one of the poorest parts of Europe, I lived there as well – to visiting thousands of lessons in Scotland and in countries across the world).

    1. Irony – across many education blogs I see signs of assertion and rigidity. That way is not the way of the learner. A bit of humility goes a long way as does a touch of diffidence.
    2. Edtech – When I first engaged in edtech there wasn’t much tech around, so the edtech was about the technology of learning and teaching (‘instruction’ some would call it). I guess that was what this original blog was supposed to be about.
    3. How you use stuff – I have seen fantastic use of technology that made learning effective and certainly faster, deeper and more efficient. Equally, I have seen awful stuff, kids copying handwritten lists of facts from ‘smart’ boards. So it’s how you use it that matters.
    4. Alignment – there’s a real issue here. Change depends on agreeing where the heck we are headed and the totality of many blogs and responses I have seen suggests there is none. I know some will think this is just healthy debate – freedom, democracy etc – but at some point the debate has to lead to agreed action and not increased dogmatic vitriol. Without aligning behind a common vision, local education systems, never mind national ones, are not going to progress.
    5. You can learn without teachers using tech – If looking through Sugata Mitra’s and Ken Robinson’s stuff doesn’t at least arrest educators to stop and re-appraise, I don’t know what will. We can also extrapolate these discussions to the system as a whole. See Charles Leadbeater’s talk on TED – developing countries cannot afford our complex systems of education and, frankly, some don’t want them.
    6. Tech is biased – pretty obvious, but good use of it will negate that. PowerPoint doesn’t always lead to over-stuffed content, but the danger is there and I see that danger in schools. I’ll share a few of mine i) What is learning? ii) The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. iii) Do birds have lunchtimes? iv) Why should I go to school? v) Excellence is caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, expecting more than others think is possible. All used with provocative short movies from well-known educationists.
    7. It’s about learning, so is tech a red herring? – I agree with observations that kids are tech savvy but not learning savvy. So we have to teach how to use technology wisely. Wisdom comes with enriched learning networks in people’s heads, but only if our brains are wired in such a way as to allow that. You might listen to Ian McGilchrist live tomorrow ( And glance at comments in articles such as That help keep the focus on learning. It’s also about living – governments are now looking at measures of social cohesion and ‘contendedness’ as adjuncts to simple GDP figures – ie what’s the purpose of education?
    8. Discernment and the wisdom of the novice. I have learned more from some novices than I ever have from self-proclaimed experts. I wouldn’t knock technology for allowing less experienced colleagues to practise sharing their wisdom.
    9. I see no signs of anti-intellectualism pervading discussions that I have engaged in locally on technology eg see Pat Kane at a project I’m involved in And some projects at
    10. Learning is about identity – so is teaching. What you teach is who you are. That goes for tone, content, coherence and spirit amongst other things. Beware the trail of personal ‘wisdom’ you leave on the web. It may come to haunt you/me.


    • We do seem to have a lot in common, since you “left” I’m not sure who my reply is to, but I will reply to your points by number.

      1) One of the side effects of open access info is the development of rigidity – we are able to find stuff with which we agree so become even more entrenched in our beliefs. This is why technology use must be questioned – the internet was supposed to bring the world together, but in many ways it has polarized us.

      2) I think edtech has devolved into a constant seeking for the “new”. Substance (learning and teaching) has gone by the wayside for novelty. I don’t know if your point was a lament, but mine is.

      3) You are an instrumentalist, I am more of a determinist – you think how we use it is what matters, I think that the choice to use it is a choice that changes us – for the better and worse. I am merely trying to note the worse because other people are noting the better already.

      4) Alignment indeed. It’s like you took the words out of my mouth: here is the blogpost I wrote last night:

      5) You have always been able to learn with out teachers using tech. They’re called books. Robinson is a guy trying to shift our curricular focus – i respect that. Mitra is another story – he is trying to shift something deeper about what it means to learn. The kids in video used the word “recombinant DNA” – I wonder to what extent they have any idea what that means. If learning is about finding info, computers do a great job. I think learning is something much much more than info gathering.

      Some countries don’t want our education, fine. That is their right. What I am concerned with is the degradation of our education – yes there are problems, but I don’t see tech as our fix as many do.

      6) Tech is biased – good use can limit, but we cannot negate bias. You see the danger of powerpoint, but do you see the danger of blogs? This goes back to you being an instrumentalist and me a determinist – we disagree philosophically, so of course have different views.

