As an integrationist, I hear a lot of gripes about educational technology. Some complaints and criticisms are valid and well-deserved, and some are stupid, mean-spirited and detrimental to students. Sometimes the best move it to let it be. Sometimes it is good to respond with a logical, rational response. Here are some of the gripes I hear most often and a suggested response. I’ll leave the judgment as to when to use the responses and the intensity of said response to the tastes of the individual user.
I’m tech illiterate / I’m not good with technology. Hogwash. By using this defense, people shift away responsibility. The implication is that some people are naturally wired to be good with technology, and once they declare themselves “not,” they get a pass on any responsibility to remain current. Remind them that there is no such thing as someone who is “tech savvy.” The honest truth is that the only difference is in how brave people are. So-called “tech-savvy” people are simply more brave and unafraid of technology. They may, in fact, be far worse at learning how things work than anyone else. As gently as appropriate, help them understand this distinction is far more about interest than ability. The expectations of students and parents do not allow for anyone to get a pass from educators who are not interested in technology enough to be relevant in today’s world.
We don’t have enough machines. Maybe the complaint is that the school or district is not 1:1, or that there is a premium on shared devices. Either way, it becomes easy for some educators to throw up their hands and decide that if they can’t get 24/7 device access for all students, then there is no point in ever utilizing technology. This is a perfect opportunity to share with them the research by Dr. Sugata Mitra (either by paraphrase or with one of the videos) that proved that kids often learn even better when sharing a digital device than when they each have one. His research, among many other monumental discoveries, showed that kids learn intensely even if many students use one device. Most of the time this is a feeble excuse that deflects a lack of ingenuity or effort, but when this is a genuinely held belief, teachers should be supported as they explore any of the many alternatives to having 1:1 devices. Shared machines, home digital work, and “bring your own tech (BYOT)” strategies could all be employed, often in concert, to achieve a richer learning experience for all.
I don’t trust the internet connection enough to do online work. This gripe is about the ghost of past experiences and the fallacy of the rare event being thought of as common. How often is the internet really down? Have some real data. With little doubt, your institution has comparable internet up times to any other educational institution and probably better than most other institutions. In the case of my district, I can safely say that our internet is up nearly 99.5% of the time school is in session, and I can bet that beats my home state’s giant institutions like 3M, The University of Minnesota, Target (Corporate), or United Healthcare. But let’s say, for sake of argument, that the internet is down 10% of the time (nearly impossible by today’s standards). Even if the internet were down that often, an innovative educator would still be able to provide rich instruction nine lessons out of ten, compared with zero for the person who uses this as an excuse as to why they refuse to use internet-based content or instruction. It’s a flimsy excuse, and it needs to be reframed consistently so people see the occasional outage as a part of life, and not an indication of a faulty system.
What happens when something goes wrong? I often wonder how people who ask this when considering digital-age lesson strategies are able to function in daily life. As a teacher, I have had walls broken through during construction projects, water pipes burst, fire drills, epileptic seizures, violent outbursts, lost or stolen materials, and any number of a thousand more unplanned, unexpected problems while teaching. Good teachers just tango on. Sure, sometimes things in digital-based lessons don’t work. So what? Tango on. What if they ask a question I don’t know the answer to? Ask the group. Educators need to let go of the idea that they must master a technique or tool before using it with students. That’s not realistic, nor is it realistic to expect everything to be perfect. Instead, educators need to trust that students can learn together, and that trying and encountering problems is a part of life. Shouldn’t we be modeling this for our students? Best answer: things WILL go wrong, don’t let that stop you.
Kids already use too much technology. Yes, young people use a lot of technology. Trouble is, the ways in which they use technology tend toward very slim applications, namely social interaction and absorption of media. Educators have a responsibility to help them see how to learn with technology. We can guide very rich learning experiences that will become a cornerstone of their work and life in the future. Don’t assume that since they use a lot of technology, they know how to use it for learning and creating. Most need help with this. If this is a value judgment from an educator, remind them that the past is past. We are preparing them for a digitally-rich society (which it already is). We do them no favors by dragging them back to the 20th century to learn and grow.
