Teachers Who Won’t Embrace Technology

This is another post prompted by something written by Bill Ferriter at The Tempered Radical.  He writes a “rant…I’m tired of the combustable combination of whiny teachers and ineffective policymakers.”

In his post, he complains about his colleagues who make excuses for not embracing technology and takes on policymakers who don’t make time available for teachers to become familiar and comfortable with using technology in the classroom.

The first part of his post sounds the all-too-familiar note heard in the education blogosphere lamenting the fact that other teachers just don’t get why they should be integrating tech in their professional practice.   This complaint is so common, in fact, it’s a partial reason I’ve lopped off a number of blogs from my RSS Reader and leave it to reading blogs like Alice Mercer’s to let me know when there are some other good posts out there that I’m missing.

However, Bill’s post differs from so many others by criticizing policymakers as well.  This insight is indicative of why I continue to subscribe to The Tempered Radical.

I am concerned, though, about the first part of his “rant.” (his word, not mine).  Though I use technology a fair amount in my teaching practice, readers of In Practice know that I continue to be wary of its misuse.  So I’m not that exercised about teachers not being eager to embrace technology.  I’m much more focused on agitating my colleagues to engage their students in higher-order thinking activities and learning by doing — both which I think can be done in many ways just as well without technology as with it.

I think that some who complain about other teachers not embracing technology might want to reflect more on the kinds of conversations they’re having with their colleagues.  During my nineteen-year community organizing career prior to becoming a teacher,  when I was not being particularly effective at getting someone engaged I just figured I was not being good at getting at their self-interest.

Even before I became a community organizer, I was a member of the Catholic Worker Movement for several years.  The CW is a loosely knit group of communities around the country that sponsor soup kitchens and emergency shelters, and combine that with work for social change. 

One day I was out sweeping our front porch, being careful not to disturb  a number of Skid Row residents who were laying there passed-out.  A police car pulled-up, and the officer began to yell at me for not being able to control all of our guests and they were bothering our neighbors.  In the  middle of all this, one of the men who had been sleeping pulled himself up by the stairway railing and shouted back at the patrolman, “Officer, Larry tries.  He tries hard.  We just don’t listen to him!”

In addition to going after policymakers, it might be good for those who want their colleagues to embrace technology to re-think how they are approaching them.  If not, they might continue to be saying the “right” things, but few might be willing to listen.

22 thoughts on “Teachers Who Won’t Embrace Technology

  1. Pingback: Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… » Teachers Who Won’t Embrace Technology

  2. Larry wrote:
    I’m much more focused on agitating my colleagues to engage their students in higher-order thinking activities and learning by doing — both which I think can be done in many ways just as well without technology as with it.

    Awesome thinking, Larry. I definitely agree that technology can end up being nothing more than a bit of whiz-bang, flash in the pan if teachers aren’t careful. One of the things that I have to always remember is that it ain’t about the tool…it’s about using the tools to promote the kind of meaningful, higher-order activities that you speak of.

    I’m still not sure that I agree with the idea that we can set technology aside, though. While I know we can (and we have) engage students in meaningful learning without digital tools, I think to leave digital tools out of the equation is dangerous only because those are the tools that kids will be using in the work world.

    Here’s an interesting thought that I’ve got rumbling through my mind: If we don’t teach kids to use digital tools to think creatively, will some groups of our kids be “left behind?”

    My affluent suburban kids will probably be fine. They’re doing all kinds of experimenting with technology at home and don’t need my help to grow “fluent” with tech tools.

    But what about kids in high needs communities? Will they have the same chances to develop mastery with the tools of tomorrow if we don’t work to embed them in our instruction?

    Is this another achievement gap that we’ll have to address?

    Good conversation, Larry….Love the blog and the thoughts. They’re forcing me to revise and refine my own thinking.


  3. Larry asked me to repost here so here it goes:

    Larry, This is not a new story for me as I live it every day here in Mexico. But, I keep my eyes bright and keep searching for ways to clear the path forward. I think fear and lack of education are the biggest factors keeping not only teachers but also administrators and parents from playing a more proactive role here.

    Of course technology must serve pedagogy not the other way around. Throwing technology at education helps nobody. But, at the same time we have to stop enabling ourselves and those around us that we are responsible to for professional development and learning. In the end it is the student that pays the price. Our eye must always be primarily on the student’s needs and work back from that. Just as we should do backward design in lesson planning … to start with the end in mind in setting the course of action and the resources needed to get there!