      7) I don’t understand your point. I believe the purpose of education is multifaceted – learning how to learn is of utmost importance as well as gaining perspective and socialization. Yes, socialization is a good thing – its what keeps us as a society rather than anarchy.

      8) I’m sure you would consider me to be “less experienced” so i’m glad you don’t dismiss us. However, when the novice and the expert are given equal credibility, how do we move toward common goals and alignment as you mentioned in number 4?

      9) I cant speak to what you’ve seen locally.

      10) digital footprint advice? Hmm. I am not at all ashamed of my digital footprint. I imagine the people who raged against the industrial model of education had little regret. I imagine in 20 years, I will have little regret for raising red flags when “education” has become even more based on trivia than it is today. I taught my kids to think, so I guess i’m a thinker. 🙂

      It has been fun – time consuming, but fun. Only in this back and forth can learning happen – imagine how much more efficient it would have been face to face (yes there is a ton of irony in that sentence. It’s on purpose) 🙂

  28. I found both Russ’ comment and your come back very thought provoking. In fact this quite simple post has got me thinking very hard indeed!

    I highlighted your post in my Daily Digest of Education related blogs today as I thought other teachers would find it of interest. You can see it here:

  29. Wow. I read this and I was about to respond, and then read the myriad responses and my response has changed. What I wonder now is how many of the respondents are really discussing the essential point Russ makes in the post. I didn’t read (and maybe that’s my fault) that he felt that all teachers did was run around willy-nilly crying for the latest trend, and that that should change to be teachers running around willy-nilly crying for 21st certury skills they don’t themselves understand. I read it as that there are such teachers who desire to use more innovative products (age-appropriate ones, Mark), and can’t get support to do so, despite that they have sound reasoning for the endeavor. Perhaps the idea of Russ’s post is not that all teachers should go from one half-hearted buzzphrase to another, but that the ones who genuinely see the benefit of using said technology articulate the outcome and the skill set, regardless of the product. Someday Skype will be replaced with something else, Google Docs will be replaced with something else, and our students should be trained to use technology for NEED and for OUTCOME, and not just to master a particular program. I think Russ understands that, and I think that’s what he wants other like-minded teachers to remember about using new technology. IF you are using this and IF you are shouting for greater acceptance of it REMEMBER why you are using it in the first place. I think the skepticism clouded what I think was a far more reasoned post than the responses reflected.

  30. In my experience, it’s still an uphill battle. There are so many educators who have not yet embraced technology. Everytime we can expose one of them to a way in which Ed Tech can make a difference at engaging student and enhancing learning outcomes, we stand a chance at gaining another convert. I do agree that the majority of people reading these blogs are already there, and we write for them as well, but when we can convince those that don’t buy into the benefits of tech to go ahead and try some new technology in the classroom, it’s a wonderful thing (especially when it works out well!).

  31. Agreed. Tech and learning can go hand and hand. However – the focus must remain on learning.
    Have a great day!

  32. Here’s another point to consider. I recently read David Coe’s “Levels of knowing in ethnographic inquiry.” He describes the ethnographer in 4 stages, 1)Naive ethnographer, 2)Neophyte ethnographer, 3)alumnus ethnographer, and 4)practiced ethnographer. Though this isn’t ethnography, consider the parallelism.

    I think we can take technology the same way, when we’re in stage 1, we’re all about tech but not fully understanding its role, to level 4)we understand how to use it as a tool, are comfortable and can pull it out of our tool box comfortably and with ease, knowing it’s not “all for all.”

  33. My name is Ali. I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. In some ways I can agree with what Russ says. I believe that some teachers get caught up with being technologically advanced that they do not focus on student learning. I do agree that teachers should keep up with technology. There are many ways to allow students to use technology but still learn. Skyping and blogging are great examples of this.

  34. Years ago in a PLC training, we were asked a question:
    “If we want a change to happen, do you change attitude first or do you change behavior first?”

    In those days, many thought we had to change attitude first, but the trainer made a strong case that change will not likely to happen if we wait until everyone’s attitude is changed.

    Teachers and administrators want to make a difference in kids. When they see and experience how a strategy/tool/tech application can benefit kids’ learning, they become believers.

