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What Tech Tools Should Be Required Knowledge for Teachers?

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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A recent #edchat discussion was about what amount of technology teachers should be required to know. What ensued was a great discussion without talk of a lot of specific applications or tools. I found this very telling.

When we talk about digital literacy or transliteracy in the context of our students, rarely do we discuss what apps or tools they should know how to use. More often we talk about the skill sets they need to be successful in the digital world in which they live. Tools come and go, but being able to see the forest for the trees is a life-long skill.

Similarly, teachers should have a bigger picture in their heads of the whys and whens of technology, not just specific tools. In addition, there needs to be a culture within the school that values technology use in the classroom. Simply requiring that teachers use x, y or z application or tool (i.e. interactive whiteboard) will not transform that teacher's instruction or the learning in their classroom.

Instead, the leadership in the school should be modeling the use of technology and helping to build community supports for teachers that enable and value daily the effective use of technology for teaching and learning.

That said, if only for their practice, there are a few things that teachers should know:

  • compose and check email and know how to attach files to an email
  • know that there are more choices than Google for searching the Internet
  • be able to locate resources on the Internet and be able to evaluate sites for accuracy and relevance
  • know how to navigate, find, save and open files and applications on a computer of any OS.

But don't take my word for it. ISTE has done a great job of developing a set of educational technology standards for teachers. They go beyond the tool and really address the bigger picture of technology in the classroom and in professional practice. You can check them out: ISTE NETS for Teachers.

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Adam Cooper's picture

I absolutely agree with your perspective on the ways in which teachers integrate technology in the classroom. In my few years of teaching, I have watched a surprisingly large number of new techs come along that became the new craze. Handing over responsibility to technology without providing teachers with the true purpose of using the technology to aid in the learning process is, in my opinion, of no use to anyone and is a disservice to students. A teacher with one piece of technology that is used effectively and efficiently is much more capable of pushing students forward than a teacher with a dozen new pieces of technology and no ability to make it relevant.

Great post. I appreciated your insight.

KD's picture
4th grade general ed. teacher from Yakima, WA

I agree completely with your take on the need for understanding and use of technology in the classroom. I recently came to terms with the idea that I must do everything I can to increase my knowledge and skill in the area of technology. At this point I am working diligently on learning effective strategies to incorporate technology into my lessons. It will be nice when my district supports this need.

Ira Socol's picture
Ira Socol
Public School EdTech and Innovation Director, Researcher, UDL, SpEd, History, Motivations

One of the basic issues with classroom technologies is one of Civil Rights. All across the United States schools and teachers (both of whom are legally liable every time this occurs) routinely violate the rights of students with disabilities in terms of "equal access to information and communication." Perhaps even worse, schools and teachers fail the many students who remain "undiagnosed" but who struggle with access to classroom materials.

In 1996 the US Department of Education sent a letter to every school in the United States pointing out the legal obligation for all computer environments in schools to be accessible. Sadly, with almost no progress being made, the Department's Office of Civil Rights (OCR)repeated essentially the same letter this spring - 15 years later.

It is absolutely essential that all in schools understand both their obligation to equal access and the basics of providing that. The information is not difficult to find http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/06/making-windows-accessible.html if you look. This is especially true of (a) schools which exclusively use Apple products because many access solutions are much more expensive (and more limited) for those platforms, and (b) schools where the tech administration prevents changes or downloads to individual solutions (in which case the tech staff must be willing to respond immediately to installation and system change needs on behalf of students).

Teachers need not be accessible technology experts, but they must know how to find what is available, they must know how to get the solutions to students rapidly, and they must know the basics of media conversion.

