Teachers Say Tech Is Important but Training Is Too

by Liz Willen, The Hechinger Report, 3/14/14

With apps for everything from annotating poetry to understanding literature through hip hop, it might have seemed teachers in attendance at the sprawling South by Southwest.edu (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas last week were hungry for new tools and technology….

Yet many teachers are clamoring for training on how to use this new technology to do what they do best – teach.

In a new nationwide survey of more than 600 K-12 teachers, 50% reported inadequate assistance when using technology in the classroom…. Some report feeling left out of the debate around the role of technology to improve teaching and learning.

“Teachers show up at large, industry-driven conferences feeling more than a little like middle school students at their first dance. They want to be there so badly but they are completely confused as to how they fit in and what role they should adopt,’’ Shawn Rubin of EdSurge wrote in a column after last year’s festival….

I couldn’t help wondering how teachers are adjusting to a whole new way of delivering education known as “convergence’’ – a phrase describing the transition to digitally focused classrooms that Albert Carvalho [National Superintendent of the Year—Miami/Dade County Schools FL] spoke passionately about in a keynote address.

Teachers also must adapt to new techniques like “blended learning” aimed at giving students more control over where, how and when they learn – often partly online. Some schools offer incentives for teachers; I heard a lot about “blended learning coaches’’ to help with digital transitions.

But what happens if teachers are resistant? A reply came quickly from Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of schools in Middletown NY, who has been recognized as one of the “Top 10 Tech-Savvy Superintendents,” by eSchool News: “Teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t,” he replied.

It’s a lot more complicated, of course, as Benjamin Herold of Education Week notes in his recent story on the challenges schools face when they want to run schools with a technology-based focus.

After the Austin conference, I called S. Dallas Dance, another tech-savvy superintendent who wants make sure teachers are ready to meet students in the digital world. In Baltimore County, MD he’s pushing the district of 174 schools toward a digital conversion. He’s also identified specialists “who have to be fully knowledgeable about instruction and [have] a willingness to learn how to imbed technology” into classrooms, he said.

Dance acknowledged that some teachers are resistant, but more are enthusiastic.  He added that it helps to keep the focus on curriculum and training – especially in a district where all students will soon have a digital tablet to bring to school.

“Curriculum drives it; not the device,” Dance said. “The sticking point is training to make it work.  If [school systems] think of it as a device, things will get dicey. It is what you are trying to do through the device that counts.”

Liz Willen is editor of The Hechinger Report—a nonprofit news organization focused on in-depth education journalism.

See also in ClassWise:  “The Promise of Blended Learning”

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