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You can lead a teacher to technology.......

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In a perfect world, the modern classroom is filled with technology that operates seamlessly on a reliable, high speed internet connection.  Teachers are confidently using digital technologies, and students will only use their smartphones for educationally relevant purposes.  In the real world these things don't happen nearly as consistently as we would wish.

This student generation is inundated with software, apps, devices and gadgets but they don't necessarily use them for learning.  Being a generation of digital natives means that students can do some pretty amazing things with games and social networking but unless they have been taught, they won't necessarily translate these skills to improving their education.

Teachers are uniquely positioned to guide students in the productive use technology but but we need to help them unlearn the patterns of behaviour that anchor them to established and sometimes outdated educational routines. 

The digital world is fraught with difficulties for the average teacher who is trying to stay abreast of speciality content, school policy, co-curricular activities and educational theory.  They are often so intellectually exhausted, that exploring and developing proficiency in non-mandatory digital technology, is simply not feasible. 

Simon Breakspear, Founder and CEO of LearnLabs, recently spoke about changing teacher practices at the #EduTech2015 conference.  He argued that the limiting factor of technology in the classroom is not the tools but rather that capacity of teachers using the tools.    Simon argues that if we want to improve the uptake of digitisation, we need to "shrink the change".  He posits that if change is too big or ambiguous, it will be resisted.

Overcoming teacher resistance, discomfort and sometimes apathy towards potentially educational technology is vital.  Teachers no longer need to be content experts. Access to information and research has exploded in direct parallel with the internet.   What hasn't kept pace is our ability to use technology to "sift through", sort, connect and use information in meaningful ways.  So our modern "Guides on the side" essentially teach students how to learn and a big part of this role is learning how to use technology.

Educational leaders need to be cognizant that teachers won't welcome new software or expectations to use technology in the classroom if it creates additional work with no perceived ongoing benefit to shape the relevance of such change.

To achieve sustained change,  teachers need to understand the purpose of the technology but also emotionally and cognitively buy into the benefits.  The old acronym, WIIFM (what's in it for me), couldn't be more appropriate here.  Technology should be a vehicle to enable existing tasks to be done more efficiently and this is a key to teacher engagement.  For example, a simple free software called Trello easily replaces simple post-it notes and diarised"to do lists" but it also allows tasks to be grouped and prioritised.  It's a great tool for busy teachers and also one that could help students manage their work and study responsibilities. 

A few strategies to make the implementation of new technology more sustainable:

  • Make sure the technology makes an existing function or job easier or has additional benefits that are articulated and demonstrated.
  • If the technology has very complex functions, start with the simpler features first to build confidence.
  • Provide training on how to use the technology and give teachers and opportunity to practice with guidance.
  • Incorporate peer coaching so that teachers can see multiple uses and learn from others that they already have a connection with.
  • Give feedback to let teachers know that they are making progress, no matter how small and incremental.
  • Show practical examples of how the technology might be used.

Going digital purely for the sake of it or as a matter of policy won't generate the critical mass uptake and buy in that schools need to lead students by example.  When we shape the meaning and value of the digital world for our teachers, they become the leaders, innovators and guides for students.