    However, that is not to say, we will become mature users when we first apply any new strategies or tools. (The geeks probably will!) Deep learning happens with continuous professional development, opportunities to connect with others and reflect upon the effect of our practice.

    So, in many ways, I agree with Andy that we must hook educators into the digital world, and, as a staff developer, I am going to include this post and discussions into my next blog.

    If you ever go to my school blog, you can see that I encourage teachers and administrators for trying. I am not a geek, way far from being one. I am hoping those non-geeks will be encouraged to use digital tools TO LEARN even when they are still tentative!

  35. Hi Scott! I am a student at the University of Alabama. I am taking EDM 310 under the instruction of Dr. Strange. Your blog is one of my assignments. I will check back in two weeks to comment on another post of yours, and will compose a summary of what I read, and of my comments, which will be available on my blog,
    You can visit our class blog at

    What do I think? Hmm. I think that too many teachers and administrators are opposed to the Ed Tech perspective. I am young, just recently (almost 3 years ago) finished going through my local school system (Mobile County Public Schools System) and although a lot of these technologies are newer, I had never heard of blogging. I never would have thought that I could have diverse conversations with students in other countries. It is a shame that teachers don’t use the technology as learning tools. It wasn’t until I took this course before I really saw the potential of the tools. I really feel that teachers should focus on the learning aspect of education versus the tools in which they can use. However with that being said, we have to stimulate the minds of the students and present the information in a manner in which they feel comfortable learning. Let’s face it. A child would rather play a video game than read a book, or they would rather interact with other people than write an assignment alone. If the fact is we, as humans, need social interaction to thrive, and our senses are stimulated by visualizations on a screen, then why not teach behind a screen, or with assistance of a screen. Is it harmful to offer new ways of learning? No. Would we not do more harm by ignoring the way students learn?

    • ” If the fact is we, as humans, need social interaction to thrive, and our senses are stimulated by visualizations on a screen, then why not teach behind a screen, or with assistance of a screen. ”

      Sure, Lisa, let’s produce another generation of Americans who park their butts before a screen for hours on end munching on snacks and giving their thumbs a work-out while they grow even more unhealthy and attention challenged.

      Yep, that’s the ticket for a better America.

      • Mark,

        I am curious. What would you have all of us do? Forget all discussion on this and other posts for a moment. The discourse in this case seems to be toxic. In flat-out basic terms, what is your vision for education and the future? Given the current conditions (economic, cultural, technological, etc.), what would your system of education look like?

  36. Carl: I am reading some of the entries on your webpage and have amended one of them to best reflect my personal view:

    “The basic function of all education, even in the most traditional sense, is to increase the survival prospects of the individual and as an extension of that survivalist aim, their own self-interest.”

    The world oligarchy will not stop its quest for ultimate domination until the rest of the population is brought to its knees … beaten, impoverished, and demoralized.

    Survival and self-preservation will be all that matters.

    This is the world we have created. It was inevitable since people ceased being judgmental, putting checks on their appetites, exercising better self-control, and failing to discern between needs and wants.

    Somehow, fiddling with little devices from Apple or Motorola seems so absurdly trivial at this juncture.

    Selling a bright future to the next generation is a grave disservice. The faster they understand what reality will bring, the faster they can adapt to the changes.

    • From the same chapter of Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner (1969) Teaching as a Subversive Activity that the quote Mark cites:

      “a paradoxical situation develops when change becomes the primary characteristic of the environment….survival in a rapidly changing environment depends almost entirely upon being able to identify which of the old concepts are relevant to the demands imposed by new threats to survival, and which are not.” Postman & Weingartner

      “What we are saying is that ‘selective forgetting’ is necessary for survival.” Postman & Weingartner

      “students [of the old education] who endure it come out as passive, acquiescent, dogmatic, intolerant, authoritarian, inflexible, conservative personalities who desperately need to resist change in an effort to keep their illusion of certainty intact.” Postman & Weingartner

      • The first quote sounds logical, but what about new concepts?

        The second reads as if more context is required to gauge its full meaning.

        The last quote reeks of 60s counterculture sentiment, as the products of that same counterculture could be just as intolerant, acquiescent, and inflexible. “Liberal” could have easily been exchanged with “conservative.”

