A personal response to technology hating

This is a post for my friend Shaun, but I hope it’s something you all can use.

Shaun is a top bloke.  He’s an English teacher who has a deep passion for literature and from what I can tell a real knack for sharing this with his students.  His students get great results at assessment time.  He’s warm, funny, relatable and engaging.

But, in a brief chat about another blogger’s controversial anti-technology post, it was clear that Shaun was not enthusiastic about digital learning.

In fact, he despises it.  And also has had such bad experiences that he now doesn’t trust teachers who use it.

So…what to say to my friend who is in the position of already being a great teacher getting great results?

How to convince him that digital learning is more than fancy icing on his otherwise tasty, filling and nutritional educational cake?

I thought that this task might call for a personal story.

ABOUT ME: I am an English teacher who has always loved English.  As a child and teenager, reading was like breathing to me – not just ‘part of life’, but an urgent necessity.  In school I excelled at debating, and public speaking.  For my HSC I studied as much English as I could – 2 unit Related plus 3 unit English.  I loved essay writing, adored my English teachers, and was in my element during teacher lectures that were accompanied by class discussion. My UAI was in the mid 90s.  I was a successful English student.

MY CONFESSION: While all of the above is true, it is also true that in year 9, for the first time, I did not read our class novel The Wizard of Earthsea.  The teacher never knew, and my grades were stellar.  Same again in Year 11 with The Scarlet Letter.  Same again in HSC 3 unit English with Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  And…same again with about a third of the books I was supposed to read for my University English courses, though in that arena my grades weren’t stellar…just above average.

Why do I make these confessions, horrible as they are for an English teacher?

Because when Shaun tells me that his students are all engaged with their learning without the use of technology, I can tell you from experience that they aren’t.  Not authentically.  Sure, they may gaze up in awe as he speaks passionately about the wonder of Hamlet, and they might have the skill to assemble good essays by aping the points brought up in class discussion.  But I guarantee you Shaun, you are teaching at least some people just like me – people who slip under the radar due to their genuine love of English and their skill in using language, but who have the potential to be far more active in their learning.

The other reason I make these confessions is because arguments trying to promote the adoption of technology are often made with reference to engaging low-ability or disinterested students.  And I support those arguments whole-heartedly – I have seen students, especially in the junior years, really turn their attitude around (especially in regard to writing) because the fun side and familiarity of using computers gave them the confidence and motivation to complete some work.

It is so much harder to convince teachers of ‘successful’ students that anything needs to change.

But (and Shaun this is my final point I swear!) not only does digital learning have the potential to increase student engagement at all levels due to its inclination toward communicative and collaborative learning practices, but I truly believe that neglecting the development of students’ digital literacy means that as teachers we are neglecting one of our key roles – the preparation of students to participate and engage fully with society, present and future.  Technology isn’t going away.  And English teachers that say ‘digital literacy is not my job’ would do well to remind themselves of the times when English teachers used to say ‘visual literacy is not my job’.

Times change.  Media changes.  Language changes.  We must make sure our students are equipped to cope with this.

I would be most grateful if people could add comments to this post with their own personal success stories from English classrooms that have embraced technology, either in content, pedagogy or assessment.

We will not convince technology haters to change by telling them they are wrong, when their experience is to the contrary.  We must do it by showing that we know about some amazing, engaging and powerful tools for achieving the outcomes they value and desire

…and that not all teachers using technology are merely doing so to look cool and get promoted 😉

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  1. #1 by Troy on March 17, 2010 - 6:33 pm

    Before some wonderful stories about engagement and excellence, my own confession? I wasn’t a successful English student. I was placed in an English class in Year 7, near the bottom, and pretty much stayed in that same level until year 12. I didn’t add colourful borders or neat headings to assessment tasks, or keep to words limits or get the answer that was in the head of the teacher. I couldn’t spot the difference between a simile and a metaphor. From school I remember a grey six foot barbed wire fence.

    I’ve had the same conversations with colleagues, I’ve been hassled and bullied about embracing technology. I continue to promote its place within and with (out) the four walls of a classroom. Learning just doesn’t occur in a classroom, or with a single person holding the knowledge.

    Now I’ve been told to play nice. We run moodle at our school, late last year I checked students last logins. Most are hours before hand, during class. One student was logged on, 9pm.
    It is a boy who was visiting family in India, I checked the time difference. It was the middle of the day. He was logged onto moodle, onto our (notice the use of collective pronoun?) course, a course called Go Troppo. The major work was a short film. He made his, using his government provided laptop, while in India. He did well in NAPLAN, he did well in the other, across the year sumative assessment tasks. But he went beyond those levels of success that adults created for him.

