Friday, July 24, 2009

Top Eleven Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology (or: I promised Dean Groom I wouldn’t write a top ten list; so this one goes up to eleven.)

The Top Eleven Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology

1. Technology is not a monolith.
Technology doesn’t tell you what to do and it doesn’t force you to behave in ways you’d rather not. Technology -- particularly social technology -- is whatever you make it. Use what you want, leave the rest. Mash it up, alter it to fit your needs, customize it, and own it. If you can’t do that with your technology, then you are using the wrong technology.

2. Technology is not a monolith, but many technology providers are monolithic.
There is very little that any teacher will need that can not be had via open source options. If your administration is spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on software and licenses, they are literally throwing their money away. They need to know that. And you need to be the one to tell them.

3. The Digital Age is not going away.
We have already produced babies who will see the 22nd century. So let’s stop trying to prepare them for the 20th. The Internet as it exists today is equivalent to the Model A; let’s be wise for once and not build the highway of the future with the notion that our kids are going to be driving Model As on it.

4. Meeting strangers is a good thing.
So often our fears about technological connectivity center around the fear of what sorts of strangers our students might bump into out there online. Fact is: we should want them to meet strangers. That’s the point. You don’t make the world better by isolating yourself; you make the world better by engaging with it and sharing opinions, ideas, and observations with all sorts of people. Our task as teachers -- and as parents -- is to help our kids understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relations between strangers online. One way to do this is by modeling the behaviors we expect of digital citizens in the classroom everyday. That's not an option anymore; it's part of our job description. We are all health professionals now.

5. This ain’t your pappy’s technology.
Your students bring more tech power into school in their pockets each morning than you managed to procure spending untold hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last thirty years. All those folks who complained and questioned tech budgets back in 1983 and 1996: they were right. You were wasting money on gadgets with little educational value. But, guess what? Then it all changed. With the advent of the mainstream World Wide Web and subsequently with the development of Web 2.0, technology itself actually became something different. It was no longer about the hardware. It was about the network. Which brings us to the present: Mobile Cloud Computing. The new paradigm is about your information, your friends' information, the information of strangers, and how these informations all coalesce in the Cloud. The future is now. And despite the fact his job might be on the line, don't let your old school IT guy tell you otherwise.

6. The Digital Divide is not the result of technology being expensive.
The Digital Divide is the result of a failure of imagination and the poor -- indeed practically criminal -- allocation of resources. Does your admin realize how little it costs to bring Wi-Fi to your building? Does your admin realize they are spending more on textbooks in many cases than they would on netbooks? Has anyone ever sat down with your admin and demonstrated how to hack past your Internet blocks and filters? Does your admin realize how that money is wasted? Does your admin realize that your students can access the unfiltered web via their cell phones? Do 70% of your students arrive everyday with cell phones and yet your colleagues still say technology is out of your reach? It's time to rethink.

7. The most important thing we can do right now as teachers is to be campaigners and advocates and organizers for free universal Wi-Fi Internet access.
We work in the service of education. We give students information and we teach them how to use it. That’s exactly why we have to be the ones to lead the fight for free and universal immediate access to information. We should demand WiMax systems in all of our cities and suburbs and Wi-Fi grids throughout the rural hills and valleys. We should also insist that all highway corridors be made Wi-Fi accessible so that travelers can have access to the Internet as they are en route to whatever destination. Internet Access is a matter of fulfilling the promise of democracy. Internet Access is a Civil Right.

8. When it comes to authentic tech integration, parents are the best friends a teacher can have.
You have parents who use social media and Web 2.0 technology on a daily basis whether at home or at work. So why does your school treat it as taboo? Bring parents in to your building, collaborate with them. Have tech savvy parents demonstrate real-world applications of technology and help bring non-tech savvy parents up to speed. We are educators. We educate. In light of the changes going on in the new Digital paradigms, that's going to mean that we have to educate the whole community and allow the community to educate us.

9. Kids need to be taught digital citizenship.
Hate using YouTube because of the filth in the comments? Then teach your kids that commenting on YouTube is a part of their responsibility as digital citizens; because in all social media it is the users who decide the content. Digital citizenship being a daily component of classroom learning, in eight years time let’s see what the comments on YouTube look like. And that doesn't mean YouTube needs to be 'cleaned up'; rather, much of the passion related to YouTube happens in the comments and it's often raw and real (as well as sophomoric and prejudiced). But it tells us alot about ourselves and we shouldn't be afraid to help our kids navigate it and become critical participants in the dialogue. Never forget that you are a teacher: you aren’t ‘making’ the present, you are ‘facilitating’ the future. So don’t be discouraged about what you see now, rather be encouraged about what your teaching will let tomorrow look like.

