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Debunking the Myth of Teacher Technology Timidity

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I genuinely believe that our introduction of computers into schools over the past 30+ years would in fact make an excellent case study on how not to diffuse innovation. Let’s buy computers for schools and lock them away in a room so that only ‘computing royalty’ can manage their use; let’s tell teachers that they need to ‘ be computer literate’, but fail to give them access; and let’s spend hundreds of millions of dollars training teachers on how to use software applications, but fail to convey the real benefits of what the purpose of it all is.

In light of all this, I applaud the timidity that many, indeed most teachers have shown towards technology. In the context I have outlined we deserve no better response.

What about if we took a different approach? What about if for a start we actually thought that providing both teacher and student access to their own personal portable computer was a necessary pre-condition to any sort of computer use in schools? Stop playing at computing, and start doing it seriously; not just because every single employment opportunity our students will have, will require technology familiarity and competence, but most significantly because of what it makes possible for our learners and their teachers!

We didn’t tell our bank employees they could go to a computer room when a customer wanted account details; we didn’t for one minute suspect that every bank employee should be ‘digitally literate’ and then send them back to counter without computer access…so why was that OK for teachers?

At a time when we all should be falling over ourselves to show just what ubiquitous access to computers does make possible, we are still debating funding issues, policy priorities and most disappointingly of all, hardware decisions. Such is the magnitude of these distracting discussions, that the core driver of benefit is continually lost..and hence creates doubt in teacher’s minds as to why they should invest their valuable time in exploring the undefined, and unprecedented new boundaries that technology presents.

It’s about time we grew up. It’s about time we focused on the core driver of benefit; and it’s about time we threw off the shackles of past practice, and seriously re-imagined what is now possible.
Let’s start by exploring some fundamental questions such as….

How does technology change inquiry-based learning?

How does technology change our thinking around self-directedness and collaboration?
…and more specifically how should technology change the way we think about subjects like mathematics?...and most profoundly how we teach it?

It’s time we stopped tinkering at the edges and started talking in terms of “mathematics you can only do with a computer’; history research that is only possible when students have computer access. Then and only then, might we truly start to see what might be called transformation.

For far too long we have allowed compromised access to computers to compromise the possibilities, and most importantly the opportunities, for our teachers and students.
In thinking about this topic, I was amused by an article I came across that was prepared by BECTA in the UK in 2004. This was a report on the Barriers to the Uptake of ICT by Teachers. They in turn quoted many venerable researchers who had also investigated the topic in their literature review. This sort of research is not the way to address the problem; in fact it is the problem.

Over the past 30+ years, while the banking industry has been part of a revolution, we have been researching. While banking has been building benefit, we have been avoiding it through meaningless and trivial uses of technology within our schools, that have been a function of absurdly limited access. It’s time to change.

How much more redundant, irrelevant and repetitious research must we spend critical funds on before we have the backbone to drive the radical changes that must become part of schooling in the very near future. This 29 page BECTA report suggested that barriers to the uptake of ICT by teachers included lack of technical support, lack of time, impact of examinations, age, lack of skills etc, all of which might sound interesting, but, as is the case with way too much educational ICT research, pointless; except of course a lack of access to computers, which seems so obvious as to not even warrant comment, let alone any so-called substantive research. Far too much research around technology use in education lacks context. As in the case above, which despite the time and money invested in it,identified the symptoms, and completely missed the cause.

The simple secret is that if you can show a teacher genuine benefit from using technology; relevant, worthwhile ways in which technology can allow them to be a better teacher; ideas and possibilities that will enable more of their students to engage and understand more difficult and complex concepts, more often….they will do so. The so-called barriers become irrelevant; and yet how often, and how well do we do that?
So let’s start by working on the simple assumption that good teachers want the best for their young people. The moral purpose of teaching underpins that. Let’s leverage this as our driver for technology use across our schools, and invest our time in better defining the ways in which technology impacts on teaching and learning, to show undeniable benefit and move the conversation around contemporary learning and teaching onto to new level.

….as always, I’m interested in your thoughts…

Best regards,


Btw… we have been working on developing a language and pedagogical models that better allow us to talk about benefit and the possibilities for contemporary teaching and learning at ideasLAB (www.ideaslab.edu.au) You can join our conversation on the topic there also, or download several papers our Associate Director Richard Olsen has been developing in coming months.
March 7th, 2012 @ 11:20AM