Teddy P's picture
Teddy P
Instructional Desiger

This is a really good post as it touches on a few subjects that are so relevant these days - choice of technology for teaching. It is important to have standards, because they ensure that teachers are using proper tools in the classroom and there is regulation on what to use and what not to use. Standards also help make teachers use technology. There is still some resistance from some teachers and if technology tools become standardized, then these teachers will have to follow them. That's all great.
But every time I hear the words "standards" and "technology" in the same sentence referring to teaching and classroom experience, I start to feel a bit worried. We don't live in an age of fixed technology any more. Having computers in schools doesn't mean anything any more. All students have smart phones and other mobile devices they use every day. So setting standards on technology for teaching brings us back to the mindset of fixed technology again. We can't do that. It's not as straight forward as it used to be any more. We used to have computer labs, Internet connection, websites students were allowed to use, software for completion of assignments, email, etc. Now, we have a completely different picture - cloud technology, mobile learning, student authoring and collaboration, etc. We don't need a stationary fixed technology to help students complete assignments. So why do we need it to teach? Teaching is also going mobile and creating teaching materials hasn't been easier with clouds and virtual storage spaces. So standards are good, but not 100%. And not in this day and age.
Flexibility and key. That's what teachers need to use. I taught a media enhanced learning course to in-service teachers who were mostly familiar with the Microsoft Office package, including Power Point. At the end of the two-week course, they created comprehensive Wikis with embedded videos they created using screen-capturing tools off the Internet. In two weeks they enhanced their teaching with so many tools that they would never go back to relying exclusively to Power Point presentations. It's amazing what the excitement of new technology can do for your motivation to learn new tools and apply them.

Tony C.'s picture
Tony C.
Educational Technology Integrator/Trainer

I agree with your take on this subject. I've long fought for teaching the concepts, not specific tools, but have often run into artificial roadblocks: "We must teach Microsoft Office, because that's what people are using in the real world!", etc. No, we need to teach the concepts of how a word processor works, how a spreadsheet program works, etc. Those skills are transferable to any application, be it MS Office, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Google Docs, etc.

Matthew's picture
Technology Education Twin Cities MN

In my opinion that list of "required Technology" is way to short. As a young teacher I realize that my understanding and use of technology is much greater than someone older than I am. However students today are able to process information at a very high rate of speed. I know there are people out there who would disagree, but I truly think a lot of students are board in our classrooms because we don't throw information out fast enough. For an example, go to cnn.com or any news outlet. There are 10 news headlines, the ticker at the bottom the the screen. In a matter of 30 seconds you have been overwhelmed with information. I have filtered out what I don't want to seen, and venture over and read more of what I'm interested. For me I rarely watch the 10 o'clock news because it takes to long, and I'm not interested in half of it. And forget the news paper, by the time that is published its old news already. The younger generation is looking for instant information. Now take that student and put him or her in your classroom taking notes from an overhead projector. The information is too slow, and the media you are using does not catch their attention. They are now board and you have lost them. Teachers should be able to at least be able to use a presentation software like keynote, or Powerpoint. They should also be able to take a youtube video and put it in their presentation. In my opinion we need to start conveying our information to students in a way they are familiar with. They same old ways of chalk and a black board or ones for the History books, or should I say History kindle or nook because books are a thing of the past.

Sharon Sampson-Thomas's picture

I'm an old timer and didn't grow up using computers. You could say that I am technology challenged. I have wanted to use more technology in my classroom and receive training, but it hasn't been available through my school or district. I just recently took a level one technology course through CTAP (California Technology Assistance Project. It was excellent! I learned computer basics, using a flash drive, e-mails, creating a newsletter, PowerPoint presentation, iMovie and spreadsheets. I feel much more confident about my ability to use technology. I have been teaching twenty-six years and I am really excited about my first PowerPoint presentation for Back to School Night. Teachers need good training and the time to explore with someone knowledgeable that can help when you get stuck. This was the first training I had where I didn't leave frustrated.

Cheri Sing's picture
Cheri Sing
Middle School Foreign Languages Educator from Michigan

I appreciate Mr. Sokol's comments, pointing out some of the social justice issues with technology in education. Many aspects of today's society are gearing more and more to function with the use of the tools of technology (computers, smartphones, etc.). Why, then, in this day and age, did I have to teach in a classroom with four computers for 30+ students? Three of those computers did not work all year long. That's right, ONE computer for all 30 students. This classroom was in a large urban public district, where teachers scramble to cover basic resources. I bought my own cd and dvd players, and that was the most up to date technology in the room.
Students need to be prepared to function well in our society, and the lack of accessible technology in struggling schools severely disadvantages the already disadvantaged. I also feel that we need to teach the concepts, but we need the tools to practice and apply!

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Mimios are pretty nifty! No need for a board to install, which is always nice. Glad to know that you are enthusiastic to learn the new technology and I hope that you are able to connect with other teachers to share best practices and ideas!

KooBits EDU's picture
KooBits EDU
Engaging the Digital Kids

I believe one important skill that teachers need to know is how best to share and sync information digitally. Transmitting information is what teachers do every day in teaching their students and there are too many trendy apps/tools for it - teachers need to know what is best suited for their classroom and purpose before jumping into all of them.

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