Jeff Utecht wrote a great post on UTechTips about how sometimes “it is about the tool.” He pokes at a phrase our district has used on a number of occasions – that it’s not about the tool; it’s about the learning. The technology, as the saying goes, is just a tool to enhance learning. I wanted to expand on his ideas just a little bit as they relate to my experiences, both in the classroom and in technology leadership.
Our district has spent a lot of time and money trying to train teachers in technology. I would estimate that about half of that time has been spent on dealing with the “whys” of technology as it relates to teaching and learning. This trend continues – even our most recent technology trainings have spent a good third of the time explaining why this is a good thing to do. Obviously, this is something that teachers must know. We should understand why it is important for students (and for us) to keep up with the pace of technology. We have to grasp the significance of the changes we are seeing in the world, as well as the impending consequences on our students’ futures.
While all this is certainly valuable, the problem I’m seeing is that the teachers continue to hear the same things in every training they attend. Having attended trainings for a couple of years now, it has become evident that the vast majority of our teachers “get it;” they understand the importance of engaging students through technology and they have bought into using technology in their classrooms. What they don’t get nearly as much of is, as Utecht puts it, the “how.”
There are really two sides of that question as I have seen it play out in our district. First, teachers often leave our training still wondering “how do I use this tool?” Whether it’s something as simple as Animoto or something as complicated as Adobe Premiere Elements, there are always some teachers who need additional support learning how to use the tool. Depending on the tool we’re training them to use, this could be anywhere from one or two people with simple trainings like using Vista, to the majority of teachers for something like photo or video editing.
Much as in the classroom, differentiation seems to be the answer – creating valuable learning opportunities for a range of abilities at the same time. Providing differentiated learning opportunities for different groups of learners helps pinpoint the needs of individuals. For example, creating a training that allows tech-savvy teachers the freedom to explore, but also provides extra help for hesitant learners, is turning out to be a necessity.
The other side of the “how” question is a much more frequently asked one: “Now that I know how to use the tool, how can I use it in the classroom to enhance student learning?” This seems to be the topic that gets left out of many of our teacher trainings. I know I am guilty of this myself in the trainings I’ve conducted. While there are a couple of methods I’ve seen regarding this topic (suggesting some possible uses, asking participants to identify some uses), I’m a bit behind on this one.
If you conduct technology trainings, how do you help address this issue of “how”? What methods do you use to help teachers identify classroom uses for the technology you show them?
This is a question that I’ll be spending some time on, I think. I guess it’s just that important.