Monday, November 1, 2010

Shoehorning technology

When it comes to integrating technology, a lot of educators will say that everyone has to start somewhere. What this implies is that sometimes in the beginning, educator technology usage may not be very pretty.

I fear this statement gives credence to the idea that as long technology is provided for teachers they will in time figure it out. So how well have teachers done with the time we've had with all this cool technology?

The Alberta Teachers' Association published a research document titled Using Technology to Support Real Learning First in Alberta Schools that provides some insight:
Since the early 1980s, the Government of Alberta, school districts and individual schools have invested more than $1.5 billion in information and communications technology (ICT). The preponderance of this funding has been used to acquire hardware and soft ware and to keep it up to date. Spending on professional development and collaborative inquiry to help educators take advantage of these technologies has been paltry by comparison. Even less time and money have been spent on making the kind of deep cultural changes at the jurisdiction and school levels that are necessary to implement technology in a way that truly enhances student learning.
After reviewing the educational policies in place in several countries, it was concluded that most attempts to integrate technology into the classroom take place according to one of four scenarios:

Scenario 1: Policymakers attempt to “shoehorn” technology into the existing regulatory framework governing curriculum and assessment, thereby augmenting the government’s bureaucratic, centralized control over schools.
Scenario 2: Policymakers and educators acknowledge that infusing technology into schools is a complex and uncertain process. To encourage innovation and research at the school level, they relax controls and accountability mechanisms.
Scenario 3: Schools deploy technology as a way of reconceptualizing the curriculum. For example, teachers may use technology to help students understand how their community fits into the global context and what it means to be a responsible citizen. 
Scenario 4: Policymakers undertake a series of initiatives to integrate technology into schools, all of which fail. In the end, the teaching–learning process largely reverts to what it was before.
Because the education systems in the United States and Canada tend to be very controlling with their persistence for bureaucratic accountability regimes, it should be no surprise that large-scale testing programs and other command-and-control mechanisms tend to narrow curriculum, stifle technological innovation and reduce teaching to little more than an effort to boost test scores. Rather than encouraging teachers to develop innovative instructional practices, such regimes encourage educators to "shoehorn" technology in a way that merely supplements traditional, less-than-optimal teaching and learning practices which ultimately leads the classroom to revert to the way it was before. Scenarios 1 and 4 are the rule while scenarios 2 and 3 are the exceptions.

Let me be clear:

I'm not saying technology is bad just because some people misuse it. We absolutely should utilize the mind-blowing benefits of technology.

I'm not saying we can't talk about technology. We need to talk about technology. To ignore it would be to risk becoming irrelevant to our students.

I am saying that we had better talk pedagogy at least as much as we do technology. Whether we should or should not use technology in the classroom is not the real question anymore (if it ever was); instead, I believe we need to focus intensely on how we should use technology. Sixty years of research tells us that we don't internalize knowledge by simply being told to do so. Real learning is constructed from the inside while interacting with others. While examining technology with a constructivist's lens, we must discriminate between the prolific and poor uses of technology.

To accomplish all this both government and teacher unions/associations will need to devote some serious time, money and expertise to teacher professional development.


  1. Hi,

    If we are not going to help kids use technology to ' construct modern knowledge ' and make use of the readily available information as resources to answer their questions we would do better by not having technology in schools. Before the age of computers a kid had to at least read an encyclopedia and then copy it , now kids don't even read the text , just copy paste.

  2. @ Joe
    I like the framework you've come up with. My school is in the first year of a 1:1 environment and thankfully we've pumped good dollars into the preparation part for the past two years with extensive training. This makes a large difference. For teachers to change they need to be shown the path, supported, and encouraged along the way. The sad reality is that in most districts the dollars go into hardware and software but not into the training on how these technologies can transform learning.

  3. I think the question is why or why not, when or when not - not how. Which is what you're driving at.


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