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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Tips for Technophobic Teachers

A 33-year teaching veteran explains how he joined the information age.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia

VIDEO: Conquering Technophobia: A Classroom Veteran Warms to Digital Tools

Running Time: 3:45 min.

Jim Wilson, a self-described "old guy" and star of the Edutopia video Conquering Technophobia, has gone from grumbling about his school's technology-integration initiative to embracing it. Laptop computers and other gadgets are now tools that he uses just about every day in his English classes at Freedom Area High School, outside Pittsburgh.

There have been bumps along the way, and -- Wilson will be the first to tell you -- there are surely more to come. But he's pleased with what computer technology has enabled him and his students to do in the short year since he entered the information age. Here are Wilson's tips for teachers undergoing the same tricky transition:

Ask for Help

Wilson has the benefit of an on-site tech-integration coach, provided jointly by the school district and a state grant. However, even teachers without this resource can walk down the hall and find help from a more tech-savvy colleague. Or they can simply look around their own classroom, as explained in Wilson's next tip.

Learn from Students

Some of Wilson's most dependable tech tutors have been his students. Students can also coach one another -- every class has a computer whiz or two. "I have a tough time answering the simplest of questions, but I've learned a whole lot from them," Wilson says. "Learning from the students is a neat thing. They're proud of themselves because they know something that the teacher didn't know."

Take Baby Steps

Wilson started by learning to use email, then moved up to Yahoo searches, Microsoft PowerPoint, and ultimately streaming media. He says, "If I could learn as much as I learned this year every year, I think in a few years I'll be of some use to the students instead of the students being of some use to me."

Just Browsing: Jim Wilson and his students debate the merits of Web searching with Google versus Yahoo.

Credit: Edutopia

Be Precise About Your Expectations

When asking students to use tech tools and the wide world of Internet resources, you need to be specific. Says Wilson, "There are so many places you can go and really stray and still be in the same ballpark." After a couple of projects gone awry, he learned to make his assignments exceedingly clear.

Expect Snags

"Pitfalls are going to happen every day," Wilson notes. Then he adds with a laugh, "This is public education." Yet, from those pitfalls come lessons about how to do things better the next time. Already, Wilson has learned some computer-troubleshooting techniques, and he has tweaked lesson plans to obtain better results. In the meantime, he says, "you hope the pit is not too deep."

Allow Students to Take the Reins

Back in the 1970s, Wilson recalls, the mentality that a teacher on his feet is worth two in his seat kept him looking over students' shoulders and walking them through many tasks. Now, with the resources and tools computers and the Internet provide, he feels more comfortable standing back and letting students explore a project on their own -- acting more like a coach than a drill sergeant. That's not to say computer-using kids don't require supervision. Wilson says, "You still have those day when you have to be the bad guy."

Beware of Plagiarism

Wilson may be an old dog, but he quickly learned that with the wealth of material available online, students, he says, will "paste and copy any paper they can." It's something to watch for, he adds. But on the flip side, Wilson notes, the exposure to different ideas and information can expand their perspectives and help students formulate their own opinions.

Keep an Open Mind

"If you have an open mind, you'll see that using technology is just like anything else," he says. "There's good and there's bad, and you just have to wade through and figure out how you can best fit into the situation."

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

Comments (18)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jeanie Robinson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You GO JIM! I love what you are doing. I wish I could get my school to understand that technology is the way to get these kids engaged and using those higher order thinking skills! People here just think I am crazy!

I love how you know that some lessons will fail. I think when we are using technology we just have to keep on experimenting. That's the fun of it!

I am a 25 year veteran and sometimes wonder if I should keep going...but your video has inspired me. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

Denise Mihok's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

hey,I use to brag "Iam computer illiterate"Once the bug bit I was on my way ,just love what is going on,I am lost when I crash now,just spent three days and some off the night trying to get this sony back up.I am proud to be geeky.

Brad's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That's great! '..starting with Yahoo searches...' certainly something people like myself take for granted.

You've immediately been added to my list of case studies Jim! The fact that you reached where you are now both in skill and attitude in 1 year after not knowing how to create a Powerpoint presentation is truly inspiring.

Robert Zingg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

An excellent motivator!

I am glad that "an old dog" can learn new tricks. It gives me inspiration to know that I am not a lost cause in learning the twists and turns of technology. It seems that just as I get comfortable with a new technology or software, it becomes obsolete and I have to switch to something newer.

Keep it up and good luck

Rob Zingg

Robert Zingg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What an inspiration for us older teachers that are trying to up our skills in technology. I am glad that an old dog can learn new tricks. It seems that just as I learn a new technology or software they become obsolete and I have to learn something newer! Hopefully, this will keep us young!

Keep up the good work.

Rob Zingg

Deb Meyer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is very timely, coming the day after I received a SmartBoard to pilot for my school! My students have seen them used in elementary school and I had never seen one used until yesterday!

Martha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

So much technology and so little time! I must admit, I am an old gal, non-technophobic. I recently came back to teaching after raising my kids, and I just can't get enough of the techno-media. My dream job would be to work with a team of teachers who want to use media to motivate, instruct, and let loose the curiosity of disadvantaged kids....Hey, that's what I'm doing! Just need a cohort of others to collaborate with in ideas, 'cause the other teachers are not such team players. I'm sometimes a lone wolf! aah-oooo!

Shirley Larry's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim, the Tips for Technophobic Teachers that you have listed are going to be guidelines for me, also a teacher with more than three decades of teaching under her belt. As I was reading through your article, I made such a strong connection between "learning" as it applies to the teacher and "learning" as we apply it to students. When new information is being learned, there is a procedure that everyone must go through, and you have outlined this procedure very precisely in your article.
As a teaching professional who is currently enrolled in a technology class and who is definitely technophobic, I thank you for the tips that you have given. I am thankful for your reminding me that a leading characteristic of the teaching professional is to "keep an open mind". To me this means to stay optimistic about my endeavors and believe that I can accomplish the requirements of my class. It means that I have high expectations for myself and my abilities and stirve to achieve them. It does not mean, however, that there will not be complications; but it does mean that I realize that these complications come to enhance my understanding if I am persistent with the objective. Are these the postitive attitudes that we work so hard to instill into our students? Are we suppose to model what we teach?
Our taking on new learnings such as the use of technology in curriculum, instruction, and assessment will give us common experiences with our students. This can also help us to better understand our students and give us some new insight in their educational success.
Teaching is not a stagnant profession. It is continuously moving for progressive growth. We must become and remain "open minded" to stay current with trends that society is putting in place because we must prepare our students to become productive in their post-secondary years.
Thanks, Jim, for the tips!

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