Interesting op-ed in the Washington Post by a 30-year English teacher at an Alexandria, Va. school that just spent $98 million on renovations and technologies that none of the teachers want to use.
…faculty morale is the lowest and cynicism the highest I’ve seen in
years. The problem? What a former Alexandria school superintendent
calls “technolust” — a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school
administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need
to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether
teachers and students need them or want them. Technolust is in its
advanced stages at T.C., where our administrators have made such a
fetish of technology that some of my colleagues are referring to us as
Features the required “technology is just a tool” response at the end as well.
Just two points. First, from a money standpoint, the true leaders in this discussion are the ones who are doing the job of convincing the school boards and communities who want “sexy” technologies at a high price that there are more democratic and pedagogically sound alternatives that are cheap or free and that what really turns any of this into learning is a culture that learns with technology in the first place, not just implements it. And second, read the comment by “CFoote.” (Anyone we know???)
What saddens me most is that I see a generation of experienced teachers
(and I’ve been teaching almost as long), folding their arms, and
resisting change instead of modeling a profound fascination with how
transformative tools have become so readily available for our students.
Amen to that.
Technorati Tags: schools, technology, learning
Ez Hill says
Some of our labor and time saving technologies really do not save labor and time. Sometimes, they just tie us down, prolong the activity and work to stress us out.
Educational technologies should enhance teaching and learning (and the teaching/learning experience). They (emerging technologies)should better our conditions. After all, this is our life.
As for me, I want my life and life more abundantly.
Gary Miller says
Sometimes as teachers, we are our own worst enemies. How many times have I heard “I’ve been teaching it that way for 20 years, and it has always worked in the past. Why change?”
That is one of the things I love about teaching computer classes. My curriculum not only changes every year, but often from one semester to the next. There is always something new and exciting out there to learn. Often from my students. I’m not always sure who is teaching whom.
If education doesn’t embrace change soon, we will go the way of the dinosaur!
Gary, I think that you summed up what is wrong with our schools today.
We’ve got a little of that going on here–we’re throwing a lot of money into a portal platform that’s not really developed, that’s wicked buggy, that’s not terribly flexible, instead of going with Moodle or just using iGoogle as the platform for students and teachers. We claim to want cutting-edge technology, but the minute the powers that be realized that the fancy new WiFi network in the library would allow students to *gasp* look at Facebook or YouTube, the plug was pulled.
More money doesn’t equal better technology, just like more technology doesn’t equal better education. Just saying your students blog doesn’t mean they’re writing anything of value; that’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way in the past year.
We need to be smart–smarter than we’ve ever been, I think. If a bunch of districts start wasting all their money on stupid and overpriced tech stuff, do you think any other districts will want to fund their own tech budget lines?
Kevin Johnson says
I was saddened to see Mr. Welsh’s name on the article in question. As a graduate of T.C. Williams, some 25 years ago, I remember Mr. Welsh as an advocate for change who really made a difference in the classroom.
I have used all of the technologies listed and would love to have them in each classroom in my school. Training, training, training is the first priority in that building. Calling a write tablet an excuse for lazy teachers to not walk a few steps shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole concept of this item whose whole purpose is to be put in the hands of children.
Almost this entire article was around the concept of teacher centered instruction. Frankly Mr. Welsh, those teachers who did that 25 years ago didn’t excite us and today’s students are even less impressed. This generation thrives on hands on instructon and you have been given the tools to excite them. If writing on a laptop is not giving you the desired results, maybe you need to try new writing assignments, new rubrics, new ways of interacting with children. In my building, hundreds of elementary children are excited about blogging, the are learning to write and critique other student’s writing and the quality keeps getting better and better. In the words of Dr. David Thornburg, I have to ask “are you doing different things or are you (truly) doing things differently. Just giving the same old writing assignments on the computer that you did on paper is simply a formula for mediocrity.
Complaining about missing a few classes for training is also missing the point. For educators to be considered professionals we need to stop complaining about needed professional development. As an instructional technologist the most important thing I do is professional development. Sometimes this is small group training and sometimes it is one on one. It is the most important thing that I do in my professional life.
a. woody delauder says
I see this in our district with the CPS Clickers. This is a classroom device that allows students to point a remote control at a central location to place their answers in a database for a teacher. The answers can then be displayed in a variety of different spreadsheets.
The problem with this…
These tools do not help at all. You can put 10 packs of sugar into a cup of 10 day old coffee, but it’s still 10 day old coffee. Nothing has changed while using this system. They are still using boring multiple choice tests with the CPS Clickers. They are just dressing the tests up a little.
This is a trend in many districts. I know that mine is one to blame.
Jon Becker says
Thanks for posting about the op-ed, Will. Here’s what I’m looking for, though. I know David Warlick (and you?) has(have) started the “must read book” wiki. That’s a great resource. But, what’s a definitive starting point? In other words, is there a singular white paper-ish document that I/we can point to and say, “if you read nothing else, read this”?
