Self-fulfilling prophesy in education technology

Self-fulfilling prophesy is very easy to see in the public school system. Players on the basketball team assume they can’t beat team x, don’t work as hard in practice all week, and then go out on game night and lose. They will say “Seeee!”  Pat decides early on that the test is going to be another opportunity to fail. Pat passes up several opportunities for help from classmates or teachers, and when the test comes around, yep, fail. Pat will look confidently at a friend and say “Seeee!”

Most educators can recount several examples of this dynamic at work amongst students, yet few can see it in a larger scale, amongst adults.  Consider that education technology is frequently a victim of self-fulfilling prophesy. I have seen it firsthand, and have read several accounts of it happening at other schools. Here’s how it goes: Mrs. P., a talented 21st century educator and tech integrator tries her best to push her colleague,  Mr. G., out of his comfort zone, helping him find ways to integrate new technology into lesson plans, finding ways to help him offer more than direct instruction. Mr. G. explains that it isn’t just know-how, it’s about rationale and reliability. Mrs. P. presses on, showing Mr. G. that there are truly transformative learning experiences to be had in his classroom. Reluctantly, Mr. G. signs on for a major change, while predicting a poor result to his friends, also resistant to change. They have a great chuckle about how “this too shall pass” and wish their friend luck. Mr. G. spends not one second more than absolutely necessary preparing for the launch of the technology-infused lesson, and makes Mrs. G. do a majority of the preparation. On the day of the project, there are login problems that were not anticipated. The class spends an additional 10 minutes more than planned getting logged in to the site, and the class is thereby rushed. Most students do not finish in the allotted time, and the teacher explains that it was just a dry run and it didn’t matter. After the class, he walks into Mrs. P’s classroom and explains what had happened. She asks him if he tested anything before the students came in, but Mr. G simply shakes his head and lets her know that is the last time he will be talked into doing things her way. He later recounts the story to his friends, who chuckle at the premise that it may have ever been worth the trouble at all. This event, not Mrs. P’s daily successes, is used frequently when other suggestions for change are made in the future.

Without the buy-in and the attitude necessary to try, fail, learn, and succeed, there will be little success in any classroom change. Entire districts are attempting great changes in the way instruction and learning happen, and many of these changes are difficult for teachers to embrace because of the fear or expectation of failure. There may be some willingness to go along with the majority, but the attitude may be skeptical and even fatalistic. Some will do the bare minimum, and then complain when it doesn’t work.

THIS is the real challenge integrationists need to address when rolling out systemic changes. The infrastructure, devices, and training might present short-term problems, but until all of the stakeholders WANT it to succeed, it will remain a difficult proposal.

I’m not lost on the irony regarding a post about predicting failure amongst those who predict failure, but in this case, I truly WANT 21st century initiatives to succeed. I want my children to learn in a rich, project-based, digital world, and not be killed by lectures, PowerPoints and standardized tests. However, sometimes, I just get the feeling from many teachers that at least with teaching to a test, they don’t have to learn anything new or take any real risks, and that scares me.


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