    If teaching is to be constructivist, authentic, motivating, inquiry-based and preparing students for the world today and ahead in times of information explosion and increasingly tough problems to be solved … then teachers and all those that network with them must get moving. Enabling (ignorance) is dangerous. Because everyone loses in the end.

    Technology is necessary to sort through, capture, organize, synthesize, analyze, summarize and report on huge amounts of data out there and essential to have access to and make sense of in a globalized competitive world. Even students here in Mexico are not exempt. They too are right smack in the middle of this world. No one is protected or insulated anymore. There is no where to hide. This is why the program to get 1 computer to every student in developing areas is so important. They aren’t exempt from the world’s realities either.

    Teachers as facilitators and coaches need to prepare students to enter social and professional environments that did not exist just a few years ago. And, we have no idea what is to come. But, if students are taught to learn to learn and use the tools that are in front of then … and to explore their curiosity in a critical thinking and inquiry based fashion is groups and independently, then they will succeed and contribute positively to society, their communities, their families and friends and to themselves.

    Teacher that aren’t introducing technology because they don’t know much but want to grow should be trained. Teachers that know how to integrate technology to serve pedagogy should be supported and not hindered by administrations. And those teachers that only teach because it is a “job” or are riding out their last 10 years to retirement without any interest in keeping up should be let go or reassigned. Enabling apathy and fear is disabling education and futures! Even if big steps can’t be achieved in some difficult areas, little steps can. And little by little the word is better.

    Thanks, Frank

  4. Frank and Bill (Editor’s Note: “plugmein” is Bill Ferriter, the author of the Tempered Radical post that originally prompted me to write):

    Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful reactions.

    I certainly agree that students in all schools, particularly in schools like the one where I teach in the inner-city, need to become familiarized with technology here in the classroom. My estimate is that only about 30% of our students have Internet access at home (and that’s including the recent immigrant families to whom we provide computers and home DSL access to help learn English).

    And I definitely didn’t mean to imply that I wanted to put this kind of instruction aside.

    The primary message that I meant to convey was that if want more teachers to integrate technology use in their classroom, I think, first, we need to get to know what their visions and goals are — what do they want to accomplish with their students. In addition, we need to learn what drives them to be teachers.

    Once we learn our colleague’s “stories” and their self-interests, we can engage in a meaningful conversation with them about how utilizing “learning by doing” and “higher-order thinking activities” will help them realize their goals. Then, we can offer technology tools as another way to do the same.

    The difference is that we lead with their hopes and desires, not ours. We are then leading with our ears, not our mouths. Let’s try to ignite a desire within our colleagues to learn instead of telling them what we think they need to know.


  5. Yes Larry, everything leads back to motivation and a constructivist approach, even for the teachers’ learning. Technology must serve pedagogy and reality. But, there is always a way and a place to make little steps today! yes today … meaning RIGHT NOW! hahaha .. in every reach of the world and under every conceivable obstacle or circumstance. Most limitations only need a little creative juice and collaboration to resolve. Abundance is everywhere.

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  8. Hi Larry – Our Summer holiday is over and the students have been back for a week. I am catching up on a back-log of blog posts to read. You are so right in what you are saying. I put it this way to the teachers I work with, ” a good teacher uses good teaching methodology in what ever area of the curriculum they are working in and no matter what tools they are using.” It always amazes me when I see a teacher who has been an excellent 20th century teacher throwing all the sound practices out the window when confronted with having to integrate technology. The ‘backward design in lesson planning’ that Frank mentions, commitment to planning, preparation and reflection/assessment etc etc seem to get ignored by some of the ‘good’ teachers who refuse to embrace technology. It’s like they go into shock and forget everything they know 🙂 But in our primary schools we can see the same thing with some teachers taking PE lessons or Art lessons – they forget those basics and suddenly tell the kids to get the paint and paper out and wonder why it all becomes stressful (and messy!).
    As I have commented before, I teach children who only get opportunities to use technology at school, so I believe I HAVE to work with teachers to bring them onboard and embrace technology or our students will be left behind as plugmein comments.
    Also interested in Frank’s comment about those teachers “should be let go or reassigned.” – can you do that in your system? Wow!

  9. Dorothy, getting back to the let go or being reassigned, no, it’s not that easy to do here. It happens, but frankly, I’m inclined to think it would be wasteful (but since our system washes out about half of new teachers after three years, it’s already pretty wasteful).

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  11. I agree with Larry that a majority of ‘seasoned’ teachers have a fear that prevents their willingness to learn how technology can enhance their teaching. I have heard many murmurs of how they have seen mandates flow down before and then disappear without a trace.