Yeah, I will work there.
Andrew Pass says
I think one of the greatest difficulties is that many teachers simply don’t know how to use this technology. They are afraid of it. Teachers recognize that their highest priority must be making sure that students do well on standardized tests or real trouble will come. They don’t know how to tie technology to content standards.
In an effort to promote an interchange in which educators will support one another as they learn how to use technology for the purposes of teaching and learning, I have started a social network site on ning, in which the conversation will hopefully focus around the teaching and learning of content. I’m hoping that content area teachers, and not “techies” will join this site and contribute to the conversation. The discussion will focus on those things that teachers already consider important. The address is http://www.teachingcontent.ning.com.
Even if this social network site does great, I’m unfortunately confident that people will continue to discount the merits of using technology for teaching and learning purposes. But then again, not everybody is cut out to be a teacher.
Art Gelwicks says
This is a recurring theme I have seen over several blogs as of late. Even I wrote about when it comes to technology and teachers/administrators. The glut of spending on “something shiny” has been going on for years so we shouldn’t be surprised. What still startles me to this day is the ability of staffs to “just say no” in the educational space where they could never get away with the same in the corporate space. Perhaps embracing learning something new is left to those who realize it’s a privilege rather than a right.
Jane Hyde says
In my school, the old way (over ten years ago) was to spend a lot of money on technology but not to provide proper support and training. The school wasted a lot of money. When the administrative offices got networked, the picture changed: suddenly we needed a full time on-site network and technical support person. Then a few years ago we got money for interactive boards in all the classrooms and laptops and projectors, etc.for faculty. It was stressful for a lot of faculty at first, and many felt overwhelmed with the expectation that they were to actually use this new stuff. But the school has wisely provided (required) training sessions and given time for them and has increased our on-site support, and given patience and time most faculty are now very happy with the tools and find that they actually do enhance the classroom experience. Web 2.0 applications are not being used too much, but there isn’t any requirement to do so, and the feeling is that we should give everyone plenty of time to incorporate everything that was new just a few years ago.
Lois Giordano says
I think you have made some relevant observations. Technology changes are initially very stressful, especially when they come too closely to deadlines for using the new technology. I think about some grading programs that got updated or changed dramatically just before school started when we had to use the programs. That drove us crazy. But the district learned from that and offered advance workshops for those interested in serving as consultants for other teachers. Even though I was far from being a “techy” I took advantage of the advance training and was able to assist other teachers in the learning curve. (Made me feel good to be ahead of the technology curve for a change!)
Training and onsite support also are critical. Our faculty members were very collaborative and were always available to help each other get past a technological hurdle. I think that cooperative mindset goes a long way in helping “veteran teachers” like myself get past our fears and feelings of technological inadequacy and move forward to try new technologies. Seeing the success of other teachers encouraged me to try new things. Their encouragement and support–including an occasional high-five–helped me to venture forward and succeed.
Stephen Downes says
Actually, if you read it closely, you’ll see that the money spent is on “a new $98 million building,” and not $98 million worth of technology.
Not surprising given that the author, too, seems to have missed the point that the most expensive part of the project was shielding the students from the elements (though he did have disparaging remarks to make about the skylights).
Same school where the “Remember the Titans” movie/based on a true story took place…..
If you bought me a particle accelerator that might sound really cool, but I would have no clue how to use it, and worse, if I didn’t see its value as a learning tool, the coolness factor wears off fast.
Gadgets are like a one-night stand in education. Seems like a good idea at the time, but the results for better or for worse can last a lifetime.
Kevin Johnson says
HOwever, there are those who realize the importance of the particle accelerator. If you read the Washington Post carefully, I think you will find very few gadgets on the list. Rather they are tools that can enhance the educational experience. If they don’t like them, I will be happy to have them at my school.
Dave Ferguson says
The tools CAN enhance the educational experience, but they’ll only go so far if most of the experience aims at passing standardized tests.
Alas, as Roger Schank said, it took the education field thirty years to get the overhead projector out of the bowling alley.
Having watched the new TC being put together from the vantage point of the next district over (and knowing several faculty members), it was clear this school was designed by a large city-wide committee. It’s the only high school in the city and the politicians were determined to make it a real show place.
Patrick’s complaints stem from the fact that few teachers and few, if any, students were involved with the design of the school. Very little was done to revise the curriculum or teaching practice to match the technology being installed. There was also very little teacher training beyond the usual basic hardware/software stuff.
Unfortunately, the same thing is happening as schools all over the country. After all these years we still have people who believe in the “if you install it, they will learn” theory of education.
BTW, Welsh is a highly regarded teacher, both by his students and colleagues.
