Trouble with Tech? How to get all on board.

This post was co-written by Weston Kieschnick and Nathan Lang.

We know educators will implement change with fidelity only when they believe wholeheartedly in the change. When it comes to technology in the classroom, let’s consider a typical implementation cycle. For our example, let’s call this new technology “Thingamajig 2.0″ (i.e.idea, app, device, etc.). Thingamajig infiltrates it’s way to education circles. The circles usually look something like this:

The edgy-techy-SJFC (Steve Jobs Fan Club) educators implement immediately because it’s the hottest, flashy, and new thing to hit the circles.

The masses take a deep breath and question this as the “new thing.” Thingamajig 2.0 could be promising, but they are uneasy because it’s new, risky, and unknown.

The skeptics are still grappling with the last thingamijig 1.0 and can’t believe we are even considering the new thingamajig 2.0. Even the “point-0” is just grotesque.

Because of this categorization, classroom instruction is chronically immune to innovation. The SJFC will always be outnumbered (at least initially) by the masses and the skeptics. And who wants to fight the masses in the education space? It’s a pretty good way to get yourself labeled as somehow anti-teacher and/or just plain unappreciative.

So as time passes, Thingamajig 2.0 is implemented (whether the masses love it initially or not). The masses finally get comfortable with 2.0, and 2.0 becomes a normal part of their routine. It goes from the “new thing” to being “the thing.”  The masses insist that the skeptics give 2.0 a try. Skeptics, begrudgingly try it out (out of peer pressure or just out of compliance), grappling with it initially, but eventually decide it’s not too bad.  From out of nowhere, Thingamajig 3.0 makes a grand entrance into the circles, meeting a standing ovation from the SFJC, the masses scratching their heads, and the skeptics rubbing their temples.

How do we break this cycle? Let’s consider a couple of metaphors…

Technology in Education is like a strong cup of coffee.  The very first sip you ever had probably made you mash up your face…but it wasn’t long before you wondered how you ever got through a day without it. But, much like a cup of coffee, ed tech should never be the best or most important part of one’s day. In the excitement centered around technology, some have rushed to put devices in an undeserved place of prominence.

phoneglassFor proof, take a moment and place your cell phone on top of a glass of water near you. Nervous?  You should be. These two are a historically odd couple. As you look at the phone teetering perilously on top of the water glass, imagine for a moment that the cup of water represents your classroom.  The water inside of it is nourishing. This is the good stuff. Think of the water as our academic outcomes. Think of the water as our content standards. These are what we want kids to “drink up” in the classroom.

Now imagine your phone represents educational technology. In the rush and excitement to integrate tech with academics, devices now sit in a place of unnatural prominence in many schools. While the SJFCs might argue this is a good thing, the masses and skeptics are justified in their skepticism. This model is unbalanced. It places too much focus on the device, and repositions academic outcomes as a means of supporting the development of tech competencies. Meanwhile, teachers sit nervously on the periphery, fearful of disrupting the system, and now suddenly unsure of their place in this new world.

Our goal is a reversed version of this model.  One where technology serves to support teachers as they guide kids toward mastery of academic outcomes. This model is stable.  This model is balanced.  This model accounts for the fact that the most important thing we can put in any classroom has always been and will always be a highly competent teacher.

How do implement technology in a way that all three circles (SJFC, masses, and skeptics) can successfully support students in advancing learning? We recommend the PBL (Purpose, Bridge, and Language) test prior to your implementation:

Purpose. Has it been communicated? What it is and what it is not? Does professional development build on the purpose?

Bridge. Does the technology build a bridge to learning? Will this technology augment my learning? Push my thinking? Provide more opportunities to problem solve and think critically? Open up the doors of collaboration and communication?

Language. Does it incorporate the language of students? What will my students think? Will this resonate with them?

Using this undogmatic approach ensures that we aren’t teetering our phones on top of the water glass or jumping in on the latest fad. It reframes the implementation to ensure our focus is on learning and student growth through an innovative medium.

We can’t be content to sit on the shoreline while wave after wave of innovation crashes into the shore at our feet. We’ve been on that shoreline for fifteen years already; staring into the distance waiting for the sun to set on the 20th century so we can finally bask in the warmth of 21st century teaching and 21st century skills. We’ve missed the sunrise. It came while we were dodging the waves. It’s time to catch up.  It’s time to ride the waves of innovation.

About the Authors:

kieschnick_weston-1Weston Kieschnick is a presenter, speaker, and PD facilitator. He has been a teacher, instructional coach, and an administrator. He co-authored the Learning Uninterrupted series from Lead + Learn Press and is the creator of the ATLAS Instructional Design Model. He is currently a Lead Education Services Consultant with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.




Nathan Lang Twitter Pic Fall2015Nathan D. Lang, EdD, is a presenter, speaker, and writer. He has been a teacher, an education supervisor at NASA, elementary and high school administrator, professor, and director of curriculum/instruction. He is currently a National Content Specialist with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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