    As an educational technologist I don’t see technology as a passing ‘fad’. While many students are still affected by their access to technology (digital divide), they are still more aware than we often given them credit for.

    Do we still have a long way to go? Most certainly! The pendulum swings and in time we will all find a middle ground that allows our ‘seasoned’ teachers to not only feel comfortable with technology but also enjoy using it. In the end it will only benefit students and give them the 21st century skills they will need to compete in a global society.

  12. Interesting post! I also think that those of us who do embrace technology can show how successful it is in the classroom. Maybe when others see it, they will not be so scared to try, and actually be inspired to use it in theirs. I’m sure people reacted the same way when the automobile first came out.

  13. Pat,

    Exciting point. It’s a good thing that when the automobile first came out, we embraced it and made it a point to integrate it into our regular classroom practice. Otherwise, the car would never be used as successfully as it is now. No doubt there would also be a driving divide; many of our students would be condemned to never get behind the wheel of a car themselves.

    Oh, wait. None of that is true. Forcing “autos in the classroom” would have been a big mistake. How different really are “computers in the classroom?”

  14. Roger, although your comment will get a great chuckle, but your analogy has some flaws. First, there was a driving divide, so public schools at one point provided drivers education. It wasn’t seen as necessary to learn, but it was seen as a necessary skill for being a functioning adult. This is one point made about computers, we all need to use them (even teachers as more and more record keeping goes online), so schools should provide a basic understanding of how they are used. Since this is a blog about Title One students, many of these students will not get that opportunity anywhere else. They may be exposed to dvd players, gaming systems, and cell phones, but computers are not ubiquitous in their lives. I myself think this is the weaker argument for integration of technology.
    The way you are putting the analogy is that driving a car is not necessary for learning (I agree), so computers are the same. A computer is not a car, it’s not used that way so the analogy is not apt. The only thing close is maybe, you use a car for transport and to expand the territory you can get to, so schools should use vehicles for this purpose. Once again, they do, buses allow schools to draw students from greater distances, etc. They allow students to go on field trips to learn.
    But, let’s take a look at learning and computers. What can I do with computers that I can’t do without them or not as well with other technology.

    Let’s look at into and set activities that you can do to either illicit interest in a topic, or activate prior knowledge. You can talk and most of that time that’s fine, but sometimes, like teaching language learners, it will not be enough. So you can use still photos. Many ELD projects have that. Video is another method and a GREAT one. What’s more effective a picture or a video of a volcano? But you don’t want to show a whole film, maybe just a snippet. so you have to either cut film (ack) or cue it up. With digital video, call it up Movie maker, select what you want, snip it by clicking a button.
    A did a whole post on podcasting for oral language development (BTW that is a critical standard to address with ELLs) here: http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2008/02/09/questions-are-good/. This is MUCH easier done online than with tape machines, etc. You could just have them talk in class, but if you don’t occasionally record them, you are missing the opportunity to create a permanent record of their progress.

    I like what technology allows me to create as a teacher to inspire my students, and what it lets them create.

  15. alicemercer,

    I agree. All technology should be used where it’s useful and not used where it isn’t useful. To resurrect an old buzz-word, it should be used where it is “appropriate.”

    What I disagree with is the idea that digital technology is somehow different from all other technologies, and that it should automatically be used in all classrooms for a significant amount of time.

    I do not think teachers should start with the assertion, “I must use digital technology in my classroom”, and then ask “how can I make myself use it?” I think they should start with the assertion, “This is what I want my students to know,” and then ask, “What is the best way to help them accomplish that?”

    [Of course, one thing you might want your students to know is how to create a document in Word or how to do a semi-effective Web search.]

    Perhaps one of our problems is that so many people in education use the word “technology” when they really mean “something having to do with computers.” Writing is a technology. White boards are a technology. Cars are a technology. The question isn’t whether or not to use technology. The question is how to use the various technologies we have to help our students become what we want them to be.

  16. Ya know Roger, I think most of us here would agree with what you’re saying. All the In Practice bloggers seem to want technology embeded in instruction in the content areas (so technology based instruction hits say, a language arts or math standard), and that you use technology as a tool, it does not become the learning objective or teaching of the objective itself (no, give them a computer they will learn).
    The interesting thing is that we all are at different levels with regards to how much we believe in online connectedness, and engagement vs. face-to-face here. Brian thinks the online relationships are rich, engaging, and help teaching in and of themselves; Larry thinks it always comes back to face-to-face relationships, and online helps cement these; I play both sides of the fence.

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