I love technology. I love learning new things. Any time an initiative is introduced in the various schools I’ve worked in, I’m always one of the first to jump on board. However, having said that, I’ve been noticing a little something lately.

We’re always introducing something.

There’s always something new with technology, that’s one of the reasons I love working in the field of educational technology so much. But the problem is that as the new things come quicker and quicker, we are introducing them to our colleagues quicker and quicker.

And for some reason, we seem to forget that not everyone loves technology the way we do. And perhaps that last initiative went by so fast, they didn’t even catch what they were supposed to do with the tools. And now we’re already on to the next one.

It seems quite easy to fall into this tech trap. Introduce something once or twice, assume that everyone understands how they can use the tool to improve instruction, and then move on to the next thing.

But, here’s the problem. Most of our colleagues are still working on figuring out the initiative from the week, month, or year before.

It’s not enough just to introduce a new tool, run a training session or two, and then expect that everyone (or even the majority) has picked it up – or that they have the motivation or confidence to “figure it out.” This is why we need ongoing, “just in time” professional development. Not just for the tools we’re introducing this week, but for all of the tools we have at our disposal.

Maybe that means we’re still talking about SmartBoards years after they’ve been installed, or document cameras months after they’ve been distributed, or blogging almost a decade after it’s been developed. Because, sometimes it’s hard to remember in our tech-focused world, that the rest of our colleages may not operate this way.

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t introduce new things (that is a big part of our job, after all), I’m just thinking that maybe we should be more thoughtful about how we do so. Just because a tool is no longer new, cool and trendy in the edtech world, doesn’t mean that it’s no longer relevant to teaching and learning. And just because we have new, cool and trendy tools in the edtech world, doesn’t mean they should replace something that’s working well, just because it can. We need to find an approachable and comfortable balance between supporting existing infrastructure and tools and introducing new ideas.

What do you think? How do you avoid the tech trap?

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12 thoughts on “The Tech Trap

  1. I get asked every year to cover Excel or PowerPoint, and I actually stopped offering those basic classes. Then I realized that everyone has to start somewhere, and maybe using Excel or PowerPoint is it. I guess that is why I try to do a survey every year to make sure my list of technology needs matches up with what they actually want!

  2. @Bethany,

    You make a great point – that everyone has to start somewhere. I also love the idea of a technology survey at the beginning of the year to see where those needs are. I’m thinking that some embedded professional development – within team meetings, and based on team needs, can help teachers understand the “basics.” That “just in time” approach that we use with the kids is just as powerful with the teachers.


    Thanks! I do think it’s important to share better ways of doing things, especially when the learning is driven by the teacher needs. I wonder if we made sure that the “better” ways were directly based on teacher requests for support if they would be more receptive?

  3. Kim, this is a great post and I think it’s important to realize that this is true for all initiatives districts introduce, not just tech ones. They seem to keeping piling things on without removing things that are working. There is such a variety of experiences with teachers that we cannot forget that their interests and abilities are not the same as ours. I can sit online for hours just trying out new things – others don’t have the willingness or the time. To help some the tech trap, I’m trying to hold after school sessions with staff on a number of topics, partly based on teacher need. There are teachers who still help attaching pictures to email, creating an electronic newsletter, and other simple (we think) tasks. Others, are ready to move forward with web 2.0 tools. You mention the ongoing training involved and I agree that it is critical. Our district is very good at giving a one time shot in the arm and then expecting/hoping everyone gets it. There must be follow up training.

  4. I read somewhere, (no idea where so I can’t quote directly) something along the lines of ‘we are teaching kids for whom we were not taught how to teach’. Yes, finding out where teachers are at in their tech experience is a great idea, but what do we do with kids? When they come to school, be it the pre school admission test or the ‘school transfer’ a child is asked to perform a variety of tasks, but what do we ask about what they know about technology? I will sit and talk to a child about what they know about picking books to read or where they are in their number facts but it’s only now I am really asking, what can you do on the computer that I don’t know about. What can ‘YOU’ teach me? When I can’t do something in front of my fourth graders, my immediate need for the knowledge is given by them. My instant PD. It is so less embarrassing than ringing the tech teacher in a panic, to have him run to your room, to find that you were using the wrong remote The kids forgive!!! They teach, they coach, they remind me and then moan when a week later, I’ve forgotten whatever it was (usually something simple with the smart board) but so much good teaching comes right from them. It’s so easy to say to a fourth grader, show me again, I didn’t quite get it. Yes, I have learned to be very humble. The challenging stuff, the ‘new learning’ that has to take place comes from the PD the tech people offer and what I can glean from ‘for the dummies book series’ and my colleagues when we have time to discuss just that. It comes from reevaluating what I am doing and how it looks in comparison to how it could look. It comes with recognizing that I can change not only my thinking, but my techniques, my approach and do this with confidence because I have the need for change to meet the needs of these kids who learn, unlearn and adjust at such a rate that they leave me dizzy. The classroom teacher has so much to think about….the tech PD gives the opportunity for new, time effective strategies for learning to be implemented in the classroom, just when needed as you said. It takes the eye of the tech teacher to see something that has real potential for ‘grabbing’ the teacher in the same way we look to ‘grab’ out kids. It’s finding the ‘hook’ that can be the secret……isn’t it?.

