Technology integration is all the rage now, as it should be. Unfortunately, most schools are getting it wrong. Here’s why:
Under the auspices of the Technology Department
The first mistake that schools make is placing the technology integrationist under the auspices of the technology department. That might seem to make sense on first blush - after all they are helping teachers use technology - but that’s where the similarity ends. Technology integration is not about the tools as much as about teaching. In most schools, the Director of Technology is not an educator; he has a technical background, and is tasked with setting up and maintaining the infrastructure that allows the school to use technology: the network; the wiring; the wireless; the printers; etc. While this is an absolutely essential role, it is not directly related to teaching or education. The integrationist is an educator first.
Confusing the roles of integrator and technician
It is not only common, but practically the rule to see an advertisement for a technology integrator that includes, under responsibilities, maintaining the network, or installing software, or setting up hardware. But the technologist is an educator, not necessarily a technician. Too many schools make the mistake of thinking that someone who can troubleshoot the network and fix the printer can also help teachers integrate technology. She may indeed be able to show a teacher how to use Google Docs, but that is not in and of itself technology integration. Schools tend to hire people with technical backgrounds thinking they can also help teachers integrate, rather than hire integrators who may - or may not - be able to fix the printer.
Flowing directly on from the last point, most of the integration we see is tool-based. A school will install interactive whiteboards in every classroom over the summer, expecting the teachers to come in the Fall and start using them. They are giving teachers a tool without a problem that it is meant to solve, without a goal it is meant to help achieve. This is backwards thinking. The result is that teachers have tools they are not trained to use, and when they do learn how to use them end up throwing the tool at every problem.
Instead, integrationists need to understand the goals of the teachers and then help them find the best tools to solve them (and if that happens to be an interactive whiteboard, so be it).
How often is this scenario played out in your school: Someone finds a great new tool - word clouds - and shows the teachers how to use them. The teacher then uses them to add onto what she is doing; or a tool is shown that can replace one thing a teacher does, so he uses it instead. Rather than any overall plan for integrating technology, it is used one tool at a time to substitute for what is already being done. The technology is not transforming the educational process; it is simply being used to substitute in for earlier ways of doing.
Technology used in a vacuum
In much the same way, tools are used alone, in a vacuum. The use of one has no relation to the use of another. So while many different tools may be used in a class by a teacher, there is no connection between them.
Ignoring the affordances of technology tools
Every tool has its own affordances, but when tools are looked at as tools instead of as solutions to problems and as ways of achieving a specific aim, teachers tend to be unaware of the many affordances of the tools.
For example, how does a given tool help provide access to information; how does it simplify and/or transform a task; how does it show ideas in a different way; how does it connect the student with the world outside the classroom?
No long-term integration goals
One of the biggest absences is that of a long-range plan for integration. This has two sources: it is a result of no one stepping back at the beginning and taking a big picture view of the school, its goals, and how technology can help; and it grows directly out of the tool-focused approach.
Short-term view of professional development
There are several ways to approach professional development. The common model that I have seen is to set aside several days each year for it; to set up workshops or have an outside speaker come in. The day is spent in these unrelated workshops; or it is spent discussing whatever topic the outside speaker specializes in. The next day, school life is back to normal and the previous day’s topic is forgotten. Schools can have some great one-day sessions that way, but they rarely lead to meaningful change.
There is another approach. One school I taught at spent the entire year discussing the transitions between grades, and how to ensure they were successful. It was an ongoing conversation that led to real, meaningful, positive change.
Professional development has to be an ongoing process, a conversation that continues throughout the year, that covers all of the major issues in education that continuously confront a school: assessment, character education, curriculum development, etc. and technology. only in this way will teachers continue to grow.
Limited view of (scary) technology
If we are going to embrace technology in schools in the same way that society as a whole is embracing technology, schools have to stop being afraid of it. Too many schools limit both access to the tools - disallowing cell phone use in school, for example - and access to the content - blocking any website not approved. A teacher shouldn’t have to put in a request in order to view a Youtube video, but many schools block by default. This way of thinking is incompatible with true technology integration.
Technology is just a tool
Yes, technology is ‘just’ a tool, but it is a tool that has radically transformed the way society works, the way we interact with others, the way (and the amount) we produce and consume content; in short it has changed the way we live, and education must recognize this fact to remain relevant.
Taken together, then, these failings result in lots of technology being used, but little or no real integration taking place. The result is a school rich in pieces of technology with very little to show for it. I believe this is why so much research shows technology as not having a meaningful impact on learning outcomes. The nature of the education and learning has not changed as a result of the technology. A student will not learn any more or any better simply by reading a book on an ereader instead of a paper edition.
What’s a better way to do it? Start by recognizing the importance of technology in the world today. Next, undo the above issues.
1) Separate the integration function from the technology department, or at the very least separate it from the technical work of the technology department.
2) Set longer range, school-wide goals for technology integration based on the school’s mission and goals.
3) Growing out of these goals, begin an ongoing conversation amongst the faculty about meaningful and appropriate integration of technology: what it means; what it looks like; and how to go about achieving it.
4) Create a professional learning environment so teachers can learn - both on their own and through in-house training - the whys and wherefores of integrating technology.
5) Get the technologist into the department meetings and into the classrooms to understand the needs.
6) Focus on needs and goals, not on tools.
7) Open up access to both tools and content.