STOP Teaching Tech!

This is my soap box. I started climbing it yesterday as I was reading articles and posts about technology in the classroom. I hesitated as I neared the top.

I hope that readers will forgive me if I step on the soap box every once in awhile to question trends I see in educational discussions. I hope you will keep the discussion going and correct me if I am in error.

STOP Teaching Technology To Students
Charlie Roy, in a guest post for Dangerously Irrelevant, clearly stated reasons why teachers should focus on pedagogy, not tech. This is my own proverbial litmus test:

If, after the first month of school, I spend more than 10 minutes teaching a program or tool, I’m doing something wrong. Take, for example, movie-making:

Month 1: Spend 90 minutes teaching students to make movies and make quality productions.
Month 2: Students videotape themselves to practice speaking and evaluate improvement for a Living Museum project.
Month 3: Students video a book talk to demonstrate knowledge of reading skills.
Month 4: Students demonstrate scientific process through video
Month 5: Students use video to communicate their learning to parents.

Notice how the activities for months 2-6 comprise specific teaching points. Students should speak clearly (eye contact, volume, posture, etc.), analyze and self-evaluate speaking skills, demonstrate reading comprehension, demonstrate use of the scientific process, and communicate learning to parents.

If, after the first month of school, students are asking me questions about tech tools rather than content, I am doing something wrong. Students can Google search almost any tech question. My tech-savvy colleagues have created video tutorials to remind students of Google site basics. Feel free to use those videos with your students. Students need to know how and where to research to find answers to general technical problems.

STOP Teaching Technology To Teachers…Unless they ask
We learn to use what we need to use.
I spent a whole semester learning to use SPSS for statistical research. I’m using six commands to complete my dissertation. After a semester’s-worth of work, I remember six commands. Teachers, in general, are practical people. If they see a direct link between a tech-based activity and increased student learning, they’ll want to find out more.

Suggestion 1: Rethink PD
We tell teachers It’s not about the technology – it’s about the learning, but we model the opposite. We plan professional development sessions around “How to use…” Instead, consider the following:

  1. Spend some time with teachers and teaching teams. Find out what they’re doing. Learn what they want their students to learn. Then, prepare PD by playing with some tools that you believe will enhance what teachers are already doing.
  2. Spend the first 30 minutes of PD showing (not telling) teachers ideas that enhance the learning currently going on in the classroom. Anticipatory sets apply to teacher learning too.
  3. Offer breakout sessions where teachers learn one of the tools demonstrated. We preach differentiation. Model it. Let tech-savvy teachers run the breakouts. Better yet, let students run sessions.

Suggestion 2: Employ an “Each one Teach one” philosophy.
My students have been making iMovies for three years. I made my first iMovie six months ago. Here’s how my students learned:

  • My teaching partner taught his class.
  • We scheduled an hour for his students to teach my students (60 min of tech).
  • I scheduled an hour for my students to teach another class of students (60 min of communication).

We have used this method to teach movie-making, podcasts, and Google ePortfolio sites. Only 60 minutes are spent “learning” the technology.

The other 60 minutes are about communication. We have one rule for students teaching students: Student “teachers” are not allowed to touch student “learner”s’ computers. The “teachers” can use any number of methods to communicate procedures. They can use words. They can set a computer beside the learner’s computer and model the actions. They can point learners to video tutorials. They can write lists of steps.

The “Each one Teach one” process helps allay the fears of teachers who are insecure about their own tech abilities. This doesn’t, however, give them permission to stop teaching. Instead of teaching tech, these teachers should be responsible for helping students analyze the quality of the layout, the presentation, and the content. They should be circulating and saying things like,

  • I like how you…,
  • That looks like it would be helpful for [so-and-so]… Can you show him/her?,
  • I need to see [x]…Can you figure out how to do that?,
  • I don’t understand what you mean by…,
  • Why did you choose…?
I agree with Matt Bromley: We may be unintentionally scaring teachers away from using technology in the classroom because we make it too complicated. Keep it simple.
  1. Give teachers permission to not know all the technology tools.
  2. Help teachers empower student discovery of cool tech things.
  3. Encourage teachers to focus on holding students accountable for their choices of tools, their uses of tools, and the quality of work produced.

13 thoughts on “STOP Teaching Tech!

