Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Why Question

The Why Question

We are often in a rush to adopt new technologies as soon as they appear on the horizon, usually in an attempt to find the magic bullet that will engage and motivate all of our learners.  Most often we find the equipment abandoned in closets, used as "free time" toys to keep kids busy when they finish early, and mostly NOT being integrated into daily classroom learning for students.  

For those of us who are charged with assisting teachers with the integration of technology, these situations cause us to beat our heads against the interactive whiteboard and whisper, "Why, oh why is this the horrid truth?"  I think I know why....

1.  Teachers need ongoing training, and then sustained and regular support if they are going to commit to changing the way they teach.  Let's be honest, to fully wring the potential out of technology integration in the classroom, one must not only teach with different tools, but teach differently.  My favorite test of whether a teacher who is begging for an interactive whiteboard will actually use it is here.

2.  Education facilities are notorious for falling for the "cool" factor.  We buy things because they're cool, because we want to be cutting edge, or because we want to impress other school districts.  Rarely does anyone take the time to find a school district using the technology we'd like to purchase, with kids like we'd like to use it with, even on a "pilot" level.  We buy a bunch of something new (like Mobile Learning Devices such as Droids or iPads) and then discover the wireless access is inadequate, or we don't have a business office mechanism for purchasing apps, or covers, or the teachers don't have the time or interest to implement one more new thing.  When the technology is less than seamless during implementation, you lose the excitement of the "cool" factor, and the device becomes a paperweight or worse, a toy.

3.  Technology changes fast, and schools don't.  Many teachers end up with "new technology fatigue".  Way before they are using any equipment to it's fullest, we've shoving something new into their hands and want them using it immediately.  Honestly, they have other things on their minds besides learning how to use a new piece of equipment, and then figuring out how to use it in their classrooms for real instruction.  Maybe you have a few tech geeks on staff who are into that sort of thing, but I know from experience, most of your staff - whether they graduated with their teaching degree in May 2010, or May 1990, won't be excited.

I could go on and on...but I'd rather suggest how to fight "The Why Question".  It comes down to two things: expectations and training/support.  

First, someone must expect the teacher to use the things we purchase for their classrooms.  Now, my first instinct says the best way to go about this is ask teachers what they want BEFORE the purchasing, but we know that isn't usually how this goes.  In the absence of including teachers in the planning, the principals and Board of Ed needs to expect these things be used, and actually check up to make sure they are being used for more than free time distractions.  Having a clear vision of why the items were purchased and communicating that to the staff is a good start.

Second, and usually more importantly, the teachers need training, and then ongoing support to continue to integrate the technology into their daily classroom activities and support learning.  This starts with small steps and builds incrementally upon itself.  I have previously blogged about beginning tech integration small and personally.  Professional Learning Communities assist with professional development opportunities for your staff.  Staff can start by joining an existing group, and then individualizing it within the school so that it meets their unique needs.

Taking time out to plan both the purchase of equipment and the training and support required for its integration and sustained use will pay off in the least with fewer headaches for your Educational Technology Specialists and less damage to your interactive white boards!

Check out an interesting article regarding mentoring and coaching for Effective Tech Integration here.

Out on a Whim,

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