Critical Thinking about #EdTech — #EdChat Summary: 02/21/12

Topic: How can we encourage critical thinking about technology use in schools?

This week’s #edchat topic was brought to you by David Wees, which means he was commenting left and right throughout the discussion. I didn’t really want to play favorites with my selected tweets (even though he quickly became one of my favorite education bloggers after I met him by chance at ISTE11), so I encourage you to go read the archive of the full conversation to absorb all of his wisdom.

It is interesting to me to step into the world of an educator during the one hour per week that I have set aside for #edchat. I often find myself considering things in ways that I never would have before – and learning some startling truths about the world of education that I probably wouldn’t be privy to otherwise. Things like: there are a surprising number of teachers who don’t really understand email.

To me, that is unfathomable. I can’t imagine how I would function in this world without my grasp of technology. I can figure out how to accomplish most technology-related tasks intuitively, and the ones that I can’t can be Googled. That’s how life works for me – and (I’m willing to bet) how life works for a growing number of today’s students.

Perhaps that’s because I grew up with this stuff. I remember having a computer in our house since shortly after I started remembering things at all. I remember setting up video game and audio systems for my parents. And I remember the day cell phones started doing things besides making calls. I was quite young. Sure, stuff has gotten more sophisticated and complicated since then, but the basic premise hasn’t changed.

I look at technology the way someone of a previous generation might have looked at a tool chest. It’s just a bunch of stuff that is supposed to help you get your job done. Nothing more. You don’t try to make up reasons to swing a hammer, so you shouldn’t be trying to do something on a computer when it’s easier to do it by hand.

To me, the “correct” way to view technology is not as “technology” but as a tool at your disposal. It is necessary to understand it, it is necessary to use it, and it is very necessary to teach it. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. They look at technology (and, by extension, educational technology) as a new and intimidating thing that they don’t need.

“Life was just fine before this stuff came around, so why should I have to change my ways and start using it? Even more so, why should I have to start teaching it?”

Because these tools exist now. Can you imagine a world without pencils? Without books? Without erasers? No – because that stuff has been around since forever. Similarly, people of my generation (Generation Y) can’t imagine a world without computers, without the internet, and without social media.

This stuff is only getting more important, and failing to teach about it now would be a big mistake. That’s why Wees’ topic for this week is so important to consider. Because we need to start integrating technology into every classroom (not just the classrooms of cutting-edge educators) – not because it’s new, but because it is an essential element of modern-day life.

Main themes from the discussion:

  • We need to avoid the “trendy” technologies. I, personally, am not going to be great at listing off a bunch of popular edtech products that don’t actually make much of a difference in the classroom because I’m not a teacher and I simply don’t have that experience. But many others do. Before you buy a new piece of tech for your classroom, do your homework! Some things look great, but just don’t capture the attention of students. If it’s not going to be worth the money, keep looking for something that is. There’s plenty of options out there. Also: put in the time to find the best deals. Since tech gets outdated very quickly, it’s often very easy to get deep discounts.
  • There should be an edtech guru at every school. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just one person, and it doesn’t have to be someone’s full-time job (although it helps if it is), but there needs to be someone in charge of finding the best edtech tools and helping teachers learn about them. Teachers are busy enough as it is. Expecting them to come home and start doing edtech research is just not realistic (although some will). Choosing an edtech guru (or two) is, quite simply, the most elegant solution to this problem that I have heard.
  • A big issue is buy-in. Some schools have edtech gurus or plugged-in administrators who are always pushing teachers to adopt the latest and the greatest edtech. They may even go so far as to train teachers on how to use the stuff. But we need to remember that the first step is buy-in. As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water…” If we don’t take the time to get teachers on board first, then the training and any follow-ups afterwards are just big wastes of time and money.
  • We can get more teachers on board by showing them the benefits of edtech. How do you get teachers to buy in? It seemed like the best way (judging by the number of comments that basically said the same thing) is to show teachers what kind of a positive impact a particular piece of technology can have on their classroom. Show them how it will save them time. Show them how it will make their lives easier. Show them how it will engage their students. Show them how it will improve education. And get them excited about it. Then the seed is planted, and your job switches to support (which is much easier than on-boarding).
  • It’s no longer okay to not use technology. As I said in my introduction, it’s no longer okay to sit on the sidelines. We can’t pretend that technology doesn’t exist, or that it’s not an important component of education. With every passing year, technology gets woven tighter into our societies and our lives. Ignoring it in school will only result in creating a generation of children who are unprepared to live, work, and play in the world that they will inherit.

My favorite tweets from the discussion:

davidwees How many technologies are in schools because they were “cool” but aren’t necessarily useful?

tomwhitby How do we get educators to critically analyze something that comfort zones preclude them from using?

CTuckerEnglish Most students are comfortable with tech. It’s teachers who need to feel comfortable using technology.

baldy7 BTW: Tech itself doesn’t promote critical thinking… we do.

phsprincipal Have to demonstrate a need to use the tech. Teachers are exposed to it all the time, but we have to show how it will change learning and teaching.

stumpteacher Too much focus on flashy…not enough focus on learning. Still just a tool and power is in application, not its existence.

tkraz Someone has to show “This is what you can do” before anyone says “This is what you must do.” Buy in first.

LiamJBayerSr Who is the #edtech guru at each school that is promoting the “right” ed technologies and building a curriculum for it?

Begabungs I think the best way to encourage schools and parents to use technology is to show them the results.

dhprofdev Value of tech must hit home for educators. What is valued = what gets implemented.

davidwees A teacher came to me and asked me for a tech tool for a one time vote. My recommendation? A hat with slips of paper.

mikevigilant I get the “admin buy-in” stuff, but, hypothetically, if that’s not happening, what’s plan B? I can’t just wait…can I?

MertonTech I’m working on a collection of Google docs that are all basic lesson modifiers for my teaching staff.

Mamacita There is no longer any viable excuse for not being knowledgeable about and using tech in a classroom. None. Zip. Zero.

TestSoup I really like @MertonTech‘s idea of building wiki pages with lessons on how teachers can integrate #edtech into their classrooms.

tkraz The lack of continued nourishment is why the enthusiasm of a conference can sometimes diminishes quickly.

librario868 Sometimes, I take a backwards approach: Ask kids what tools to use and then make teachers learn it.

cybraryman1 We, who are comfortable with using tech, have to help, support, and train our reluctant colleagues.

vpigreenie  Can’t tell you how much dust I have seen on white boards, computers and software!

coreydahlevent Simply “using tech” doesn’t improve student achievement. It has to be EFFECTIVE use of tech.

TestSoup I really like this phrase that @vpigreenie just used for promoting #edtech adoption: “showing direct relevancy.” Perfect.

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To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here.  They’re usually posted up by the end of the week.

Looking to discuss #edtech in depth? Check out the LinkedIn group: Edutech Trends, Visions, Passions.

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