As someone who works to assist educators with the integration of technology into instruction, I work with a wide variety of experience levels and skill sets. At times it is a challenge to meet all their needs. Nevertheless, just as in any K-12 classroom, you accept people where you find them and seek to help them move forward. But how can we best do that?
Research has given us a couple of models that can serve as a lens to examine this and assist us in formulating strategies. The first, and probably wider known is the SAMR model from Dr. Ruben Puentedura.
At its base level, technology is used as a Substitute. If you put a worksheet on an iPad, you have a very expensive worksheet. My own ed tech journey included a time when I was really proud that I had figured out how to scan student worksheets and turn them into fill-able PDFs that they could fill out on their laptops. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that was a waste of good technology, not to mention bad pedagogy.
Writing a paper with a word processor can be seen as Augmentation. Students can change font sizes, use spell check, and even email their work. Modification comes in when online collaborative word processors such as Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive are utilized. Students can communicate and collaborate in the same document in real time on separate devices transforming the task significantly. If you consider adding in something like Skype or Google Hangout, students can connect with classrooms literally around the world to collaborate on a document. Add in Google Translate and even the language barrier is not insurmountable and you can start talking about true Redefinition—a task that would be impossible without the technology.
Moving classroom technology use up through the levels of this model is an important task for technology leaders. Not every task needs to be at the top of the model, but why does so much technology use tend to be mere Substitution or, at best, Augmentation? For example, two of the most common tools I see are interactive whiteboards and document cameras. Schools spend quite a bit of money on document cameras that are used to show a teacher filling out a worksheet or solving a math problem on paper. Interactive whiteboards costing thousands of dollars are often used no differently than a regular whiteboard, and never touched by students. Why are many teachers stuck in substitution mode?
Teacher confidence comes into play
I believe much of the reason has to do with a teacher’s confidence in using technology. Mark Anderson developed a flowchart examining teacher confidence based on the work of Dr. Ellen Mandinach and Dr. Hugh Cline.
You can see that at the base level, teachers are in Survival mode, often afraid of breaking technology. As someone who was around when personal home computers were first introduced. I quite understand this fear. I remember when putting in your floppy disks in the wrong order could mess you up for hours. Part of my job is to give them some training and practice and let them see that today’s Web 2.0 technologies are not as fragile thus instilling confidence and moving up into the next stage of Mastery.
Where teachers begin to have Impact is when students also are using technology. To quote Alan November, “The person doing the work is doing the learning.” When technology is teacher-centric, students are left out of the experience. It is also worth mentioning that the Impact stage says “using tech effectively.” How effective is it to only use an iPad to practice math facts, or a laptop only to take a reading quiz? Innovation comes into play when technology becomes second nature. Its no longer a question of how to fit technology into a unit. Effective technology use is a matter of course in everyday lesson design.
What I noticed when looking at these two models is a confluence where one helps explain the other. In many cases, especially early on in technology integration, technology is used as a substitute because teachers are in Survival mode and seek the comfort of a familiar environment. It is after they have received some training and feel a sense of Mastery that they can begin to move into Augmentation and beyond.
Our role as leaders is to help build teacher confidence with the use of technology so that they can move beyond mere Substitution. We can do this in a number of ways.
- Provide them with working, effective tools.
- Provide enough tech support; teachers don’t have time to troubleshoot on their own.
- Provide sufficient devices so students can use them reasonably. You don’t need to have 1:1, but one iPad in a classroom is not technology integration.
- Ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for reliable and readily available internet access. If teachers know the tools, infrastructure, and support are reliable, it builds their confidence. When it is not, quite the opposite is true.
- Bring in quality professional development—hands-on, ongoing, not just sit and get.
- Offer release time to observe exemplary classrooms and to collaborate with one another.
Lastly, give them permission to try, and permission to fail. Technology integration can be messy and fraught with failure. Just like learning to walk, falls and missteps should be expected. Support your teachers, build their confidence, so they can effectively use these essential tools for teaching and learning. Keep in mind they are teaching students who grew up with, and will go into, a world full of technology. Don’t let the classroom be a technology free zone.