On #edtech Excuses

ON Excuses

One of the most important roles for an IT professional in a school to remove perceived barriers to using technology for educationally sound purposes. I use “perceived barriers” as a euphuism for excuses. You will find, there are teachers (and others) who will find a series of excuses to avoid using technology voluntarily. Consider this case:

Mrs. M is a high school math teacher. The math coordinator for the district has encouraged her to use Geometer’s Sketchpad (yes, the story was long enough ago that this desktop application was still widely used—I suggest the phenomenon is still common). Because the school year was underway and the possible budget sources were empty, the technology coordinator provided an open source geometry program that functioned much the same.

  • It was installed on her classroom computer which had a projector for the class to see the screen.
  • Mrs. M responded, “I really need all of my students to have it.” The software was installed on the laptops on a mobile cart. The computers were about three years old.
  • Mrs. M responded she really needed the “real Geometer’s Sketchpad” as the open source version worked, but she “didn’t like it.”
  • At the start of the next school year, funds were used to install license for the software on the mobile computers.
  • Mrs. M responded, “the computers are too old.” The licenses were transferred to newer models.”
  • Mrs. M responded she needed a Smartboard to use the software effectively. The math coordinator arranged for one to be installed when they found one that was being unused in a classroom in another school
  • Mrs. M responded she needed more training and support in teaching with the board.

If this situation were to arise again, the details would change. Mrs. M would have Desmos and similar tools available. The students would likely have Chromebooks. Interactive whiteboards are more available, and there are likely to be more instructional coaches and integration specialists to provide support.

It was about 10 years ago that I was solving all of the barriers Mrs. M was finding after the previous one was addressed. I took four lessons from this:

1) For IT professionals, know this is a strategy used by teachers who are not comfortable with proposed changes in what they do. Address the problems (remove the excuses) without comment. We know you are doing extra work. Take quite personal satisfaction in taking the excuses away.

2) For teachers, be clear about your reluctance. Is it access to technology? Familiarity with it? The need to relearn how to teach your lessons? Be clear to yourself and the academic and technologic resource people. If you are clear to start, you avoid alienating IT who keep jumping through the hoops you hold up.

3) Make sure you are using the existing systems to their fullest. The complete story is that at each of the steps Mrs. M had not been using the technology she said she needed. (The software was never in her class on the “old” computers before she said she needed it on newer computers.) School and IT leaders are understandably reluctant to give you everything you say you need if you aren’t “pushing the existing system to its limit.”

4) For academic leaders, look at technology-rich teaching from a systems view. What are the technology issues? What are the curriculum issues? What are the training issues? What are the social issues?