Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ed Tech Savvy?

This post originally appeared on So Educated.

I have a confession to make. I don’t know how to use a smartboard. I’ve had one in my classroom for the entire fall semester, and I never used it beyond as an overhead to show students things on the computer. When it comes to class discussions and (yes) lectures, I use good, old-fashioned chalk and blackboard. Or whiteboard, depending on the classroom.

I have no idea how to fix the rss feed for my blog. In fact, I only have a vague notion as to what an rss feed even is.  I don’t subscribe to any feed; I wouldn’t know how if I wanted to. I find out what’s going on or if there’s any new posts, once again, the old fashioned way: I visit their website. 

These luddite-lite confessions may come as a surprise from someone who blogs, encourages her students blog, is actively engaged on Twitter, and is generally open to new forms of technology that can be used to teach, do research, learn, and share knowledge and information. But in the race to stay technologically relevant and on the forefront, I often feel overwhelmed and overmatched. Between teaching, my own (traditional) research and writing, my family, my blogging, and my hobbies (I swear, I’m going to start swimming and reading science fiction again this semester), and, you know, sleeping and eating, I can’t keep up, let alone catch up on all the things I missed while trying my best to be a “traditional” academic.

I often admit this to my students when talking about the magic bullet that some claim education technology to be. How do we help and encourage educators at any level to learn, use, and embrace education technology? I’ve heard some complain that this is yet another education fad that will pass, so why bother learning it? Others wonder why they should bother when the skills they acquire will probably be outdated in six months. And still others, like me, have enough trouble staying up-to-date in their field, let along the ever-expanding field of how to teach my subject matter.

Before we accuse teachers of willfully staying in the dark ages and thus robbing our students of valuable skills and opportunities, we need to make sure that we have provided an environment for them where they can learn and grow their knowledge about educational technology. We also need to understand that every teacher is different, and thus will see different types of educational technology as useful with regards to their styles, goals, and students.

I don’t have any easy answers. We have a whole office at our university devoted to helping faculty use the technology (albeit mostly hardware and proprietary software) available to us. But most faculty don’t use those services.  How can we get teachers to a) take advantage of the professional development opportunities and b) integrate it into their courses?As one fellow higher ed blogger points out, one of the reasons faculty don't learn about the technology available to them is that the format and content of the training methods (the workshop) just don't work.

I think it comes down to really involving faculty and teachers in developing opportunities to learn about education technology and to be involved in the decision on what types of education technology the institution or school district purchases. If we can find a way to work together, faculty, staff, and administration, in order to make education technology meaningful and useful.


  1. This is clearly a question of practicality. If someone gives me specific examples of how technology can be used in the classroom in my specific field (Spanish lang and lit), I'm much more likely to use it. For example, I've thought of using GoogleDocs in composition classes for students doing peer reviews outside of class. This seems like a practical way to use cloud computing with an activity we've been doing for years already.

    I don't particularly like workshops (like most of my colleagues) because we invariably have to wait for someone who's having problems logging in or something of that nature. I do like using short videos about different aspects of software (say, using an online gradebook in a course management system). This way if I have any individual questions, I can watch the video first, and as any educator knows, attempting to figure out a problem on your own will help you remember the process in the future.

  2. I thought this was a compelling post. For a long time, I was a leader in technology, but then I fell behind. Then I realized that when I was in the classroom, the times that I went "naked", so to speak, and went old-school with the board, with my public speaking modeling (this is what I teach, so, appropriate :-), and some engaging activities/discussions, I was so much freer and happier. Where technology makes sense in my teaching, I will continue to keep myself abreast of it.

    With respect to workshops, I completely agree: Many don't work and are offered during times when faculty can't get away or take on one more thing.

    One tactic that has worked on our campus is stipends and time. For example, last year, I facilitated a paid four day (1/2 days) summer institute to help 15 faculty Quality Matter-ize their courses (an org for best practices in online learning, but principles can be applied to any course). Much of Quality Matters has to do with using technology. We followed the summer institute with a faculty learning community grant for $5,000 through our State Board (thank goodness these funds are still available!!!). With the funds, we took the same summer institute faculty on a fully paid weekend retreat to continue their the heads-down, hands-on course work. At both the summer institute and the retreat, we had a technology specialist, a librarian, an e-learning specialist at the ready for help. So, if a colleague wanted to integrate a Wiki, there was someone on hand to do that. Want to use a smartboard? There was time to delve into how that works.

    Fortunately, we have both the summer institute and grant again for this coming academic year. Without that, however, I would love to hear other ideas that colleagues have come up with. Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof


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