I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always liked their motto: “Be Prepared.” And as I was considering this week’s prompt, “Given the opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate globally, how can we help them develop strategies to troubleshoot and resolve issues that can come with increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media?” I began to wonder about what issues teachers and schools might face when it comes to increased use of emerging technologies. I thought of my own experiences…internet not working, computers not plugged in/charged up, students intentionally removing keys from the keyboard or stealing mice (“mouses?”), but I was sure there must be more to it than this. My problems are all pretty pedestrian, but schools and ed tech professionals must be thinking more broadly. Fortunately, in my research I came across no shortage of lists of the various issues with technology to be addressed by teachers in the classroom. As I soon discovered, I could place some of the biggest problems into three broad categories.
The first article, the one I’ll use as my resource for this blog post, is rather extreme in places, but is a good example of the need for a solid pedagogical approach when using technology in the classroom. My resource is from a 2013 article by Alfonzo Porter at The Washington Post. In his article, “The problem with technology in schools,” he outlines some of the basic problems confronting teachers with regard to technology in the classroom. Citing a 2012 Pew Research Survey, Porter blames technology for issues like creating short attention spans in students, declining face-to-face social skills, and students being conditioned to find “quick answers” (Porter). Even more problematic than this may be the inability of students to log off and put their devices away during class time. Porter argues, “To remedy this, all technology should be left in lockers and not allowed in the classroom. Failure to comply should be met with confiscation of the device, which would only be returned to the parent. If parents believe that it is acceptable for their child to violate established school policies, then the schools are left with no other option other than to seize them” (Porter). As a teacher, I recognize that there’s a time and place for technology (and I HAVE taken devices away on occasion), but this zero-use policy is bit harsh. It seems to belie the fact that technology can be used in the classroom – something he actually mentions later when he cites the survey again and mentions that “Roughly 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.” According to the teachers, technology may be a problem, but it may also be the solution. I’m willing to cut Porter some slack on his seemingly harsh policy about electronic devices in the classroom (or “gizmos” as he calls them) as being a possible overstatement of what his position may actually be. I’ll also take the age of the article into consideration – although by 2013, cell phones were a staple of most students’ lives. In any case, I’ll stick with his statement about technology being the problem AND the solution. But it begs the question about the pedagogical application of technology in the schools. If it’s a question of how it’s used, then that’s an important first step.
Terry Heick at Teachthought and Michelle Harvin at EdTech Times both offer lists of problems with technology in the classroom that focus on how it’s used. Here’s both of their lists with brief explanations as to their points:
1. Pace of Change (Schools are not switching over fast enough, plus $)
2. Different Social Dynamics (Online classes may not be taken seriously)
3. Distraction (Teachers can’t watch what everyone’s doing all the time!)
4. Technology Out-thinking the Instruction (Tech makes it too easy)
5. Learning Innovation vs Improved Test Performance (More technology doesn’t guarantee improved test performance) (Heick)
5. The crutch (Copying and pasting instead of actually learning)
4. The crash (Tech problems at home may make material inaccessible)
3. The old-timer (Some teachers don’t use it, many aren’t trained to)
2. The Facebook (Distraction)
1. The Band-Aid (It’s not a guarantee of success) (Harven)
If we look at both lists, several items overlap. Distraction is on both lists as is some sort of idea that the learning becomes too easy or superficial. More interestingly is the idea that more technology doesn’t necessarily equal more success, which not only appears on both lists, but appears in the same spot (Harven decided to count “down” rather than “up”). So clearly the first step is to acknowledge that technology is not a magic bullet that will slay every problem schools face. In fact, adding more technology without the proper support may exasperate problems (and a greater cost) than actually fix anything. Pedagogy is key in using technology in a meaningful, impactful way in education. If digital education is going to work, it has to be done correctly.
Big Picture: Administrative Issues
The second type of problems that became apparent in my research tended to focus on issues administration might face when looking at technology in the school. Frank Smith’s article for EdTech Magazine and David Nagel’s piece for The Journal both highlight the administrative side of the equation. Again, here are their arguments (respectively):
- 75.9% — Budget limits
- 53.9% — Inadequate professional training
- 41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
- 38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
- 30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
- 29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
- 17.8% — Other
- 13.2% — District doesn’t see immediate need for more technology (Smith)
Challenge 1: professional development.
Challenge 2: resistance to change.
Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. (Massive Open Online Course)
Challenge 4: delivering informal learning.
Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning.
Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments. (Nagel)
Smith’s results come from a survey of 150 education teachers and leaders while Nagel draws upon, “The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition,” by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project. It’s fascinating to look at the similarities here: professional development is #2 and #1, and teacher resistance is #3 and #2 (and #3 on Harven’s list above). Two different groups, two years apart both identified two of the exact same problems (in approximately the same place) facing Ed Tech today. And it’s no coincidence given that the lack of training and the subsequent frustration and resistance go hand-in-hand. To me this speaks volumes. We must do a better job of educating our teachers on how to use technology. It’s approximately 1/3rd of the biggest problems facing the field right now! If you could solve 33% of your profession’s biggest problems by fixing one issue, wouldn’t you? This is nothing short of a call to arms for Ed Tech leaders to fix the problems that schools have been overlooking for too long.