    How can we get like minded people together, great readers, critical thinkers? I work in a school with two ‘advanced’ English classes, how can we make those students feel as if they are not nerds, nor geeks? How can we hook those students up with other students who love English? I am currently working with Bianca from Davidson High School, we work together on http://lhsenglishadvanced.edublogs.org/ have a look at the comments, at the interaction between students, as directed by the students. Sure, most of these students went well in the school certificate exam, most had been sheltered in ‘a’ stream classes. Now the world is just a little bit wider for them.

    Should we say sorry for adding to what we already do? I don’t need to promote the values of ‘traditional’ European teaching. We know they work, we know that they have served a particular type of student since the first laws were passed to ensure universal education. But:
    We learn in groups, we learn as individuals, we learn by breaking the rules, we learn by watching… sometimes we learn from younger people as much as we learn from elders, sometimes we learn by listening to a teacher out the front of the room. More often than not, our students want to learn, maybe to pass the next test, maybe just to understand. It is harder to make sure we too, as the ‘teacher’ also want to learn. Just maybe we will gain some understanding of the people we sit in class with.

  2. #2 by kmcg2375 on March 17, 2010 - 7:32 pm

    Thanks for this heartfelt response Troy.

    As professional teachers, it is really important that we support each other in striving for quality and excellence in teaching, even when we don’t share common methods. I too have been ‘hassled and bullied’ (mostly teased, patronised, and dismissed) by fellow teachers when I talk about using technology. This ranges from talking about the use of a homework blog to the study of hypertext fiction to the creation of digital stories. It is truly crushing, and an abuse of being in ‘the majority’ who don’t have to justify the traditional methods they employ.

    I’ve tried bunkering down in my own classroom and ignoring other people’s views to avoid this. The only problem is…what I end up doing in my classroom is too exciting not to share! So I will keep smiling, keep justifying and keep trying to lead. It helps to be stubborn 😉

  3. #3 by Melissa on March 17, 2010 - 7:33 pm

    For me technology is a tool for engagement, cooperative learning and promoting distributive expertise. Technology is a vital part of life. it is a vital part of the lives of young people. Using technology helps to bridge the ever widening chasm between learning at home and learning at school. In our classroom whatever we do we use the best tool for the job. Sometimes the best tool is a pen and paper but often it’s some form of digital technology. In our classroom technology is a tool to help us to become better thinkers, sharers, readers, writers and creators. I have worked in schools with limited access to technology and in schools where they have every new technological gadget imaginable. In both cases it is the teachers’ attitudes to learning that determined whether the technology was used effectively, if at all.

    In my experience the teachers who are willing to explore new technologies, fail often and joyously, ask for help from students, ‘stuff up’ and have more than one backup plan are the teachers who teach using co-constructivist approaches. Those who use other approaches are often not so keen to use technology in their classrooms. One of the reasons for this may be that technology breaks down hierarchies, destroys traditional power structures and is ultimately about genuinely learning in groups in which nobody can hide and this can be scary for teachers because you can’t be in control in the way you are used to. In our classroom the Kellis of this world find it much harder to switch off and in fact don’t want to because they love using technology to think and be engaged.

    We try to operate an inquiry centred classroom. We turn often quite traditionally framed units of work into inquiries; into things that matter to us as students and teacher. Examples include ‘How do we construct ourselves for public consumption?’ (was a Biography unit) or ‘How and why do we need to create?’ (was a Narrative unit). Within these units we complete culminating projects which involve the use of technology to analyse, evaluate and synthesis what we have learned into some sort of product that we can share. That may be a short move, an essay, a PowerPoint museum, a website, an online quiz, a narrative, a digital poem, a song, a podcast, a vodcast…We also use technology to analyse and evaluate our process of learning. This could take the form of a video diary, series of podcasts or a blog. Often we make mistakes and fall flat on our faces but we learn. And we always have a back up plan (or two) because that’s what you need to do in real life- ‘expect the unexpected’.

    Young people use these technologies at home. To me, it is common sense, that we use their experience with these technologies in the classroom to excite them about the subject of English and improve their higher order thinking skills. It is much more challenging (and exciting) to create a Facebook profile for William Shakespeare than write a one page biography. It is much more engaging to learn about narrative perspective by using your prior knowledge as an avid player of video games. And most importantly such learning experiences validate your prior knowledge and have stickability!

    Our golden rules in regards to technology in the classroom are ask questions, experiment a lot, think deeply, share often and fail joyously.

    • #4 by BiancaH80 on March 21, 2010 - 4:09 pm

      Melissa …

      Can I come into your classroom and get some tips for tech integration? I know my HT would pay for my cover!

