Sunday, May 10, 2015

I hate "technology"

Oftentimes, I'm asked to help teachers integrate "technology" into their curriculum and, the older I get, the more it makes me cringe.

  1. First, I ask: What do you call "technology?" Are you referring to anything electronic? New technology? What is technology to you?
  2. Why do they need to integrate the so-called "technology?"
  3. And, what purpose will the "technology" serve?
  4. What impact will the technology have?

I've been asked this question so many times by administrators and those who are excited to create change that it begins to repel the very teachers we want to change. They begin to see it for what the question is - adding something to the classroom for the sake of adding something.

So, I've started something called the "windmill" answer. I choose windmills because they seem absurd, but they get the point across. When windmills were first invented, they were new technology. However, it would sound ridiculous to ask a teacher to figure out how to integrate this windmill into their classroom. We did not force windmills into each classroom, but we did bring in the thought and the science behind windmills into classrooms and workplaces.

I hate "technology" when we call it the tool - when we call it the windmill. What we need to integrate into classrooms is the thought behind the technology tools. And, we must remember, that everything was a "technology at one time." Technology - as I call it - are the ideas behind tools, not the tools themselves. We must distinguish. Bringing in one device for every student will certainly help some matters, but it will not revolutionize schools. The ideas behind those devices - the ability to collaborate, communicate globally, create, and think critically - will. It's the soft skills we want. It's the soft skills that will revolutionize the world.

And, why do they need to integrate "technology?" Well, I'd argue that teachers do not need to focus on integrating technology when it is tool. However, the way many systems ask teachers to integrate technology infuriates the very teachers we want to change. We continue to drill that teachers must integrate technology, but we don't clarify what technology is. Perhaps, that is because the idea of integrating technology is still a blurry concept.

When pencils and paper first were put into use, we did not ask users to integrate them. Rather, they began to use them because they served a purpose. They were tools and we used the tools because they were more efficient. Likewise, what we call technology today should also be used because of efficiency or productivity. If it is not being used, we need to question why. Is it because it is not as efficient or because we have not shown users its efficiency?

Teachers need to implement the ideas that revolutionize. The tools will come as they become more efficient. Our push should not necessarily be on getting more devices in the classroom (though, it certainly needs to happen), but on changing thought. The devices will come.

We must ask what purpose technology (as a tool) will serve. If we can't define the purpose, it needs to be questioned. When I first started teaching, I had a SmartBoard. I loved the SmartBoard. However, a few years later when I was a tech director, I was asked to help train on Promethean boards - the same concept - and I struggled to answer "why." At that time, there were other tools - more efficient tools - that the district was already using. It became a tool that I had to sell. I don't sell tools. I share ideas. Be sure you don't find yourself selling a tool. If you do, let the tool rest.

We need to also ask what impact technology will have. I have a debate with my parents oftentimes about what skills still need to be taught in schools. At one time, we needed to know how to make fires from scratch. We need to know how to hunt; to gather. Though, you could argue that those are always essential skills, they are not a requirement of schools anymore. Instead, we know efficient ways to complete those skills and then, make advancements. We invented the freezer so now, we can hunt and gather less frequently.

There is fear of many - I find myself there at times too - to let go of teaching some knowledge in the fear that it will somehow tarnish a memory or generational tie. It will change us. That is for sure. However, it can also advance us. If a student knows how to find an answer quicker than someone can recall it, is that a bad thing? What can we do to challenge this student to invent the freezer, to take that skill further? When thinking of knowledge, think of the freezer - think of what can be done to innovate with it.

Yes, I am an instructional technology specialist and I hate technology but I love innovation. I love the ideas behind technology. I enjoy technology as a consumer, but as a producer, I want to create. I want to innovate. I want to learn the ideas behind technology so I can be a producer and a maker too.

Let's become makers and not just consumers.

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