Recently, I recalled an article I stumbled onto a few years ago titled "Classroom Technology Integration: Six Easy Steps". The article offered bits and pieces about starting slow, choosing easy to use technology, walking students through processes, and how to "manage technology behavior" (not real sure what managing behavior means). The article even suggesting that students would benefit from technology if their teacher was lacking "fundamental teaching theory" due to the fact students could still access information. In the end, this article, from the title, to its contents, represents all that is wrong with technology integration and why many schools get it wrong- it is not easy.
If integrating technology in the classroom beyond the electric pencil sharpener were easy, the heaping pile of SMART Boards in the landfill would not exist. Fifteen years ago, the sounds of drills echoed down school halls as SMART Board after SMART Board was installed. Yet for all the excitement, this early integration failed because teachers were under-trained and spent most of their time trying to get the device to work. Jump to the present and it seems that we continue to repeat the same integration mistakes of the past- buy devices, put them in teachers' hands, and seamless integration will take place. The reality is, the focus often falls incorrectly on which device to use and how teachers will use said device instead of on how to integrate the device, teacher support, and learning goals. In the end, there are no "Six Easy Steps" to classroom integration.
The phrase "seamless integration" of technology in education, is thrown around regularly. However, challenging students academically, trying new methods to support student learning, and incorporating new teaching styles in the classroom is anything but seamless. The dream of technology integration should be its invisible role in the learning process. Technology should be as inconspicuous as a pencil, paper, or table in the classroom. Though the reality is, in the words of Irish poet W.B. Yeats, things fall apart.
Embedding effective technology integration requires us to deal first with non-technological elements.
Number 1: Lessen the load teachers carry
While teachers' class sizes get bigger, requirements broader, and responsibility greater, we ask them to take on the task of integrating technology. In doing this, teachers are radically altering the teaching formula they have used, in some instances, for decades. Something has to give. If one more thing is placed on teachers' plates, something needs to be taken off. Perhaps self reflection on current practices may reveal methods that are no longer effective. Wipe these from your plate.
Number 2: Provide embedded and meaningful professional learning
Technology integration does not just happen, teachers must be supported through professional learning opportunities. Schools serious about integration need to shift their professional development approaches. Providing embedded time during the work day for professional learning, opportunities to observe colleagues, and working with coaches are sound practices. If teachers are expected to shift their pedagogy in a technology integrated environment, school culture toward support of teacher learning must also shift.
Yes, I am guilty of leading professional development that focuses on the latest app, or Google Doc trick. However, to really support teachers I think we need to offer more leaning opportunities on how to supply timely feedback to students, best practices in grading, and how to collaborate with students. Lets face it, teachers became teachers to teach what they love. This needs to be supported.
Number 3: Develop a shared vision for integration
The use of technology in the classroom must be deliberate and driven by a shared "why?". Forming a goal or purpose offers us a reason to work toward integration. Without a shared vision, we are just using technology for technology's sake. Whether working toward specific student learning outcomes, offering more effective feedback, collaboration with parents, or improving efficiency, goals need to be identified first. The right technology tool to meet the goal should follow.
Number 4: Technology is not pedagogy
Critical thinking, collaboration, inspiration, empathy, and persistence are not taught by computers. They are taught by teachers. Five years ago I started to flip classes. The technology was slick and my Moodle page looked awesome. The assessments, videos, and resources were all great. But, I had forgotten one thing, my role as the teacher. The first few semesters of flipping were disastrous. I erroneously thought the technology could teach my students and I would just guide them. After nearly giving up on blended learning, I realized the fundamental component of technology integration was not the technology, but me. I began to leverage technology to allow me to spend more time with individual students in more meaningful engagement than I had ever previously experienced.
Long before their were computers, SMART Boards, or electric pencil sharpeners, teachers did what teachers still do today: coach, inspire, gather resources, facilitate, guide, assess, communicate with parents, collaborate with peers, cry when students hurt, and celebrate when students succeed. These things can never be replaced by technology. But, what if we could harness the potential technology in the classroom offers to have more time to coach, to assess, to collaborate with peers, to communicate with parents, to cry and laugh with students, and teach?
No, there are no "Six Easy Steps" to technology integration.
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