Stop using the term “tech-savvy.”

We need to stop using the term “tech-savvy” to describe teachers (or other school staff) who are better at integrating technology in their learning environments. It is detrimental to the innovative culture of the staff, and demeaning to those who are considered not tech-savvy.  A few points to consider:

  1. I have seen little evidence that people have any specific aptitudes which allow them to learn how to use technology any faster or with any more clarity. The deciding factor is almost always EXPERIENCE. Those who practice it, learn it. Same as shooting free-throws, baking muffins, or building bird-houses. Too often we describe natural aptitudes as a “have it or not” scenario. In truth, people who practice something get better faster than those who don’t.
  2. Tech-savvy is also often associated with an implication that age is a key factor. I have seen little evidence of this either. Last year, my most innovative teacher, by far, was in her last year before retirement. In fact, on that staff, of the top ten most innovative teachers, seven or eight were late-career professional. Sure, there were some other great early-adopters of all ages, but there were also a seemingly disproportionate number of early-career teachers doggedly stuck a rut filled with Scantron machines and worksheets. In fact, on that staff, I spent a majority of my time training teachers in their first five years of service how to integrate digital learning effectively. We assume that since someone has been exposed to computers all of their lives that it gives them a leg up. The truth is that technology now changes so rapidly, that any previous technology know-how become obsolete swiftly without a continuous evolution of methodology.
  3. When we use the term tech-savvy, it implies that the challenge of staying current is easier for some than others, which has two interrelated outcomes. First, those identified as such believe that they have they have arrived at a place where they can rest on what they know. This is obviously not a great mindset for growth. Second, and perhaps more troubling, is the fact that those not identified with this dubious title are left to ponder the meaning. For some, it means throwing up hands and using it as an excuse to be a late adopter or laggard as new strategies are presented. For others, it becomes a source of shame or embarrassment that causes even less interest in continuous improvement. None of these are confidence-building or empowering feelings.

So, what can we do? All stakeholders in a school settings can begin by simply eliminating this kind of language from their conversations. Instead, we need to use language (and actions) that highlight progress, not place. Replace “tech-savvy” with “early adopter” or “…has more experience using that tool.” Replace “not very tech-savvy” with “still learning how to use that tool,” or “doesn’t have enough training…”

The most important thing we can do is make it clear that people are all capable and able to learn to use digital technology effectively in their practice. Don’t allow people to self-deprecate or belittle themselves as “not very tech-savvy.” We need to encourage them to replace his phrase with. “I’m still learning.”

By changing the conversation, we can change the attitudes to encourage more growth and confidence in everyone on our educational teams.


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