Most of Smith’s other issues relate to hardware/infrastructure issues while Nagel takes us into different approaches to how education should work in a digital environment (more pedagogical). Both of these approaches are important as well, but I’m looking for commonality here so these points will have to wait for another day.
The Bigger Picture: The Social Network
As I write these lines, a news story from two days ago is still rattling around in my head. A twelve year old girl, Mallory Grossman committed suicide after some persistent cyber-bullying from her schoolmates. A tragedy. Now her parents are suing Rockaway Township School District for “gross negligence” in the death of their daughter. I can’t imagine what these parents are going through. This kind of loss is painful beyond words. But as I look at the position the school is now placed in – as being “responsible” through negligence for the death of this young girl, I can’t help but see another potential problem can come with “increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media.” I don’t pretend to have any answers for this specific case, but it’s worth taking a brief look at some elements of this tragedy. New Jersey has one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the nation and they even have an 86 page guide: Guidance for Schools on Implementing the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. In fact, it’s the school’s alleged failure to comply with this act that is being cited by the parents in the lawsuit. I’ve looked over guidelines and the law, but didn’t see much in the way of internet or social media-specific policies. This may be an oversight on my part or the law’s, but more information will come out about that as the case proceeds. In her coverage of the case, the Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt pointed out that Mallory is not alone in being persecuted on the internet. “One recent study surveying 5,600 children nationwide between the ages of 12 to 17 found that 34 percent had experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes” (Schmidt). This number is pretty high and I’m not surprised. The anonymity and power of the internet are a powerful lure, and a struggling adolescent can fall in to a pattern of abusing others at the click of a button. Digital citizenship education must be paired with anti-bullying campaigns. It’s HOW bullying is done in the 21st century. The problem is the parameters. The school can curtail your first amendment rights at school when you say you’re going to hurt another student. But what right/responsibility does that school have when you’re on your own Facebook page or your Instagram page or Snapchat or whatever? Should the school be checking every student’s internet footprint to see if they’re saying mean things about other students? Is it even possible? Again, I’m not sure how this will play out. The Grossman’s lawyer dramatically pushed the argument to its limits. “‘We are here today to bring light to the fact that this small device can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong child,’ Nagel said holding up an iPhone in the Tuesday news conference” (Schmidt). The cell phone as a weapon – that’s the issue today. How schools respond to this and what programs they have in place to teach responsible digital behavior, as well as anti-bullying programs, will determine if cases like this become the norm in the future. Just like with the pedagogical issue, technology may be the problem, but it may also be the solution. Modeling and teaching proper digital citizenship and collaboration is key. “Informed and empathetic global citizens use online technologies to gain different perspectives about the world” (Lindsay). This is a far cry from the insulated, self-focused, vindictive behaviors that victimize so many adolescents (and adults) every year. This is yet another call for diligent Ed Tech leadership.
Conclusion: What’s the Problem(s)?
At the end of my research, I think the three biggest issues that we, as Ed Tech leaders, have to be prepared to address are pedagogy, professional development, and digital citizenship. Or, to state it as a series of directives, we must practice and promote effective pedagogy that utilizes technology for learning. We must train and support our teachers so they can function and flourish in the digital environment, and we must coordinate and implement meaningful digital citizenship programs that promote healthy internet behavior. Of course, these overlap with numerous ISTE standards, but i guess that’s the point. Learning the ISTE standards is a way to prepare us to meet and address these issues; it was just fun to turn it around this time and look at it from the problem side. And at least we know where we can find the answers.
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
Harven, Michelle (November 6, 2013). “Top 5 Problems with Technology in Education Today.” EdTechTimes. Retrieved from: https://edtechtimes.com/2013/11/06/top-5-problems-technology-education-today/
Heick, Terry. “5 Problems With Technology In Classrooms.” TeachThought.com. Retrieved from: http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/5-problems-with-technology-in-classrooms/
Lindsay, Julie (July 19, 2016). “How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom.” Education Week. Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/07/how_to_encourage_and_model_global_citizenship_in_the_classroom.html
Nagel, David (June 4, 2013). “6 Technology Challenges Facing Education.” The Journal. Retrieved from: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/06/04/6-Technology-Challenges-Facing-Education.aspx?Page=1
Porter, Alfonzo (January 28, 2013). “The problem with technology in schools.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/the-problem-with-technology-in-schools/2013/01/28/cf13dc6c-6963-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_blog.html?utm_term=.89898f0ec227
Schmidt, Samantha (August 4, 2017). “After months of bullying, her parents say, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. They blame the school.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/02/after-months-of-bullying-a-12-year-old-new-jersey-girl-killed-herself-her-parents-blame-the-school/?utm_term=.6124ec7ab95c
Smith, D. Frank (November 23, 2015). “The 7 Greatest Challenges Facing Education Technology.” EdTech Magazine. Retrieved from: https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2015/11/7-greatest-challenges-facing-education-technology