Stop Talking About the Tools!

Tim over at Assorted Stuff directed me to the debate about how to deal with the ongoing issues related to teachers using technology. It started with Jeff Utrecht at TechLearning blogging about teachers’ fears in using technology. Then, David Warlick jumped in with something of a rant about being tired of hearing about teachers not wanting to learn and not seeing the power of technology to transform teaching and learning. The comments ranged from absolute agreement to finger pointing at others in the system like administrators and IT directors to lamenting all the old barriers like poor infrastructure and lack of time.

The real problem, IMHO, is that we, as technology advocates, are part of the problem. And the blog posts and comments are a perfect example of this. They are all about the TOOLS! Jeff talked about putting shortcuts to Skype and Google Earth on the desktop, but no one wanted to click on them. David built on this point by suggesting that we needed to get teachers to play more. All tool-centered.

I think Audrey, who commented on David’s post, was the closest to getting past the tool-centered approach when she said, “If you really want to make them move? Give them real reasons to buy in.” But, then she went on to describe her principal who gave the tech-using teachers smartboards and that made others want smartboards, too. Still tool-centered.

What’s my suggestion? Stop starting with the tools and start with the real reasons teachers should be using the tools: to support all types of teaching and learning. Here’s an example from my own work. I did a workshop this summer and I got the title wrong. I thought it was supposed to be about online collaboration. (The real title, actually, was online collaboration tools.) But, I’m glad I got the title wrong. Why? Because I started with ideas for online collaboration and steered the teachers to places like Global SchoolNet and iEARN. I showed them Dr. Judi Harris’s approach to online teaching and learning in which she starts with activity structures, which are the pedagogical approaches that teachers use in the classroom whether or not they are using technology. I called that section of the presentation “giving teachers REASONS to use online tools.”

Only then, after establishing some pedagogically sound and curriculum-based ideas for integrating, did I spend a little bit of time talking about some of the tools. If you look at my wikispaces page for the workshop, you’ll see that I chose pretty judiciously, again keeping pedagogy and curriculum in mind. For instance, I think LibraryThing has lots of possibilities for teachers. Ditto for Gliffy.

I think we need to be careful about both how we approach this, and I think we also need to be honest about our real motives. I think I share with Tim and David and Jeff a sense that classrooms really haven’t changed all that much since we were in school…lots of textbook reading and worksheets. Yes, boys, that does bother me. Especially when I look at the way I learn now. I’m prepping for my comprehensive exams and using all sorts of tools like Google docs and this blog to prepare. But, I’m in a classroom of one, with access to all the technology and high-bandwidth infrastructure that I need. In addition, I have a disposition towards the tools, tinkering with them to see how they can help me both learn and organize information and knowledge more effectively and efficiently. Let’s be honest…this really isn’t about tools, it’s about what David hints at when he talks about the 21st century classroom, adopting new pedagogical approaches like project-based learning and jettisoning what many of us see as a narrow, test-driven curriculum that turns exciting subjects like history and science into factoids to be memorized. That’s a much different conversation than talking about why teachers don’t immediately embrace Twitter.

I would encourage everyone to read Dr. Judi Harris’s editorial on technology integration from the CITE journal. She wrote it in 2005 but it is still very much relevant today. My post draws much from her words as she organized much of what I had also been thinking about at the time.


  1. dwarlick

    A great post and right to the heart of the problem. I must say that you pretty grossly misrepresent my position with you say:

    …being tired of hearing about teachers not wanting to learn and not seeing the power of technology to transform teaching and learning.

    I italicized “Integrating Technology” in my post for the sake of my regular readers who know how much I detest the term, that this mantra has probably done more to hurt the cause than help it.

    It’s why, at the end of many of my keynote addresses, I say, “We need to stop integrating technology, and instead, integrate literacy — but redefine literacy so that it reflects today’s information landscape.”

    If we can figure out how to do this, then the technology will come along. But not because we’re convinced that it will make kids smarter. It will come because it’s the pencil and paper of our time.

    Thanks again, and I love this theme…

    — dave —

  2. Wow, you’re a fast reader, David! Sorry you feel I misrepresented your argument. I was drawing on your quotes, “I would want to ask, “You call yourself a teacher?” Who more than teachers should be willing and eager to learn new things?” and “I think that our children have every right to expect that their teachers will teach more from today’s information landscape.”

    As an aside, I think we put a lot on teachers…they are, after all, part of a system, that as many of your commenters pointed out, they don’t have any control over it.

  1. 1 hendron’s digest » Blog Archive » Is a focus on tools a problem?

    […] Karen Richardson recently wrote about her lament on the focus of tools instead of… something else with regards to technology-using teachers. Warlick chimed-in on her post, evidently he feels still it’s literacy that ought to be focused-upon. […]

  2. 2 Gary Stager « In Another Place

    […] do believe that those Mr. Stager criticizes are about more than just the tools; however, I have questioned that in an earlier post.   I think they reason they believe in the “end of school” (you […]

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