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We Are All Technology Teachers

2009 November 29

Last weekend I was honored to present a session at the Bridging the Gap conference at Yokohama International School in Japan. YIS has hosted this community conference annually since 2001, and the topic for this year was “The Future of Education: Using Its Tools Today.” The three day conference included formal sessions led by teachers from YIS, other international schools and keynote presenter, Chris Toy, as well as a full day of BarCamp unconference sessions. It was a great opportunity to dialogue about the way schools may look in the near future with not only teachers and administrators, but also parents and students.

One interesting topic of discussion came up on Saturday: an administrator asked me if we should be expecting classroom teachers to teach technology, to be responsible for this additional subject along with their standard course material. Basically the question was about the value of technology as an integrated subject (with all teachers responsible for the instruction) versus a discrete course (with one or two specialists responsible for the instruction). Interestingly, I haven’t really had this conversation in a while, since ISB had adopted an integrated approach before I even arrived three years ago, but it certainly was a hot topic in both KL and Munich where I was part of the transition process from stand-alone IT courses to an integrated model.

Having developed and implemented an integrated technology program from scratch in two schools and expanded an existing program here at ISB, I firmly believe that technology is best taught within the context of the core curriculum. The natural use of authentic technology within the classroom setting, just like the way we use paper and pencil without any second thoughts, is always what I’m striving for.

Sounding BoardA good analogy might be the way that over the past decade or two, classroom teachers have become more accustomed to the idea of differentiating for English language learners – especially in international schools, where often the majority of the class are not native English speakers. I have heard many administrators say “we are all ESL teachers,” with the expectation that no matter what subject we teach, we must ensure that all students are engaged with material that’s comprehensible to them. In all of the schools I’ve worked at, we’ve had extensive professional development in this area, and the consensus in education seems to be that if you’re a teacher in a linguistically diverse class, it is your responsibility to employ some of the professional strategies of an ESL teacher, even if you yourself are a Math, Social Studies, Science, etc teacher.  At this point, we’re all comfortable with the fact that we can’t simply give oral instructions, or that new vocabulary should be introduced in context, or that certain students might need more time to understand directions and perform certain tasks.

Maybe now it’s time to say “we are all technology teachers.”

I certainly understand that this is not a change that will happen overnight. Much like the move towards more ELL friendly instruction, teachers will need to learn appropriate skills, strategies and approaches to authentically and successfully embed technology within their core subject. Of course, this will take time, and during this transition, in my opinion, it’s the responsibility of the technology facilitator (or coordinator or integration specialist or whatever they may be called) to help their colleagues build their understanding of successful technology-rich teaching practices.

Often my colleague, Jeff, likes to say that his goal is to “work himself out of a job” by building teacher skill level to the point where they don’t need him anymore. Although I would agree that this is also my ultimate goal, I am conscious of the speed with which technology changes, and I’m not sure that we will ever get to the point where schools will no longer need some sort of pedagogical support in the technology field. After all, most schools still have ESL specialists, even though many of their practices are adopted by mainstream teachers.

Click!Similarly, most ESL programs have a mix of in-class and pull-out support – blending the best of both approaches to ensure that all students are learning and understanding both the language and the curricular content. Although I firmly believe technology should be embedded within classroom practice, I also see a place for discrete technology classes – especially when they are designed with a curricular context that enhances the learning in core subjects, or when they emphasis the process of learning how to learn with technology, or when they offer a specialized skill for students that are highly interested (like graphic design or Flash animation).

The important thing to remember, is that even if there are seperate technology courses offered at a school, that doesn’t mean that those classes are the only place where students learn with technology. To continue to use the ESL anology one last time, a student who has a pull-out intensive ESL course isn’t excused from using the English language in all of their other classes simply because they attend a class that focuses on language. Students and teachers should expect that technology will naturally be a part of every class.

What do you think? Should all teachers be technology teachers?

32 Responses leave one →
  1. bgaskins permalink
    November 29, 2009

    I agree. We are all technology teachers in our curriculum area. We are all English Language Arts teachers too. We have the responsibility to teach reading and writing in our content area. It just makes sense…..
    Bill

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      @bgaskins,

      Glad to hear you agree! It makes sense to us, but I’m not sure it’s as obvious to everyone…

  2. November 29, 2009

    Glad to know I won’t be out of a job anytime soon. I think in the elementary grades full integration is the way to go. Starting in middle school there should be specific technology electives for those students who like technology and want to learn specific skills. Yes there should be full integration within the core subjects, but technology classes around mobile computing, website design, and just plain old computers would be great to get those students who are interested started down that path. To often we don’t allow students the choice to go deeper into technology…..I hope someday we can do that.