  5. The timing of the post is impecible. Yesterday, I posted the 5 tools that I could not live without. I decided that with all of the tools that are out there (and the news ones popping up daily), I had to show some self control and limit myself to the ones that I can become fluent in.

    Last week, I was doing some one-on-one Activboard training to some fluent Powerpoint speaking teachers. I told them to keep using PP because that is what they already know. Why recreate your presentations or use a new tool when what you have is working just fine?

    Maybe there is a heriarchy of tools? Is there a tool that should be mastered before adding another one? Voicestream is cool, but should teachers learn social networking first? Wikis are exciting tools for learning, but perhaps teachers should master blogs first?

  6. This is a great post, and I have struggled with this myself. I don’t want to become the tech snob who thinks powerpoints and smartboards are so yesterday! We have teachers who are just becoming comfortable using an LCD projector with their laptops, and I celebrate every single baby step that they take. Many are comfortable creating powerpoints and even having their students create their own slideshows. A few are ready to move on to blogs and wikis with their students….very exciting stuff!

    Classroom teachers have so much to deal with that has nothing to do with technology that lack of time becomes a huge issue too. I try to step back and look at the big picture when I get frustrated with the use of technology in my schools. But mostly, I try to remind myself to look how far we’ve come and keep encouraging those who are ready to keep moving forward.

  7. @Chad,

    Yes! The initiatives just keep on coming – it seems easier to bring in something new than take the time to evaluate what’s working well and what areas we need help with, an essential step in implementing sustainable change. It’s the reflection piece that is both the most valuable and the most skipped when implementing anything new.


    I totally agree about your “instant PD” – when I was in the classroom, I always relied on my students to teach me new things (and to keep me informed about what was cool). Kudos to you for being open-minded and flexible enough to allow that to happen. It’s not every teacher that is willing to not know the answer to something in the classroom. And many teachers are unwilling to try something new unless they already know all the ins-and-outs. I think you have the right mindset for this kind of learning – and I’m not sure that’s always something that can be taught.

    @Mr. James,

    Hmmm… I’m not sure about the hierarchy of tools. Personally, I feel there are enough tools for everyone to find one that fits their individual needs. In my opinion, not everyone has to know all the same tools – you only need to know the ones that are going to help you achieve a certain goal. In that sense I think PD has to be very individual, because everyone comes to new knowledge through a different route. Finding out the needs of the teacher, plus the prior knowledge may lead you to present one tool over another.


    I totally agree about celebrating every step! I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle as well – not just celebrating with the individual, but celebrating in a public space. Maybe at a faculty meeting when teachers can share their success with new tools and perspectives, or even just a central place to store and showcase student and teacher successes. That way we would always have that reminder of what we do well, and it would help build those connections among teachers.

  8. This reminds me of the 21st century skill that I think is SO necessary and that is rolling with things no matter what happens. One of the big differences I see between older teachers who are still doing PowerPoint and students is that the older teachers are more easily frustrated when things don’t work. They quit easily when things don’t work and do not want to try new things. The fact that EVERYTHING asks you to log in and create a password is a barrier for them. The skill of troubleshooting is foreign.

    I agree with the notion that we need to work with people where they are at and that we cannot expect them to be happy about things always changing and new things to learn every day. I am not sure how to help anyone move toward being better at accepting and rolling with things, but I have observed that it is a really important difference between successful technology users and reluctant ones.


  9. @Janice,

    Good point! It is such a critical skill when working with technology. It’s interesting how quickly others can get overwhelmed or just give up, when those with this skill just keep trying, knowing they will be able to figure out the answer. I’m not sure how to teach this to adults either, but I do think we have to make the concept of learning with technology approachable and as non-threatening as possible. Not that things will always work the way we expect, but that we need to be open-minded in trying things out. Knowing that it is such a cause of frustration and fear, we also need to mindful of the number of things (and how quickly) we bring to the table – making sure that teachers understand how tools work is just as important as why they should use them.

  10. Thank you Kim and all the others that have commented. Have one foot in the trainer camp and one firmly in the learner camp. I give in-service on using the library on-line catalog system, which has many cool aspects that most teachers don’t know about. I also give workshops on basic powerpoint, PhotoPeach, and even beginning Word. On the other hand, I sat and looked at my Excel spreadsheet the other day, waiting for divine intervention on how to do a formula. I knew I knew how. It was just submerged. Pretty soon a sixth grader who had stopped by for a book gave me a clue. I tried for a long time to keep up with every new and fun thing people mentioned (in a blog or in person). Then, I realized I had shut down. Now I am trying to get a handle on one or two, then adding another. Slow, but it seems to be working better for me. I show others, more or less at the same pace. Lots of good feedback on that as well.

    Keep up the suggestions. I need all I can get.

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