I was scrolling through tumblr today and came across holtthink’s post, which posed an excellent question: “should we still have sympathy for teachers who don’t use technology” or “don’t get computers?” It’s a fair question, and one I’ve come across many times. I would argue that, yes, we need to have sympathy for these teachers and moreover, we need to provide them with appropriate, sustained support in learning to use and integrate new technologies into their classrooms.
With the smartphones in our pockets, the ubiquity of social media, and the growing presence of online education and resources, it is easy to think that using technology in curricula should be simple and widespread. While it is true that technology is a part of daily life for most of us, that does not necessarily mean that we know how to translate our casual use of it into the professional art of teaching. Holtthink references a tweet he read that asserted people who buy iPads don’t need PD on how to use them, but I have to disagree. While they may know how to use a device recreationally, many teachers aren’t sure how to creatively maximize their use of a tablet in a classroom, nor are they necessarily sure what functionality may differ between laptops, tablets, and PCs. I’ve observed several classrooms where expensive technology is being used to solve the same old problems and write the same old essays as would be assigned with pen and paper.
For the same reason I think we need to stop using the term “digital natives,” we must provide teachers with opportunities to intimately learn about the possibilities new technologies like tablets present that are different than what they can do with pen and paper. For teachers who are less comfortable experimenting with technology (of any age or era), it can seem intimidating and even scary to implement new technologies in a classroom of 40 students, even if they use Facebook or read blogs. Just because we know how to use technology for our personal needs does not mean that we necessarily feel comfortable manipulating it for classroom use. Furthermore, it is imperative that we do not discount what knowledge, experiences, and understandings about learning that not-so-tech-savvy teachers bring to the table. While they may not be comfortable manipulating technology, they do know a lot about pedagogy and engagement, both of which are necessary for coming up with innovative ways to use technology in the classroom.
While we may know how to type up a paper or comment on a blog or post, some teachers may not intuitively know why they might use paperless grading, how to use discussion forums to enhance classroom discussion, or in what ways they can encourage new forms of engagement by using blogging to help students work through thoughts and concepts.
It is also important to recognize that teachers work under several constraints, not the least of which concern privacy issues and access to content on school servers. Federal laws and local school policies present huge hurdles teachers must be wary of when using networked technology. Something that seems as simple as creating a Google account so students can engage in collaborative writing in Google Docs can make children vulnerable, and may not be allowed in some districts. In addition to teaching teachers how to use new technologies in their classrooms, we mus give them the tools they need to do so under the limitations they face.
So yes, we should not only sympathize with teachers who feel uneasy with technology, but should give them the time and resources to try out new tech and take risks in their implementations of it. We need to encourage teachers to experiment with new technologies just as we encourage our students to try on and test out new concepts. Learning something new is hard, but practice makes permanent, and a bit of support can have a huge impact.