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      @Jeff,

      Agreed. I’m not sure how it happened, but it seems that we’ve gone too far the other side where we’ve been pushing integration so much that we’ve forgotten about the value of having explicit classes in addition to the integrated model. I have taught in schools where we’ve had the IT classes combined with integration and we have been able to go so much farther with all students. Considering that, if we continue to move in this direction (both IT classes and integration), that will most likely result in more staffing, so it looks like both our jobs should be secure ;)

  3. November 29, 2009

    Teaching, particularly in the high school, has become too specialized and compartmentalized for its own good. There isn’t a real-world problem – and by this I mean a problem in the world and not one made up for a textbook – that exists in a subject-specific background. All problems that we face include literacy, numeracy and technology (integration). I would wager heavily that every teacher at every level deals with these three concepts every day in their own lives (both in and out of the classroom). To pretend otherwise for their students and to not give them experience doing so is to live in a textbook induced coma…

  4. November 30, 2009

    Another great post, Kim.

    I completely agree that we should take an integrated model approach to using technology in the curriculum. I see technology as comprised of tools which have the potential to both aid and enrich the student’s learning experiences. I also would support having a separate technology instruction course, where topics such as netiquette and internet safety could be expanded upon and would compliment their usage of technology in both the classroom and home environments.

    Bernadette

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      @Bernadette,

      The combination of the two really does bring a richer and deeper understanding for both students and teachers. When students have some explicit tech experience and then are able to apply that learning in their core content classes, the integrated model moves so much more smoothly.

  5. November 30, 2009

    Kim! What a fantastic, resource-rich, real-world discussion of technology-infused pedagogy. Thank you! Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES! Your analogy is simple, powerful and one every teacher can relate to.

    I especially agree with the need for continuous, relevant, effective PD that meets the needs of teacher practitioners at all levels (beautifully explained here: http://bit.ly/8QAd2M), and with your comprehensive, outcome-focused job description: http://bit.ly/G1kna.

    These posts, along with the detailed emails both you AND Jeff recently provided me in response to my questions about redesigning our school’s own technology curriculum, are INCREDIBLY helpful. I’m sharing them with everyone I can!

    Keep up the FANTASTIC work! Oh, and I can’t wait for your K12Online 2009 Opening Keynote (http://bit.ly/7ydbAe) in just a couple of hours! See you there!

    Best, kj

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      Thanks Kevin! So glad you’re finding all of this helpful! As always, I love your enthusiasm and excitement about teaching and learning!

  6. December 2, 2009

    Excellent. Great analogy… very similar as well to all of being “literacy” or “reading in the content areas” teachers. I agree fully. If real integration is to work for our students, we must all move ourselves and those colleagues nearest us- toward a richer adoption of appropriate technologies in our content areas. Each time this discussion pops up, I seem to always point back to the TPACK framework to help describe a teacher with the skill set our students need.

    I also agree with Jeff above in the idea that we also need more options for students to enroll in on an elective basis. We have a deep need for students to feel they can not only use technology when and where appropriate… but also to innovate and create new technologies for the future.

    Another post to point good folks toward. Thanks.

    Sean

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      @Sean,

      Your statement: “we must all move ourselves and those colleagues nearest us” has gotten me thinking: I wonder if moving our close colleagues is/will be more successful if we are teaching the same subject (as in, not as a tech coordinator)? Is it critical to be “in the classroom” to be seen as legitimate and to be able to provide a first-hand model of how all of these new ways of learning actually work in practice? I wonder if so many of the people who are thinking along these lines have ended up outside of the classroom (in an effort to effect greater change), but in doing so, have made it harder on themselves to influence their colleagues. I know for me it was certainly easier to implement change in my previous school where I came in as a teacher, not a facilitator, and transitioned into that role over years. Hmmm…

  7. BobK99 permalink
    December 2, 2009

    >Students and teachers should expect that technology
    >will naturally be a part of every class.

    I don’t see why anyone should think anything else. And I’d add ‘parents’ to the list.

    b

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      @BobK99,

      Good point, thanks! Unfortunately, I definitely experience, daily, enough people that would disagree…

  8. December 18, 2009

    I really enjoyed this article and couldn’t help taking your analogy a step further when reading to this: aren’t we coming to a point where teaching technology is nearing the importance of teaching READING? I realize that may be an exaggeration, but really, how much of one? In the next decade, isn’t it likely that those without tech. skills will be locked out to a degree comparable to that of those locked out by illiteracy today? As an educator struggling to keep up myself, I definitely believe in integrating technology to the greatest degree possible. Thanks for making me more conscious of this! I look forward to future reads.