Carolyn Foote says
Hm, no, I don’t know that cfoote person 😉
Steve Ransom says
Wrote about this on Sunday and was ill after finishing the article. One thing that I did love was the quotation by a student who admits that his favorite teacher â€œblockquote>â€œisnâ€™t into all this computer stuff. All he uses is the board â€” the whole board. Heâ€™s lively, energetic, witty and really knows his math. He forces you to pay attention; you canâ€™t drift off even if you want to.â€
I love that. It brings a balance to the conversation about 21st century teaching – that solid teaching must precede effective technology use. Kids know when teachers are forcing tools into learning contexts without learning harmony. But, responsible, meaningful, engaging, relevant teaching must also effectively harness new technologies.
More on my thoughts here
Scott Mooney says
The school district I just left, which happens to be both geographically and philosophically very close to the Alexandria School District, is in exactly the same boat. Three years ago tens of millions were spent on putting equipment into the schools and people into the schools to assist teachers with utilizing all that new technology. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Well, I was one of those people, and as you might imagine I spent almost 95% of my time fixing printing and network access issues, helping teachers reset their passwords, even making student IDs. The inevitable happened when the district realized they were paying us far more than they were getting back instructionally so we all lost our positions. Now there is no one left in the school to help teachers use the equipment and if the computers were idle much of the time when I was there now they are absolutely ignored.
I wish I could have my old job back like it was supposed to have been, but the new CEO is all about test scores and wouldn’t listen to us, the folks in the trenches, when we tried to show him that we could positively affect student achievement through the use of technology. Oh well, we’re just the ones with the kids, don’t listen to us.
Matt Johnston says
I wrote about this same article here and closed my argument with a similar one that I have seen in these comments–technology is no substitute for substance.
I am sure that there are many teachers out there who have successfully integrated technology and technology based instruction into their classroom. I am also sure that there are teachers who, for whatever reason, never will make that move. The key question is, are they able to provide the necessary content instruction to their students no matter how they present the material?
I know that some teachers are arguing that there needs to be more technological relevance to education content and I am fully cognizant of that need. However, as presented in this article (admittedly a biased view), you have to wonder if the technology is like sweet tasting icing on a poorly made cake.
M. Walker says
I was forwarded this article by one of the media specialists in our district. Here are my thoughts:
1) Tim hit the nail on the head. I think the biggest problem was that the technology implementation appears to have been “top-down.” Staff were given tools and told to use them. That was very evident in the article, despite being 1/2 a continent away.
2) There are several teachers in our district who wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiments of the article. As a tech integrationist, I need to listen to their concerns, not dismiss them out of hand. At the same time, I have often found that once reluctant staff find an aspect of a tool that they like to use for their own use, they then are ready to buy into using it with their students.
3) One method used by our district is to have teachers apply for “grants” to get new tools, such as Interwrite pads. Part of the grant requires them to come up with a plan for assessing the educational impact of using the tool. This gives people the option, and also makes them accountable for implementation. Those that do not wish to use it need not apply!
Lois Giordano says
Your idea of teachers applying for grants to get new tools is really smart. I could see myself observing the use of a tool and then applying to use it myself, with a plan in hand for how I would use it. That certainly builds in accountability and gives the teacher a vested interest in making it work.
Technology in our district is a privilege and is seen, by most of us, as a valued tool. There are some that are dragging their feet but the administration is implementing new mandatory technology tools that make it hard for them to resist any longer. Grade book software with the cabablities of uploading to the web is our latest concern. One thing our district does well is to provide the proper training so that those who do not feel as comfortable are able to do what is asked of them. How often do we see our students shut down when they are asked to do/understand something completely foreign to them?? I see the same reaction in many of my colleagues.
Clay Burell says
Boy, Carolyn Foote was at her pithy best with that comment. Bam!
I believe we do need to integrate technology in relevant ways. In our HS building, some of us want more access to and training in technology and are fought by administrators who are not technically savvy – and therefore don’t understand the need or see the possibilities for students. Students also will need to be trained in the appropriate uses within the educational setting and guided to discovering that computers are not primarily gaming and social-networking tools. Technology can be utilized to enhance deep learning, and maintain the human connection.
David Futch says
I love interactive boards and I have seen how they can transform a classroom into an active learning environment. The portable tablet is the answer to get the teacher away from the front of the classroom and allow proximity to students that may be off task. It has nothing to do with being lazy but has everything to do with engaging students. The “clickers” are wonderful tools that engage every student and provide both the student and teacher with immediate feedback on the learning process. And if you have to use the same old questions, so what! Are there really any new questions about the War of 1812? Probably not, but if we can engage just a few more students why not give it a try.
There are sure ways to learn but I think it would be better for all of us to accept the changes that comes along the way. Personally, I think it is just right to adapt the modern technology and all that it caters. As the well quoted saying goes “nothing in life is constant but change”, so I think it is just right to embrace and practice what today offers.