I believe technology will transform what classrooms look and sound like, how teachers teach and how and what students learn. I am not alone in thinking that way –educators, innovators, entrepreneurs have consulted with and advised parents, teachers and superintendents to make this case.
But what I also know is that technology alone, just dropped in a classroom or plugged in to a new system won’t do anything. New gadgets and applications – no matter how innovative or powerful – will not do anything unless we take real care to teach teachers why, how, and where to best use them. And, even more importantly, listen to and learn from their needs and experiences in their classrooms. Teachers also need active, easy to use, ongoing support structures to assist in deploying and evolving these new technology tools.
Collectively, these three points define the education technology gap. And we’re not doing nearly enough to close it.
I know about these gaps because, about four years ago, our education technology team conducted primary research in public and private classrooms around the country.
Here are three key findings we discovered:
1.Up the Tech Savvy Ante. One of the first things we saw was that teachers and students needed an upgrade in their personal education in technology. Just because some of us are tech experts, not everyone is. If we want and expect teachers and students to extract the best from classroom technology, they have to really understand how it works, why it works and experience using it.
2. Have A Dialogue. We reached out to teachers and actively performed in-classroom research to address the second leg of the education technology gap. Building and delivering transformative technology in education absolutely requires asking questions on both sides of the technology gap – asking questions to teachers and teachers questioning technology designers and providers.
Initiating and sustaining a good, query-driven conversation about learning technology is how we can avoid falling into the trap of thinking that one device fits every situation, for example. Educators know that different lessons, different students, different teaching methods require different tools. Just like you should not use chemistry lab to teach social sciences, using a mobile device may not be the right fit for every assignment or project.
How to start? When it comes to technology, teachers can start conversations with tech companies by asking questions such as, “How, if at all, will this product change our approach to education?” and “How does this fit within our long-term vision for technology in and outside of the classroom?” Once objectives are clearly defined, then more specific device questions can be answered.
3. Get Support. Finally, closing the education technology gap will require serious investments in support and infrastructure for teachers, students and schools.
For schools, the infrastructure is usually actual infrastructure such as high capacity, reliable broadband connectivity. Unfortunately, in many schools and districts that physical support is still lacking. Since it does zero good for anyone to put technology in a classroom that literally cannot use it, looking at actual infrastructure first is essential.
The second, just as important type of infrastructure, is support structure. Both technology providers and schools and districts need to provide serious, tech-savvy and ongoing support for those using new technology. To be sure, and another thing we heard clearly from teachers is that, “training” is not a one day workshop. Real support for tech education includes real-time troubleshooting, peer to peer support and an examination of how the technology actually works in the classroom with actual students. Only when teachers feel comfortable and embrace a shared experience in technology will they develop enthusiasm for it. As every teacher and education professional knows, teacher enthusiasm is a key to learning – regardless of the tools used.
I’m not sure anyone today can fully predict where technology will finally intersect with and change education. But we can bridge the gap between what technology promises and what it actually provides. And we can do that today by understanding technology as a tool, investing in infrastructure and training resources, and aligning our educational objectives.
Please share your questions about how technology can work for you in the classroom and let’s continue the conversation here.
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