10. Specific devices and tech apps become obsolete.
Don’t dwell on that. Instead, recognize that the Digital Age is more about a new networked and immediately connected way of thinking; that’s not going to change no matter whose name appears at the top of the browser or on the back of the smartphone. Obsolescence is the handmaiden of innovation. Get used to it.

11. You must be fearless.
The old rules are exactly that. The old system doesn’t work: just look at it and see for yourself. Everyone knows this. The admins know it. Your colleagues know it. The kids and their parents know it. So let’s stop tip-toeing around it. It’s time to do something about it. This is 2009: demand the impossible, again.


  1. AWESOME post! I'm with you on the universal Wi-Fi. Every teacher that ever had questions about where technology is and where it's heading should read this. This would definitely guide them in the right direction.
    The sad thing is, many org (including education) still have yet to take advantage of open source and I think biggest reason is because budget department puts so much money aside for technology and they have been used to for years spending it on software and licenses that they don't know anything else.
    They definitely need to start exploring the options of open source and what it would do for them. If they took advantage of open source, so much more money would be available for other critical programs, like physical education, music and the arts, etc.



  2. As a teacher at the college level (math and computer science, and I direct my college's engineering program) I have to disagree somewhat with #2 and #10. It is not the case that there is an equivalent open-source alternative for every piece of technology that we need. Example: Our students going into engineering really need to learn MATLAB. It is the industry standard for scientific computing, and first of all there are few if any open-source alternatives to it (there are a couple that come close), and second of all when our engineers graduate they will need to know MATLAB, not Some Open-Source Product that is Sort of Like MATLAB, to be competitive in the job market.

    That example is why I disagree with #10 as well. There are some devices and applications that have been around forever and show no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. I used MATLAB as an undergrad math major in the 80's when it was a free DOS-based program. People still program in FORTRAN. For some industries, Macs are the only hardware that will get the job done. And so on.

    All of these points might be true for the K-12 world, or in disciplines in which the technology itself is not the focus, but there are other places in education where these points begin to break.

  3. Thanks for the eleven things I should know about technology as a teacher. I agree that too much money is being poured down the drain in the name of technology, but having access to these software packages is one way that teachers are learning how tech can be integrated into the classroom. It is a costly way to get them onboard. Slowly they might start to learn about free alternatives that exist and start migrating to them.

    I really liked the point about involving parents. I plan to do bimonthly tech sessions with our parents this school year. I will use your sugggestion of using tech savvy parents to present information.

    Cellphones? I attended a webinar just yesterday about using cellphones in the classrooms. Liz Kolb and Ron Myers were two of the presenters. They got me thinking about how I could incorporate cellphines in my classroom. Then someone sent me a tweet about an interview with U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and he is in favor of using cellphones in education. Our students are carrying around these powerful devices and most schools disallow them in the classroom.

    Thanks for adding to my thinking.

  4. Blogger ate my last comment... here's what I remember:


    Great point, which is why I left a little wiggle room in #2.

    I agree that specific apps like you mention (I'm also thinking about industry/design specific programs in art, music, architecture...) should be learned on account of being standard in those disciplines.

    However, looking at a whole school (whether K-12 or a college), the majority of productivity and presentation/communication/archiving/publishing programs could pretty easily be substituted by open source alternatives.


  5. @PNaugle

    The bimonthly tech sessions with parents sounds like a great idea. Let us know how it goes.


  6. " encouraged about what your teaching will let tomorrow look like." We've got to open the door to open the mind to education and learning again. The kids are demanding it in their apathy. Do imagine what the "cloud" connectiveness will involve IF we start digital citizenship today. And absolutely, we need universal WiFi Internet access-- all of us need access so all of us have the opportunities to enrich our lives, our world, and our relationships. Imagine.

  7. I really like #8. For anything to really work parents need to be involved - we influence kids for 5-6 hours a day, family/friends are there the rest of the time. I've been working with the less tech-savvy lately, but I'm going to look for some of the more tech-savvy next year.

    I like #11 even more. I think that one trait that distinguishes the tech-savvy educators from the less tech-savvy is those that are tech-savvy are persistent when learning about and with technology, even when difficulties arise. Fearless is a great word!

  8. This is a wonderful list. I am with you all the way on the wi-fi and couldn't agree more about the digital divide.

  9. Thanks for the post, Shelly. I teach in a high school where everyday students are reminded to keep their cellphones and ipods out of sight during school hours or else they will be confiscated. Hard to integrate new technology when the "higher-ups" don't even want to see them. I maintain a blog with my students (which is heavily stunted by the IT guys) and when I try to get other teachers to do the same, their first question is "Is there a lot of work involved?" (because the blog is locked down by IT, I have to approve everything before it gets posted so) I say "Sure, but no more than a regular classroom discussion" they walk away and say, "No thanks." There's a lot of work involved in changing people's minds...