        • This, I believe, is what you have been arguing about on this blog for the past few months but instead of articulate it in this way so that we can come to some kind of mutual understanding of each others’ positions it has devolved, most times, into something akin to mud flinging. (Not exactly the kind of behavior any of us want to model for our students.) I do believe that those who you are arguing with (including me) agree with you on the first two quotes and we ought to respect that this alone establishes a shared vision and purpose. However, it is on our point of view regarding these last two quotes that is the sole point of contention. Most of the people I have seen you argue with in this forum (myself included) are of the opinion that we are in the midst of a time where change is a constant and view P&W’s last quote as having relevance to our present condition. Also, most of these people do not work for Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any other tech company…most are educators employed either in universities or in public schools. I think you are approaching us in this space as if we are all something we are not. This brings us back to the original purpose of this post, a discussion about how to address the issues Russ brings up…Issues which closely are closely related to what P&W address in these four quotes.

    • Mark,

      After reading some of your own blog I am starting to question what your true beliefs and opinions are here. Last September your replied to a comment on your blog with these words:

      “I am trying to stoke dissent and dialogue, not “going along to get along.” So what if I become contentious? That’s how the arena of opinions works. If you are faint of heart or possess a fragile ego that can’t take some verbal jabs to the gut, then you should withdraw from that arena.

      Why are so many people afraid of active and confrontational dissent? Do you think we would have had a country formed in the 18th century if everyone just thought to “go along to get along” with the British?”

      If you are intentionally trying to poke the wasp nest I agree that the edublogging community is in dire need of some varying perspectives and ought to be challenged to either affirm or reframe their beliefs. But, is this genuine dissent or argument for the sake of argument? Does it matter if it isn’t genuine? (I guess this last question is one for anyone who has engaged Mr. Hauck in debate/argument here or elsewhere.)

      • “But, is this genuine dissent or argument for the sake of argument?”

        That’s for you to decide entirely.

        The entire edu-blogosphere suffers from a kind of neo-Victorian Age stuffiness and prudery.

  37. By the way, Carl, you’ve quoted me out of context. You failed to cite the exact reason why I posted what I did on my blog. You failed to mention that people in the teaching profession were going above and beyond the normal realm of internet discourse to impugn and discredit me, primarily because I hold in contempt K-12 teachers who are not formally trained and equally not certified by their state education agencies.

    • Actually Mark, I didn’t see a need to provide context for your quote since the context was irrelevant to the fact that it made me question your intentions with taking such a hostile and argumentative position on this blog. The only context that matters here is this one.

  38. Sorry, Carl, but the matters that face the world right now (which impact our kids) requires a lot more than the typical handwringing and endless mental self-gratification that often accompanies discussions in the PhD realm. (I know, I spent 10 years on college faculties) I am impatient with those who are approaching the world’s problems from the inside of a classroom. Address the broader issues first and educational issues will be solved. Attitudes and behaviors have been corrupted by post-modern thinking out of our universities for the last 50 years , the same kind of thinking that deems anything traditional as a negative.

  39. Dear Mark and Carl,

    I must admit I was rather amused at the content of this post, first and foremost. I’m also intrigued at the dialogue you two have presented.

    Yes, the ed-blog world it lit up with unqualified praises of technology, and context needs to be provided here.

    Yes, you two have gone far beyond congeniality to reach collegiality, and then some mud…

    I’d very much like to see the two of you with such striking positions (especially Mark) and what you can add to the post above.

    For instance, I also agree that the tech tool being the focus is no longer needed. Rather the tech tool, should be just that. A tool. A means to an end. None of us seem to ague that we want critically thinking, intelligent, new members of our communities. Nor will any of us argue that we want those new members ready for the actual world and not just for surviving a classroom.

    Thus begs the question, when will the Tech advocate die? When will “technology” be ubiquitous to the point where it’s integration will not be a labor, but an after thought? How much of the screen time we are giving our kids right now meeting our educational goals?

    Sounds like you two might have answers for that. Feel free to browse my blog

  40. I would say both. Of course teachers should be teachers first in actually teaching their students. But hey, use technology also to support their students. Let your students enjoy learning using available technological tools. The problem is teachers only think that they are the only source where students should learn from. Technology can help students learn as well. You can also use technology to teach. The important thing is that the students are able to learn. Technology can help students to learn by doing activities through web tools. It provides an alternative way of learning. It is an interesting approach in learning and should be looked at positively. Technology should be explored and students should be given the chance to learn on that platform. Teachers, keep your minds open to students’ learning via technology!

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