I never got training on this! This is perhaps the most valid gripe or excuse on this list. Certainly there is an expectation that certain tools and techniques are taught to employees, especially those that are part of mandated use, such as a learning management system or parent portal. Trouble is, this can’t be a catch-all excuse. There is a responsibility for all educators to stay at least marginally current on technology. Some educators can literally not be bothered to learn anything even remotely technology-adjacent unless they are formally trained. Picture the young child whose parent drags them through the store while the little one drags feet and whines. What’s in it for the child? They get to do as little as possible and train the parent not to bring them along the next time. So it is with some educators. By using this as an excuse, they put the pressure back on the administration, tech staff, or their peers, and also train them to ask less and less over time. Feet-draggers need to be reminded that willful ignorance is a choice and cannot be alleviated by a training session. Kindly explain that there are many opportunities online to learn what is not offered formally, and that there is support as they catch up. For some, it is good to make it clear that the needs of the large group will dictate that they keep moving forward, with or without a willful straggler. This is a tough discussion, but one that technology professionals and administrators need to have with those who have decided to challenge the system by demanding to be spoon-fed the kinds of skills most adults instinctively gain by being a part of society.
Why do it that way when the traditional way is easier? Sometimes this is a really valid question. Most of the time it is a crutch and excuse. The key response here is “is the easier way relevant in today’s world?” Most of the time it is false equivalency: “why use Notability when a traditional notebook will do just fine?” Sure. sounds reasonable. But can the traditional notebook be shared? Collaborated on? Saved in multiple formats? Annotated? Illustrated? Disseminated and analyzed? Probably not, and that’s just an ordinary example. The best response here is whether it is easier for the students or the teacher? Is there any upgrade to the digital-age method? Finally, educators need to be reminded that if it’s all the same otherwise, we have a responsibility to model digital-age methods wherever possible, so students have a sense of how professionals use digital tools effectively. Today’s students are not likely to ever use paper and pencil for important professional tasks, if they ever do at all.
We just got training on this tool, and now that technique is already replacing it. What’s the use? Ok, this is sometimes a generational thing, and sometimes just an unfortunate consequence of our fast-paced society. It really can’t be helped. The best tool or technique for the job is bound to change from year to year. Tech directors and integration specialists can help minimize the whiplash, but there is no other alternative but to stay current. Students tend to be much more resilient to this than most educators. Response: that’s the world we live in. The alternative is to obsolete ourselves. We must stay current to the best of our ability. The days of mastering a particular tool and owning that for a decade are over, and they will never return. Look at tech skills not as owning, but as renting until you trade it in for something better.
I’m just not interested in technology in education or anywhere else. I’m a traditionalist. Great. Enjoy that in your private life. Being an educator means that you put the student’s needs first. If it is good for students, but you don’t care for it, too bad. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Get over yourself. For more on this, read THIS great blog post by Dr. Scott McLeod.
I don’t have the time. This is the grand-doozy of them all, because in essence this statement is true for most teachers. Teachers are being asked, year after year, to do more with less, to promote programs and participate in initiatives rarely of their choosing, and to give up quality instruction and connection time to make way for a litany of tests and evaluations. I was there. I see it. It’s true. You don’t have any extra time. I get it. I really, really do. So, with that in mind, let’s embrace ways to alleviate the stress and create time? Let’s digitize materials and save some trips to the copier every time someone needs a copy of something. Let’s learn how to really use productivity tools so we don’t spend an hour of each day sorting email. Let’s have students take on the role of evaluator so you don’t have to take 150 assignments home to grade every evening. The person who most needs to embrace educational technology is the teacher hanging on by a thread. I know, I lived it. I almost walked away from my profession. Then I got smart. I streamlined my most wasteful minutes and got back time to teach and think on important things. It is very difficult to trust that the front-end work will pay dividends tenfold on the backend, but it does. We need to answer this question with real empathy. It is a real anxiety in teachers, and it is something that we can help with. Remind them that teachers all over the world, in even more stressful situations, thrive by using tools to become more efficient educators.
In the end, whether you are a tech professional, an administrator or coach, we need to make sure that educators remember every day and every hour that we work for the children, and their needs are our priority. Caring teachers make adjustments necessary to be meaningful to their students, and poor teachers hide behind excuses and inflexibility.