The first time I saw a floppy disk in action I was flabbergasted. You could save pictures of kittens on it, and then go to a different computer, insert it in, and it would display the same picture of kittens that you saved! Let that sink in a little. I was around five and flabbergasted was not part of my vocabulary yet, but that’s exactly how I felt.
Then the CDs have taken over the data storage market, along with the DVDs, and then memory sticks with increasing storage capacity. But as I grew older, the wow factor dimmed. Now all the pictures of kittens I own — as well as a lifetime of other documents — are conveniently stored in the cloud, just a few taps away. I admit I sometimes take the cloud for granted.
While most of the world has been and is being transformed by technological advances — more numerous and more diverse than data storage — there’s at least one part of our modern society that seems to be lagging behind: the educational system. Almost all schools induce the feeling of centuries past.
The problem with the ed-tech lag
Technology is there. A learning management system has become the norm in educational institutions of all sizes across the country. School leaders are more interested in new student-centered features such systems can provide rather than implementing an LMS for the first time. Also, millions of dollars are spent by a growing number of school districts on implementing 1:1 or BYOD programs that focus on getting devices into the hands of students.
But the mere introduction of technology in the classroom does not guarantee ed-tech success. Technology is a tool, not a mastermind. If it’s not used properly, it won’t magically deliver the results everyone’s expecting.
So the real problem is not the availability of or the access to technology (although challenges exist on this front as well), but the use of technology in education at its full potential.
Why is that?
Because of many reasons actually, more or less related to the role of teachers in all this new wave of change. Here are a few:
Some teachers are simply not interested in technology. They have been teaching without it for many years and they can still do their jobs without it for many years to come. As long as there are pens and paper, education can happen.
Some teachers are afraid of change. All people are afraid of change at some point or another and resistance to change can be useful. But sometimes it can be the biggest barrier in front of progress. The teachers that are afraid to change their established instructional habits are such late adopters of technology that they may still ask students to bring in their end-of-semester papers on a CD.
Many teachers don’t understand how to best implement ed-tech. This is probably the biggest reason of them all. It’s one thing to know how to use a computer, an iPad or tablet, a projector, digital cameras and other devices. It’s a completely different thing to know how to use these effectively in the classroom, so as to provide better instruction and student support.
Many teachers face a lack of support from the school administration on how to implement ed-tech. A teacher’s job is challenging as it is. Being forced to add technology to the mix just because other schools do this, and then having no one to answer their inevitable questions, will not convince teachers to truly get involved in ed-tech adoption.
While the first two reasons are more subjective and harder to deal with, the latter two can obviously be addressed by school administration. Professional Development for teachers can go a long way. It may reach even the most uninterested of teachers.
Professional Development for teachers and ed-tech success
Running an educational institution is not easy. We’re talking about managing the education of hundreds or maybe thousands of students, managing the faculty, being part of the community, all while ensuring all the standards are met. School leaders don’t have it easy.
But neither do teachers. They face tremendous pressure to integrate digital media into their classrooms in meaningful ways. However, many educators are in a position where they lack critical digital media literacy, especially in their ability to create and produce instructional media. This lack of teacher self-efficacy associated with digital media literacy makes them uninterested in technology, afraid of change or not sure if they can cope with it.
With all the intricate aspects of running a school or university, combined with limited or strict budgets, professional development for teachers has often been put on the back burner. But if schools want to implement education technology in the classroom successfully, they need to understand that supporting teachers during this process is vital. PD for teachers has to be high up on the priorities list of school leadership everywhere.
The good news is that things are already moving in the right direction. The National Staff Development Council explains “staff development that improves the learning of all students requires skillful school and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement”. Administrators in schools and districts across the US are looking for ways to better prepare educators to ensure quality instruction for students. Education technology is part of this quality instruction.
The “teaching teachers” trend is gaining momentum.