Teachers vs. Technology

Part 1 of 5 in a series By CUE guest blog editor Doug Robertson

Teachers who are comfortablTeachers vs. Education Technologye with technology, who use it regularly in class, who know the ways to get students to learn effectively (read: not “Open this app. Now do the thing.) are not the majority. We, the computer-using teachers, are the minority in our schools and districts.

Yes, most of our districts use technology. Our staffs are on email. Attendance is taken online. They might even work on some sort of a shared drive (or Drive). But at this point in education that isn’t using technology. That’s like having an airplane and using the engines to roll to your next destination. Sure, you could call yourself a pilot and you’re sitting in the cockpit, but you aren’t flying anywhere. You’ll never be over Macho Grande.

I worry that some of us are so ingrained in the technological aspects of teaching that we forget to look around and see our hunt-and-peck, afraid-to-click-Update colleagues. Or if we do see them we judge them and judge them harshly. We forget how scary technology can be.

This is a hard lesson for me. I’m in that first generation that had a computer in the house. I begged for internet and we got it. Remember when you couldn’t use the phone while you were online? When Pitfall Harry was the height of gaming protagonists? Remember having to know DOS? I do, and that means that I’ve never had the computer fear. I’m not worried that a button is going to bring the whole artifice crashing down. I know I can’t break the internet.

But some of my fellow teachers and some of yours, might not know that. They use the computer for the barest possible minimum they can. Not because they don’t want to use the computer, but because they honestly don’t know how to use it better.

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Here the flip response is to say, “Well they ought to get trained and ask.” (In gamerspeak that would be, “Git gud, no0b,” but you knew that because you’re caught up with that your students are doing online and are hip to the lingo.)

There’s a problem with that– it forgets how human people act when they don’t know something. Human people get embarrassed. Human people are shy. Professional human people, like our fellow teachers, are aware of the amount they don’t know and that bothers them even more. It’s like deciding to go on a diet. You don’t just wake up one day and think, “Holy rusted metal, Batman! How did this happen!?!” It’s a long process and you feel your body changing. But at some point your brain switches from, “I need to do something about this,” to, “I’m so far behind I’m never going to catch up so why bother?” That’s where some of our friends are. They watched technology get a foothold, didn’t get on board, and now I’m in their room telling them to check their Google Calendar because  we’re going to Google Hangout with a teacher in the United Arab Emirates didn’t they get my spreadsheet that I shared with them on Google Drive? They have editing rights, they could have fixed it. I might as well be speaking Latin. That’s a lot of catching up to do.

And it’s not their fault. Not really. The technology moved too fast and when the bus was at their stop they were busy lesson planning for today. Districts are notorious about being behind the technology curve anyway. These teachers would have been doing the work on their own. Easy if you like it. Hard if you don’t or if you’ve got more pressing matters at home. Tiny kids are the anti-training.

There are more of them than there are of us. We forget that. Technology is scary. We forget that.

I watched a technology higher-up in my district make a big group of non-savvy teachers feel terrible about themselves a few days ago in a training. The things he said, the tone he said the things in, and the way he helped them were all the opposite of the way any classroom teacher would have helped a student with the same problem. He cut them down and made them feel bad because they had been busy teaching instead of reading the latest Google Classroom press release. Was he trying to hurt their feelings? I don’t think so, but honestly that’s immaterial. He did and it made them less motivated to pick up that piece of technology and try again. Especially in front of their students.

We are supposed to be the lead learner in our classrooms. We’re the guide. If we’re brave then when we don’t know we let the kids guide. That’s scary with technology. It’s really scary if all you hear about the internet is there’s viruses, credit card thieves, and child pornographers. I heard a technology “expert” from the local police tell a group of parents almost that at a school technology night. No one wants to experiment on that platform with their kids. Let’s not get into doing it on your own time for free. That’s great for some of us because we like it, but it sets a bad precedent.

It’s our job as computer-using teachers to make the technology more accessible to our fellow professionals. Visit classrooms, offer help, ask questions. I’ve run tech trainings for my staff and on more than one occasion I’ve heard from a participant, “That’s the first time a computer training hasn’t made me feel like an idiot.” That’s sad.

It’s cliché to talk about technology being the future of education, especially since it’s been true since literally forever depending on how you define technology. Playing catch-up is hard and it’s hard for a professional to admit when there’s a gaping hole in our knowledge. Most of our technologically-challenged teachers know they’re behind. They don’t have the context to know if they are way behind or a little behind or somewhere in the middle. Tech-savvy teachers need to be better at finding access points for everyone. We need to be better at not making those who don’t know feel guilty for their ignorance. We need to be better at adjusting our help speed and frequency based on the needs of individuals. We need to be glad these teachers are willing to learn and grow even if they didn’t know how to start or what questions to ask.

You know, we need to teach.

I’m giving you homework. I know, homework is evil and bad. I’ve been in those edchats too. I’m still giving you homework. Go find a fellow teacher who is struggling with some aspect of technology. Smile at him or her. Try to lend a hand. Report back here to the comments section and let us know how it went.

Doug RobertDoug Robertson - CUE Guest Blog Editorson is a ninth-year teacher currently talking at fourth graders in Southern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST. East coast teachers can participate in #WeirdEdE Wednesday at 7pm EST.

8 thoughts on “Teachers vs. Technology”

  1. This is well-said, really great advice. Easy for me to say, because I’m currently out of the classroom in grad school, and don’t have to act on it! Offering unsolicited tech help is almost as tough as asking for tech help. How do you do it without also making someone feel stupid?

    1. I think it’s in how you present the material, like with our kids. Slow the speed and watch for cues that the person isn’t getting it so you don’t have to say, “Understand? Got it?” every two minutes.
      And for pitching it I think enthusiasm will help. Rather than, “You should do this thing,” we present as, “Have you seen this? It’s really cool!” Or asking for help. “Hey, I have this tool and I’m not sure how to make it work for my kids. Ideas? Here’s how it works.” Then we’re teaching without Teaching.

  2. Love it. The airplane analogy is one I will use with my teachers, even those who haven’t watched Airplane II. And I have also gotten the comment from surprised teachers that “I didn’t make them feel stupid”, which I appreciate but seems like damning with faint praise.

    Everything you say is true, and I recognize that, but that doesn’t help ME with my impatience. Being patient with people is SLOW! And I want change to happen NOW! Just everyone sit down and listen to me!

    I know, I know, deep breaths and patience…


  3. Doug,

    What a great post and something that really resonates with me. I have a very experiences group of teachers at my building, but only a handful that are comfortable with technology (at least as true teaching tools). We are just starting to get there as a staff (this is my third year there) and as you said it takes patience and true “teaching” of our teachers. Thanks for the reminders!

  4. Great post and should be posted by the copier in schools as not-so-subtle hint.
    I grew up with computers starting in 1973 or so when you used your phone placed on top of a modem. Never scared of technology. Still have my first mac which was somewhat portable in the way that a toaster over or microwave is portable. In late 90’s there were teachers who would not turn on their computer because they didn’t know the first thing about it. I took some by the hand and got them excited about email. Helped them write their first professional goal for technology. All it takes is a friendly approach. Teachers will associate good feelings with learning tech. There are still so many things I don’t know since making the switch back to apple from two decades of windows. Now I am the receiver of knowledge. Glad that people are nice to me and patient. What goes around comes around. Thanks, Doug.

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