  10. This is an interesting list. I can agree with many of the points that you brought up, but I have a bit of a problem with #7.

    WiMAX as a technology is not cheap to provide, not only because of hardware costs: the most common versions of WiMAX work on frequencies that in the US are licensed by the FCC to several large companies, with a possible small exception around 5 GHz, minor parts of which are currently licensed for "amateur" use. Other problems keep it from being a realistic option for long-distance Wi-Fi alternative for densely populated areas. Wi-Fi on a highway is generally only realistic for stationary points where people can pull off - such as rest areas. This might be a good idea, and many are currently adding such capabilities (at least in the midwest). (On the other hand, expecting Wi-Fi while driving is unlikely: access points have an effective range that would be covered by a car in a matter of seconds, making handoffs from one access point to another difficult and unreliable, not to mention the fact that each Wi-Fi access point would need to be connected to the same network internally. Cell networks handle this much better by having much better range for each tower, and being linked by their carriers.)

    While I can agree that Internet Access is necessary, I'm not sure that making it *free* to everyone is realistic at this point, even if that's what most people would like. Doing so would essentially require a massive federal effort paid for somehow, because creating and maintaining large networks is anything but cheap.

  11. I think you managed to cover it all here. Good thing it wasn't a "Top 10" list or the Fearless Factor would have been left out.

    You bring up a good point about the Digital Divide. My school building (101 years old) is being torn down for a new one to be built. The amount of textbooks and related paper materials that were recycled or sent home with kids was astounding. We could definitely save money by not having to buy as many textbooks. Electronic textbooks can be easily updated w/out having to collect and recycle the old ones. However, I'm not sure about the netbooks really taking off yet.

    One thing that has not been addressed is the fact that technologies have a lot to offer when teachers are educated in how they work. This list is definitely for those of us who are already educated in upcoming and current trends in technology. Putting a netbook in the hands of child rather than a textbook will not guarantee success.

    I love the idea of parent involvement. Districts serve families. If families tell them that they want these technologies in the classroom, Districts have no choice but to listen.

    Glad I checked out the post, and keep 'em coming!

  12. Don't let Groom bully you. I bet if we scour his blog we'll find a top 10 somewhere ;O)

    A great post and I particluarly like:

    'The most important thing we can do right now as teachers is to be campaigners and advocates and organizers for free universal Wi-Fi Internet access'

  13. What an excellent post and so to the point, problem is all those who stand in the way of technological advances, all the 'techno-luddites' won't read it. And if they do then they will spin things back. It is important that the converts (and if you are reading this then you probably are) champion the development and advancement of web 2.0 applications in the 21st century classroom.

  14. I think that the key thing you outline here is that we should be "modelling the behaviors we expect of digital citizens in the classroom everyday." Just as we act as a model of behaviour and language to our students we should be doing this.

    One thing that should also be noted is how younger children are engaging with different types of technology, including the social kind. Standing up and saying that as their teacher I want to show them how I use this in my work and all the positive it brings is vital.

  15. @mshertz

    re: "Putting a netbook in the hands of child rather than a textbook will not guarantee success."

    Absolutely. And you are 100% correct that part of this has to be a matter of teaching teachers what they can do with technology.

    And part of this has to be in changing the way we educate future teachers whether in ed school or elsewhere. Our ed school classrooms should be a model of how to integrate social technology into teaching.

    We can't just tell 'em on the way out: "Oh yeah, and you might want to think about using Twitter or something...".

    It's all about integration; and whether we're talking about paperless classrooms or social media enhanced seminars, we're talking about getting to a point where the technology is so perfectly integrated into the learning experience that it's just a natural thing.

    That's when the magic starts happening: when we feel so comfortable using a given technology that we don't dwell on the fact that we're using it. We just use it.

  16. Great Post! It echoes many of the things I have been saying when I go out and do presentations in front of teachers and administrators. I have just recently seen many of the things you have done through people RT'ing you.

    Keep up the good work!

  17. #6--YES! Excellent teacher + netbook (limitless access to primary materials) = best possible scenario for learning that matters.

  18. Nice post, well done and I agree in general with your points. However it needs to be re-written for the masses who have no idea what WiMax or Cloud computing actually is.
    I agree totally with points 4 and 9 and think that they are paired issues. Lets give the kids the tools to be critical and constructive netizens.

  19. What an awesome post. I was looking for a way to say this. Great job.

  20. This is an awesome post - I would like to post your 11 headers and have my teachers fill in the "whys". Seems like a great exercise to get them thinking.

