Strong Like Donkey Kong

Are we putting our edtech efforts in the right place?

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis

Classroom 21 by Greg Limperis colecovisionAlmost twenty years ago, I went to college for my Masters in Education. Back then, there were people like I am now: halfway through their teaching careers teaching students while they themselves had no (or very little) experience with modern-day technology in their lives. For many of them, cutting-edge growing up meant showing one’s vacation pictures via a slideshow or movie reel. The slideshow was not the kind we know today. It was a carousel of pictures projected onto a wall or screen with one loud, mechanical-sounding click at a time. They had very little experience using new digital cameras because, for most of them, film was still the way pictures were taken. Speaking of film, if one was lucky enough to grow up with video, then their experience was with a big-reel movie projector and not the VCR tapes that I grew up with.

I remember in my Masters course at Boston College being introduced to the concept of “teaching with technology.” My mathematics professor showed us how we could use an Apple II to plot points and make an object move around across the screen. This technology, as he would explain it to us, would help make plotting in math more engaging for our students. Personal computers and the Internet were just coming out in force and we were using them for research and typing papers — but there was little to no discussion on how one could use this device to better educate our students. We were not adequately prepared to teach with the technology that was, at the time, simultaneously being purchased in schools for teachers to use.

I was one of the lucky ones growing up: we had a VCR in my house. Yes, we had slideshows, but we also had movies via video cassette—this was great! We had technology. I also had one of the first game systems to hit the market — I had a Colecovision. With that, we had the attachment to play Nintendo games as well. We were playing Donkey Kong, Qbert and so much more. When one of the first home PCs came out, I took my paper route money and I bought a Commodore 64. At an early age, I was introduced to DOS code, “saving to disk” — and so much more.

Years later, when I was given my first student-teacher classroom to teach in, I was lucky. Placed in a brand-new, state-of-the-art school with six computers per class with one on every teacher’s desk, in my first year of teaching full-time at that school I was also given a laptop and access to a school television studio. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t given much training on how to integrate all of this technology in my college teacher prep classes, and very little at the school I was at. If I was not that lucky kid growing up with all of this technology in my household, I’m sure I might have found implementing its use into my daily teaching a bit intimidating. I know my peers did. Yet, like most school systems then, the district kept throwing more technology at us with very little training.

However, it wasn’t their fault. Most of the district administrators didn’t grow up with technology, so knowing how to integrate it well into teaching was likewise foreign to them. As far as they knew, the training they were offering their staff was sufficient. Their staff would just have to figure it out as they assumed everyone else was doing. Colleges were not giving teachers the training they needed with technology, and neither was their district. Even if a staff member thought they did get adequate training, I am willing to bet it was fair at best.

Fast forward to almost twenty years later. Kids these days are growing up with multiple devices almost attached to them as if an appendage. They have cell phones, e-readers, tablets, laptops, computers, high-powered gaming consuls, netbooks, MP3 players and more. Not to mention DVRs, digital content, the cloud, and apps are all part of their daily lives. Their lingo includes words that didn’t exist when I was growing up, minus the cloud, but that meant those things in the sky on a crummy day.

Teachers these days are expected to be able to teach to these kids with instruments they are used to using much the same as it was for me twenty years earlier. Back then, we were given equipment with very little training on how best to integrate it into our teaching. For many of us, the same happens today. Students are coming out of college not being shown how best to integrate some of this technology because, in fairness, the professors training them simply didn’t grow up with it — and, for many of them, their knowledge on how best to integrate technology is also fair, at best. Districts are still throwing tons of software and hardware at our teachers. Though, leaders like me are doing much the same. Just the other day, I must have shared out almost one hundred sites, apps or articles about great tech integration without any way of making sure teachers would know how best to integrate these resources.

I couldn’t help but think while sharing them that our efforts are in the wrong place. My teachers have little extra time in their day. If they’re lucky enough to come across these resources, those who have the energy or luxury to look at them won’t even know where to start. When they had the time in college, they were never shown how best to use these tools — and if they were — then they are changing so quick, it is almost impossible to keep up with them.

We as professors, thought leaders and administrators need to do more. We need to become professional in how to integrate this technology and then when we do so, we need to get that knowledge in the hands of our teachers. We need to give them just as much professional development as we give them product. We need to start off all of our training when it comes to technology much the same as I start mine. One of the first things I say when I begin a training session is, “Please have me back out and let you learn it.” It’s also one of the last things I say. We need to make ourselves available when our teachers have time so we can give them the help they need. Our colleges need to get their hands on the equipment they possibly may use during a school year and they need to teach those prospective educators how to best integrate that technology on a regular basis. We need to lead by example. If we expect our teachers to integrate technology into their teaching, then we need to integrate it into our training just the same. We need to lead by example.

It’s about time we start to do more, give more, train more — and buy less. According to an article I read the other day, analysts think the edtech budget is about to burst. In my mind, that’s because, for too long, we’ve put money in the wrong place. We’ve made countless great products — many that do the same thing as others with a slight variation, yet so few provide our educators with what they need most — not options, but opinions. How we use the technology will far outweigh what technology we have.

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Greg Limperis is Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district in Lawrence, Mass.  He is the founder of the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. Greg has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st century skills.  

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