The Ugly Truth of Technology Integration

The Ugly Truth of Technology Integration

Over the last few months I have attended and presented several educational technology conferences and presentations. In each of the presentations, the presenters have shared experiences and tools that have changed their teaching, improved student engagement, and demonstrated students owning their learning; all while making it look easy. As a presenter, I feel challenged to make whatever tool I am demonstrating look easy to use and implement in the classroom. But I think it is time I let you in on a little secret; integrating technology into the classroom isn’t always easy. In fact, integrating any technology into the classroom can be messy, clumsy, challenging and downright frustrating.

Teachers who are exposed to all of these new tools and ideas with each presentation have the potential of finding out that using these tools and ideas in the classroom do not always work out the same way they are presented, and that can lead to frustration and potentially giving up on an idea. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to be exposed to new things. But as a professional development provider and presenter it is my job to not only show what is possible, but to equip people with the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to execute those ideas.

The Problem

In many presentations, workshops, or even Tweets, we are limited to a finite amount of time where we have to introduce a tool or concept, demonstrate it, and inspire you to want to use it. While it is important to share personal experiences in those presentations, it is easy to leave out some of the struggles and learning that was necessary to get to the point of presenting it for fear of not appearing as an expert. The trade-off at times is not equipping educators with the necessary knowledge and skills needed to implement the technology in their classrooms. Additionally, many would probably be overwhelmed by a highly technical or step-by-step set of instructions.

When educators take what they have seen back to the classroom, they may have an idea of the lesson they would like to teach, but are unprepared to troubleshoot any technical issues. Conversely, while they may have an understanding of the tool, they may not have a strong understanding of the pedagogical implications of what a tool for allows. For example, if a teacher sees an example of Google Docs as a collaborative writing application where all students can edit at the same time, having 8th graders working simultaneously on writing may look very different than 2nd graders attempting the same thing.

The reality is there is just not enough time to present every variable of a lesson using technology. Nor should there be an expectation that teachers know every variable before using a tool in the classroom.

TPACK

Source: http://tpack.org/

Source: http://tpack.org/

As I have written on this website, TPACK stands for Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge. This framework looks at each of these domains of knowledge, and how they overlap with each other within a given context. It can be an important tool when addressing the problem I have just presented.

While it is impossible in a short period of time to teach or explain all of the possible technical and pedagogical knowledge needed to integrate a tool into the classroom, it is possible to start with essential knowledge. By introducing teachers to TPACK, and giving them the essential knowledge necessary to get started using the tool, we can help to ease frustrations and increase the likelihood of success.

Technological Knowledge (TK)

The first and most important thing to understand is that teachers should not be expected to be experts of a particular technology tool, especially when first learning it. Mastering a tool and understanding every nuance of a tool can take years, and that is if the tool doesn’t change during that time. To use a tool, here are three pieces of essential knowledge and questions that teachers must know to use a tool in their classroom.

Technological Essential Knowledge

1. Know how to Undo/Fix Mistakes

While this may seem simple, it has been one of the biggest sources of frustrations for teachers using new tools in the classroom. Students make mistakes, and that’s OK. Most good technology tools have a way to undo or go back to fix a mistake. When learning a new tool, this is the most important piece of information to share with teachers. By providing teachers with this knowledge, it allows them to pre-teach or easily correct issues that could otherwise put a lesson in jeopardy and help ease frustration while students are learning the tool.

2. Know how to share/export

Once students create something with technology, the next important step is understanding what to do with it next. Will they email it to you? Is there a website they will post to? These are important questions, and each application may act a little differently when sharing or exporting. This is a crucial piece of information that a teacher must have to complete a lesson, and one that may cause frustration it has not been taught/shared.

3. Know the accessibility of the tool

How will students access this tool? Do they need a login? Is it a “freemium” tool that will only allow partial usability for free? It can be an extremely frustrating experience to learn about a tool only to find out the functionality of it is limited by cost or other limitations. Will students need email addresses? Are these sites blocked by a district web-filter? Teachers should know this information before beginning to use a tool. It is important for teachers to learn how students will access and get started using the tool.

These three pieces of knowledge do not include all of the technical steps in a given lesson, but they do provide foundational knowledge for teachers to begin using the tool in the classroom. Messy, in this case, can be OK. Teachers should explore the tool as well as encouraging students to do the same. That type of discovery learning, combined with this foundational knowledge will help to make integrating the tool into the classroom a much easier process.

In addition to this essential foundational knowledge, it is important that teachers ask the following questions of themselves when planning to use a technology tool.

Technological Essential Questions

1. What skills or information do I need to use this tool?

After establishing the essential knowledge, teachers should identify questions or skills that they would like to learn more about. These types of skills may include specific operations with the technology, or reflect a personal willingness to use the tool on their own.

2. What skills do my students need to use this tool?

While we expect students to be “digital natives”, the reality is they still need support and teaching of technological skills and concepts. When introducing a tool to students, it is important to consider what skills they may need to use the tool, and if those skills have been taught before. For example, the transition from Microsoft Office to Google Docs may be an easy transition because of the similar interface and operations. However, teaching students to use something like a Prezi is radically different that a PowerPoint Presentation. These are important considerations that will help in the planning of a lesson.

Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK)

For the purposes of this article, we will not explore pedagogical and content knowledge. However, we will explore what happens when technology is overlapped with pedagogy. No doubt, adding technology can change the way teachers teach and students learn. Just like the technological knowledge, it is impossible to teach all of pedagogical implications of adding technology however, we can address the ways technology can be integrated and what essential questions to ask when integrating technology.

The 4 C’s of Technology Integration

The easiest way to look at the role of technology is to understand that it is a tool that amplifies inherent abilities. Specifically, when integrating technology into the classroom it can amplify 4 student abilities. Those are the abilities to:

  • Consume Content
  • Create Content
  • Collaborate
  • Communicate

From a pedagogical perspective, technology can alter or change students abilities to do each of the 4 C’s. When presenting new tools, it is important then to address which C’s the tool highlights or improves, and how it impacts the learning. These should be explicitly addressed and explained to give the teacher an understanding of how the tool may be used, drawing on their prior pedagogical knowledge.

TPK Essential Questions

When planning to use technology, it is important to ask the following questions:

1. What does the learning look like?

This is important from an instructional side, as well as from the student learning perspective. Will students work collaboratively? Will the lesson be instructor led? These are vital questions to ask prior to using technology in a lesson, and one not often discussed in depth at conferences and presentations. For example, a presenter may say students worked collaboratively, but they may not expand on what the collaboration looked like or even how students are grouped. It is important to ask this question when learning about new tools, as they will help shape how the lesson is designed as well as relieve some of the messiness discussed earlier.

2. How will this tool change the learning?

This answer may not always be initially apparent, but it is important to address the possibilities. As mentioned before, if technology amplifies an ability, what ability are you amplifying? For example if students are communicating, then one of the changes may be that they can publish or share thoughts with a wider audience. How do you plan for this in a lesson? When presenting new tools, asking these questions and providing a partial answer will help teachers understand why they should use this tool, and how it may impact learning. It may also give them more insight into their preparation of the students for the lesson.

Final  Reflections (TPCK)

Once a presentation or lesson is complete, it is important to allow time for reflection. What worked? What didn’t work? What would you do differently next year? All of these are important reflective questions to ask to continue to improve using a tool, or not continuing to use it all together.

Conclusion

While it still might be a dirty secret that every lesson using technology does not always work perfectly, hopefully these strategies for looking at technology integration will help dispel that conception. The truth is just like learning any new skill or tool it takes time. There will be frustration, messiness and moments of panic, but there can also be great moments of discovery, sharing, and learning. This process will help to empower teachers to solve problems and take risks while attempting to use tools without the fear of failure, which ultimately is a skill we would like to model for students.

So the next time you are attending or presenting at a conference consider the strategies I have discussed, and hopefully we can make that ugly truth a dirty lie.

  • Mark McShane

    I’m not sure I understand the point of thus article and, despite making the point that we often don’t have time for detail, you’ve presented an over complicated explanation of a simple fact of life…new ideas can be difficult. Are you saying that we shouldn’t bother?

    You’ve made no obvious attempt to explain the difficulties other than to suggest teachers might not have the savvy to implement the things they see. If people are engaged enough to attend an event them they’re likely to be able to take on board the possible hurdles.

    In my, considerable, experience of using ICT the problems are rarely to do with ignorance on the part of the classroom teacher and more often to uninformed strictures.

    As we spend most of our time helping others to learn how to learn, surely we can apply this to our own daily tools, sorry toils, and have colleagues, real or virtual, support us in overcoming the problems you highlight.

    I teach Physics. The gas laws have been a staple for decades even though setting up and running the experiments can be challenging. Should we stop doing them?

    Fewer Venn diagrams and a little more common sense, I think.

  • Karen Justl

    I don’t feel he is saying don’t bother at all. I think he is spotlighting the fact that there is more to tech integration than meets the eye. For the majority of teachers, we are asking them to shift their practice – to have students do the work and then to use technology to accomplish tasks that couldn’t be accomplished before.

  • mfijor

    Mark,

    I agree with you that new ideas can be difficult, but I am not implying we shouldn’t bother to try them. My hope for the article was to highlight strategies and tools to empower teachers to try to use new tools while equipping them with the knowledge to effectively solve problems when implementing those new ideas.

    I am not saying that teachers are ignorant or not capable of retaining new information from conferences and seminars, but rather looking at the foundational knowledge needed to help teachers succeed in the classroom. Just as you are a teacher, even though students may be engaged and motivated to learn, to assume that they retain all the new knowledge and understanding of the material from one exposure to the level that they can easily apply their learning would not be ideal for all students.

    Thank you for your feedback and I hope people continue to take on challenging tasks and new ideas in their classrooms.

  • atxteacher

    I think many of the questions here are good reminders of what we should think about when implementing a new tool. As a presenter, it’s a good list of questions to share with teachers to prompt their thinking about how the implementation might go. A review check list to make sure you’ve covered your bases.

    I did a full day PD for 300+ teachers on tech tools. Despite lots of preparation, we kept crashing the wifi system during the workshop. At the end of the day, several teachers came up to me and said, “Thank you for modeling what to do when the technology doesn’t go as planned. I’ve had trouble each time I’ve tried something and quit trying. Seeing you work through those issues has helped me know how to try again.”

    That certainly isn’t what I wanted her to get out of the full day’s presentation, but I was thankful it gave her the confidence to try again. Reading this article reminded me that teachers need models just like students. So modeling what to do when things go awry can be powerful.