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      @Melissa,

      Such a good point! Of course, we couldn’t use technology without being able to read, so I guess it becomes a bit of a “chicken or the egg” scenario, but I would certainly agree with you. What I think is really interesting, is that many of the people that would disagree might agree that in their “personal” life they are as adept with tech as they need to be, but that it simply doesn’t apply or isn’t “relevant” to education because they can do things without tech (the way they’ve always done it). It’s strange how people can make that dichotomy in their minds without seeing the inherent contradiction.

  9. Vic Gecas permalink
    February 13, 2010

    Hi Kim
    Great discussion! I am a little late in joining it, but it is a big problem with most international schools. There is a little resentment by some staff (many see it as another thing the admin wants us ‘to do’, with no time, no resources). Our days start here around 7am and if you are lucky you get home after 4, 5 or 6. We have an afterschool program as well, so this adds the time.
    Also providing PD for staff who on average leave at the end of 2 years (Dhaka is a difficult place to live in for many reasons) end’s up being an investment for the next school!
    We started our school year last August, and the PD budget was spent by Sept. Mainly because of the need to train many new teachers in their IB courses.
    So our only option is to fight to get some recognition for this extra time and commitment staff make (say reducing their after school activities time) and work on a few ‘lighthouse’ teachers throughout all 3 different levels of school we have here.
    Have any of you looked at online courses for staff?
    Thanks
    Vic Gecas
    eTechnology Director (I think this title means I glow in the dark)
    International School Dhaka
    Bangldesh

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      March 9, 2010

      Vic,

      Yes, international schools do have another level of challenges with the staff turnover that can certainly complicate matters. It must be hard as administrators to know that you’re training your teachers for their next job, but I suppose they are then hiring those teachers that have been trained from previous schools as well, so it all comes around.

      I love your “lighthouse” model and am trying to build the same kind of thing here with an Early Adopters group across all three divisions. We’re doing a lot of training here with our Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy, but haven’t offered anything fully online yet since we have enough going on at school at the moment. I would love to hear what you find though!

  10. May 25, 2010

    Motivating post! The blogging world and delving deeper into the technology realm is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I loved the connection you made linking how teachers are integrating ESL instruction into their classrooms daily. This is also true for the special education students. Many years ago, teachers were not excepting of the students that were “different”, but now, we are all special education teachers and have to modify and accommodate all of our students whether typical, special ed, or ELL. The same goes for technology. Today’s students are of the digital mind and shouldn’t we as teachers keep abreast of the latest trends and how we can relate and teach our students best? I know my daughter has surpassed me in the technological arena because she isn’t afraid of messing up or making mistakes. She explores, experiments, learns, and grows. She is no different from the students in my classroom and across the nation. I am stepping up my game in order to keep up with the advances and continue in being a life long learner. I don’t want to be left behind!
    Thank you for your invigorating post!

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      May 25, 2010

      @Kimberly,

      Thank you! I really do think it helps to make parallels to other aspects of education that are more commonly understood, like ESl and Special Needs – great example! It’s so great to hear how your daughter has inspired you to keep learning – that’s the best part of being a teacher, I think!

  11. Brittany McGowan permalink
    August 27, 2010

    I could not agree more with you more. Technology is ever changing and many children learn differently so as new technology becomes available we as teachers have more available to help every child understand at their own pace. We also gain new ways to make learning fun for children. If we can show them how to use technology while teaching them the curriculum and making this easier for them, then as teachers, we should be obligated to help the students to not only learn what they need to learn for that subject, but also to help better their understanding of technology to use in the future.

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      September 14, 2010

      @Brittany,

      So true! Technology is one (of many) tools teachers have at their disposal to help students learn. We should use it as easily and readily as we do pencil and paper.

  12. Sunita Devadas permalink
    December 5, 2010

    Hey Kim,

    I just saw this article now!..a year later! I loved the analogy you made with ESL teaching and learning. Couldn’t agree more. With the integrated approach, the learning is contextualized, therefore long-lasting. Now that you are here, can we have this conversation face-to-face. I want to pick your brain, with your permission of,course!

  13. October 7, 2014

    I absolutely agree. The more technology is a part of normal class routines, the easier it will become for both teachers and students. I am happy that experts agree that it is the responsibility of a technology facilitator to keep teachers abreast of new programs and ways to best utilize technology to help our students reach their fullest potential. Technology should not be taught in isolation but should be developed across the curriculum.

  14. Wendy Smith permalink
    November 26, 2014

    I firmly agree with your article. It is so true and ideal that IT is best taught within the context of the main curriculum. However, I also believe IT should be in every classroom as well as taught in independent lessons within the IT computer labs. We as educators should remember the speed in which technology changes. This is most important!

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