  21. Great points. If this is true of the classroom, every teacher should ask their librarian to push this technology in the library and across the school. Tell them that Dave Loertscher says to transform their 20th century programs into learning commons. They should know what that means.

  22. Well said...and I am a librarian and I was at Dave's presentation at NECC. First have to convince those in charge to think outside of the box. Not easy but I am persistant!

  23. Very nice to read.
    I agree especially with #3: I am a teacher myself and many of my colleagues do not use IT in a sense where students have to learn to cope with it themselves. Also many curricula are still to old - focussing on things students will not need instead of letting them explore technology.

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  25. I hate this topic despite its relevancy, because it forces me to answer and relate to it. I know many people use the Internet productively. For me though, the use of computers, the Internet, and other technology, is forced upon us as a ‘need to know’ or a ‘post or die!’ basis. Little computer illiterate me hates how it took me all night to post this stupid blog!

    Oh, did you notice I already deleted my first comment? Ya, that was like my 6th because the first five disappeared on me! Grrr! is Grrr a word? Maybe not but it describes how I feel!

  26. Great post. Social network sites (SNSs) such as such as Facebook, CyWorld, and MySpace allow individuals to present themselves, articulate their social networks, and establish or maintain connections with others. This is especially true in business and education.

    dsi r4

  27. Wonderful and useful list. It has one of my favorite messages that is typically ignored by colleagues: "We have already produced babies who will see the 22nd century. So let’s stop trying to prepare them for the 20th." It seems that pedagogical growth stops with way too many PhDs the moment their degrees are conferred; they tend to teach as they were taught. And then we are dismissive of students for being bored, out of touch, unprepared, lazy, distracted, etc. Hmmmmm, maybe it's us, not them.

  28. #2 I agree with to a degree. I think over time this will be more right. But, something we've found helps "normal" teachers be more fearless with tech is consistency and standard. I say "normal" to differentiate from the more technically inclined teachers. Tech saavy teachers are more comfortable with trying all sorts of open source options but there's a complexity to grapple with there and it changes all the time, fast. I think we're headed in that direction but not overnight... my two cents worth...

  29. Internet access is a civil right? Ha! That assertion just denigrates the passionate fights for real civil rights.

    It is not only the users of Youtube that decide the content - corporations and vested individuals can determine what stays up and what gets removed according to copyright or libel considerations. It is an important resource and a fantastic way to engage digital citizenship, but let's be clear about its limitations.

    Otherwise, this post is a right on the money and should hopefully sway some reluctant teachers to embrace technology for their purposes. Thanks!

  30. I appreciate this post. Where i'm from, teachers have to find ways to make extra money to provide innovations in the classroom.

  31. I think you raise a good point in #9- "Kids need to be taught digital citizenship." Many schools offer lessons in character or citizenship education, why not teach explicit lessons in digital citizenship? We cannot assume that students will make the right choices when they view objectionable, inappropriate, or offensive material on the internet. Setting up ultra restrictive internet parameters in attempt to shelter students from inappropriate content may result in a lower quality of available information for research. Instead, students should engage in class discussions about how to respond to inappropriate material, and the teacher should model and teach acceptable web behavior. I do not believe in free reign of the internet without web filters, but I wonder if schools at times go too far at the expense of not preparing students for how to respond appropriately to internet material when they are outside of school.

  32. I appreciate this post. Wish my kids teachers were more like you.

  33. I also agree with Brian Kuhn's comment- teachers will become more fearless using new technology when there is consistency. To me, that means regular professional development to introduce, practice, and support new software and hardware. Too often our schools spend a great deal of money on new technology that never gets utilized in the classroom because teachers were not trained and supported in how to implement it effectively and easily.

  34. Well i liked the this it was very interesting didn't quit agree with number 2 and #10. When are the schools ever gonna stick to one program long enough to see if it actually works?i also agree with Brian Kukn's comment it was very good.

  35. love love love love love love #7 - been a pet issue of mine - i always say "broadband access is a human right" - and "can't have a 21st century democracy w/19th century technology" - great post

    brian / @_teach4change

  36. "The Digital Age is not going away."

    Only speeding up! ... with both its pluses and minuses. Might as well learn to use it well.

  37. Thanks for sharing your post and it was superb .I would like to hear more from you in future too.

  38. My favorite is "You must be fearless." I think many people forget that trial and error is part of learning and that problem solving can be fun. Instead, they give up when it "gets too hard," and miss out on the challenge. Thanks for the list!

  39. So interesting to me that this post was originally made in 2009 and my district, like many, still hasn't learned to accept the future.

  40. Great post! Even if I'm reading it 3 years later, it's still current and very true!


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