    • I have that rule in my classroom! They can direct the steps for their classmate to take, but cannot do it themselves! (I also apply this same rule to myself, so I know how maddening it can be… “no, no, no, RIGHT click on the little icon.”)

      These are great points. I try to add a few more tidbits each time I use a tech tool in the classroom… But no more than 10-15 min of “tech teaching” per week, unless it’s mini-lessons for kids who are struggling. The real techie nerds FLY ahead!

      • Yeah, it’s so valuable to give students a real-life need to use precise vocabulary. They start with “No, no, put the thingy over there – not there, THERE – I mean, over the picture of a compass!”

        They get better at it with time :).

  1. WOW!

    This is what I tell people all the time! I want them to stop teaching me tech for sure. As more tech natives replace tech immigrants, the need for anything in technology to be taught to a staff will become more and more obsolete. In fact, I argue that “Tech Integration Specialists” who work at schools but don’t teach classes to the student population (rather, they work with teachers) will become totally obsolete with time.

    So, what do you do with that valuable, budgeted position? Problem solve solutions to the classroom and find answers with or without technology. What ever works the best should be done, not tech for the sake of tech by someone who needs to justify their position by pushing more technology where it is not effective or even wanted.

    • Thanks, Jim. I remember going to a high school with an outstanding tech program. We had a whole room-full of computers. We read a textbook about computers, learned Apple and Word Perfect functions, and learned to program in Basic and Paschal.

      Many articles are written stating that the jobs our students will be doing are not even created yet. If that is the case (and I believe it is), we need to use tech to teach critical thinking, research, nonfiction reading, and writing fluency.

      Ideally, schools would put at least one tech-savvy classroom teacher at each grade level. Send those teachers to conferences and ask them to come back with grade-specific ideas. Then, spread the wealth through an “Each on teach one” approach.

      Then again, I’m not in charge of the world :).

  2. Cool, when I was an e-learning leader and planned a whole day of e-learning PD, I did the things you mentioned here: Demonstrate practical applications for simple tech tools, then offered break-out sessions where people could choose which tool they wanted to explore, presented by other teachers who were using these tools in their classrooms, and then we all met again in our planning teams to share what we have learnt and think-tank on how we could incorporate these tools in our planning…great fun with wonderful feedback from staff. I bet if we all just took half a day to walk around our schools we will see how teachers are using tech tools to enhance learning for the kids. Make some notes and ask these teachers to share what they do with others, and before long, we have a sharing-learning community going.

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  4. Technology use, like any other skill, benefits from coaching and challenging, and can stagnate if people _don’t know what they don’t know_. Saying you won’t directly mentor about technology after the first session doesn’t make any more sense than saying a teacher can Google for teaching advice after the first few lessons on how to teach.

    I think one of the challenges is that there’s too many different tools being thrown at people (including students) at once. Focus the energy on fewer tools at a time, but give consistent coaching (along with self-help on students part) and they’ll get beyond novice level.

    • Hi Robbie,
      Thanks for your comment. I like what you said about coaching and challenging. In my mind, there is a difference between direct teaching and mentoring/coaching. After the first few weeks of school, the challenge is to use the tools to make projects higher and higher quality. As I’m monitoring student work, I might ask, “How might you make this more visually pleasing?” or “In what ways might you combine tools to make your message more clear?” I’m okay letting students explore the answers to those questions.

      For me, lesson content (reading, writing, social studies, or science objectives) are of primary concern. Standards are taught and reviewed and mentored and coached and reviewed and revised and taught again as necessary. Students cannot Google those things any more than a teacher can Google teaching skills.

      Students _can_ Google technological processes, such as how to use Prezi to demonstrate reading comprehension (see The actual technology questions can most often be answered through online tutorials or through classroom “experts.” My experience is that students find amazing things within the tools – tricks, shortcuts, and features that I have not yet found. And, when students view other students’ work, they become inspired to use the new features in their own projects.

      I agree that too many tools are thrown at once. It always goes back to the questions, “What do I want students to know and be able to do?” and “How will I know when they know and can do those things?” At the beginning of the year, I want them to be able to use certain tools for communication, creation, and such. After the first few months, I want students to know and be able to do content area standards. Technology can aid in that end – but technology is not an end in itself.

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