What does it Mean to Advocate for Technology?

As coaches and administrators we are aware that technology skills are important for our students. Computers are everywhere…in our pockets, on our desks, on our laps, in our clothing, cars, airplanes, farms, factories, restaurants, and doctor’s offices… you get the picture. We want our students to be competitive in the world, and be “college and career ready” when they leave our schools which, most would agree, takes at least some fundamental familiarity with computers. Why is it then, that in spite of 1:1 computer initiatives in our schools, better wifi access in more places and more tech savvy teachers than ever before, we still aren’t producing enough computer science graduates to fill the available jobs nor have we seen student achievement rise to the levels we’d hoped. I had hoped it was as easy as a cry for more advocacy for technology, support and training for teachers. As I was researching, however, I realized that the real answer is not necessarily more people advocating for more of those things, although it can’t hurt, but in advocating for the right things…changes in teaching practice and changes in attitude.

In the early years of computers in the classroom we thought technology was the answer to our education woes. It was going to change everything about how we teach and how students learn. They were “set to revolutionize the traditional teacher-centric lecturing style and to unleash the potential for improvements in teaching quality and efficiency.” (Falck, Mang, Woessmann 2017)  Unfortunately, the promises of technology to revolutionize teaching and to increase student achievement have largely fallen flat. This same study Virtually No Effect? Different Uses of Classroom Computers and their Effect on Student Achievement (Falck, Mang, Woessmann, 2017) posits that the “null’ effects on student achievement could be caused by “a combination of using computers for activities that are more productive than traditional teaching methods, thus improving student outcomes, and using computers in ways that substitute more effective traditional practices, thus lowering student outcomes.”

In the study they talk about the “opportunity costs of time”. Each day teachers are given a certain amount of time and they have to make decisions about how each of those minutes is spent. If they spend minutes on technology in ways that enhance learning and provide opportunities for exploration and creativity that aren’t  possible with traditional teaching methods then they are spending in ways that will likely increase student outcomes. If, however, they choose to spend technology minutes on things like drill and kill practice or electronic worksheets that are not as effective as other teaching strategies such as collaborative work, discussion, design thinking, communication, etc. the use of technology is actually lowering student outcomes because the opportunity for deeper or more effective learning is being lost. It all comes down to purpose. Why is the technology being used the way it is?

I’ve been advocating for years for technology to be used to “transform” teaching and felt that we will never really be able to change student outcomes for the better until we stop doing the same ineffective teaching that we’ve held onto for years and started to fundamentally rethink how we teach and what we expect students to do as learners. But I’ve been advocating for technology use in a broad way and have been happy with the low expectations we have of teachers using technology in our classrooms because “at least they are using it.” Maybe true advocacy is not allowing it to be ok that time being spent with technology is having a negative effect on student learning because it’s replacing good teaching strategies. Although I’d want to focus obviously on the transformative ways technology can impact student learning our schools need to have bigger discussions about the things that don’t work as instructional practices and help teachers make the connection that those same ineffective practices are equally ineffective when you add technology.

It think advocacy for the transformative power of technology will have to come through in the passion I bring to my communication with teachers and administrators, by modeling change and a growth mindset but most of all, by being a part of the bigger discussion around ensuring all teachers are using the best, research based, instructional practices to teach kids. If technology is the right tool to support those practices then I’ll be there to support, teach and guide teachers. But we have to be ready to let go of technology time and instructional practices that are not effective in helping our students learn.

References

  • Falck, O., Mang, C., & Woessmann, L. (2018). Virtually No Effect? Different Uses of Classroom Computers and their Effect on Student Achievement. Oxford Bulletin Of Economics And Statistics, 80(1), 1-38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/obes.12192