How vs. Why

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.

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3 responses to “How vs. Why

  • Jeff Utecht

    Great reflection!

    You have to have the ying and the yang. Sure you can do the “why” without the “how”, or the “how” without “why”. But to really have a successful training session with staff I think you need a little of both.

    What I find myself doing is trying to do to much in one training. I have 30 minutes with the staff and instead of doing one or two things really well…and hit both the how and the why. I try to do 4 or 5 things and either never get to the how or never get to the why.

    What I have been trying lately in my own school is to take 30 minutes on the why in the staff meeting and then having a piece of paper that staff can sign up for “how” before they leave….if you let them leave before signing up many will forget.

    This way you can also meet teachers needs were they are. You can go slow 1 on 1 with your late adopters and have those real in-depth conversations with your early adopters.

    Of course this would mean that you would need my position at your school. My sole purpose is to support teachers. 🙂

  • jonathanstratman

    I think tech instruction needs to be more hands-on, beginning at the most basic level. It’s not enough to talk through tech issues and processes, people need the opportunity to commit these things to “muscle” memory.

    In the same way that most of us know how to dribble a basketball, but it doesn’t make us players.

    With a video camera, for example, people will nod and make appreciative sounds as long as you are willing to demonstrate, and still not be able to turn it on or make it go when you put it into their hands.

    We have to find more ways to make it possible for all learners, even teachers, to actually try things out.

    Thanks for a good column.

  • informania

    Good post! I sat in on a presentation on Web 2.0 tools this fall where the presenter found that there were attendees with very little prior knowledge of the tools as well as those with lots or prior experience. The idea of differentiating presentation material for teachers is dead-on.

    When I presented on a simple topic (wikis) this fall, I spent about 15 minutes introducing the topic and the rest of the time in what I called “playing.” The playing was organized, but it was still playing. If attendees don’t get the chance to use the material being taught before they leave the workshop, chances are slim that they will explore it on their own. There just is never enough time.

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