      :0)

      Bianca aka @biancah80

  4. #5 by Hiba R on March 19, 2010 - 7:14 pm

    My turn!

    I would love to share stories with you all, but I am extremely tired right now with all the teaching I’ve been doing (read: exhausted)!

    But I just wanted to say a few quick things.

    I am going to assume that I am the youngest person here (I’m 23). No offence, but I just wanted to get the context going. The reason I am pointing out the age thing is because I have noticed how attitudes to technology can vary according to your age because of how much technology you have used in your lifetime. I am of the first generations that used technology throughout their teen years. I had the internet from year 7, was chatting on ICQ and MiRC, using emails, forums, so on. Mp3 players followed soon, with mobiles, then digital cameras, then youtube, then came the social networking sites. We hardly used any of this at school, but I didn’t think about that much. My year 12 teacher tried to start a forum with us, but no one paid attention to it. We were very engaged with sites that helped us in our HSC, but our teachers probably never used them.

    In university, we rarely used WebCT, Vista (similar to Moodle) except to maybe ask the occasional question, or download some reading. But uni is different to school anyway. Less engaging.

    My point is – technology has been part of my life way before the DET went “oh, digital literacy!”, and I am very well aware of what kinds of technology should be used, and when. I do not see it as the be all and end of all of school life, mainly because as I said – if the teachers weren’t using it with us, we were still using it at home.

    MOREOVER

    At the moment, there is so much out there to do! So much you CAN do, if you really want to. And it’s overwhelming at some times. Not overwhelming as in ‘panic!’ But overwhelming as in ‘I already have a lot to do, so much to plan, so much to teach, I really can’t be bothered learning how to use captivate to make a quiz that will take me 80 hours to make’.

    And the teachers who are like “ooooh yes, technology, I love it, let’s use it 6 hours a day, during school, and then the kids can go home and spend another 6 hours on it, yay yay fun!”. Those teachers disgust me. Because that’s NOT what kids want. And that’s NOT using technology, if the ONLY thing you are doing is replacing books with laptops. Nothing makes me cringe more than when I see a faculty saying they have embraced technology, and their version of embracing technology is making their booklets PDF, and getting students to do all their work through Adobe now. Yawn. Let’s just kill the underachievers, why don’t we?

    Or getting students in your food tech class to do an assessment for their HSC, where they have to do a PPT on how to make jam. WHAT IS THE POINT OF THAT?!?! Unless there are 25 ways of making jam, you’re going to have 25 presentations that are exactly the same. They are not analysing, synthesing, or learning anything. Sure, they might do that in the writing part of the assignment, but then why not cut the crap and get rid of the PPT? Or change it, so that they are PRESENTING SOMETHING USEFUL!

    Or worse – the idea to get students to send you a word document of their work, you converting it to PDF, then using the sticky notes to comment on it. It’s a good idea, for those who really like using keyboards and mouses, and staring at an LCD screen for hours (some can do it! No criticism, good for you!). But it’s not the best way to use technology. It’s just another way of doing things! So the teachers who ask students to PRINT OUT those word docs and then mark them with a pen may just be more comfortable with that. (*ahem* …me)

    I think these are the teachers Shaun meant, when he said the teachers who use the ‘razzle dazzle’ of technology to compensate for their lack of knowledge in their field. I don’t think electronic sticky notes are fantastic. Razzly dazzly, yes, but you could use paper sticky notes (can’t you?).

    HOWEVER

    Like I said before, there is A LOT out there. And some of it is great. I wish I had been able to use a blog or wiki when I was in school. That would have been fun. An interactive whiteboard is highly appropriate when you want the kids physically moving and interacting with their work, without causing chaos in the whole room. I love putting photos/pictures up using data projectors. And the best technology of all? Seriously? Over-head projectors. *sigh* Best thing ever.

    So, no, you don’t have to use powerpoint presentations in every assignment. The kids really hate them sometimes, and would prefer just speaking with some pictures on the wall. But other times, PPT might be great! And useful!

    Digital stories? Amazing idea! What about fanfiction? That all grew on the internet. It can really inspire students to write stories about something they are a fan of. The kids could actually write in their books, but the source is the internet. That’s technology!

    So, I know you may have tuned out by the time you got to the end of this. I think I might actually put this on my new blog. And I know I said it would be brief, but I got carried away.

    I leave you with these words:

    “Too much of anything is…too much!”

    (Except OHP. Or digital stories. Or Twitter. Or Youtube.)

  5. #6 by kmcg2375 on March 21, 2010 - 2:41 pm

    I love it when Hiba says a few quick things 😉

    I totally agree Hiba – using technology for the sake of it does not lead to effective teaching. And I think you’re right – this is bound to be the thing that Shaun has experienced. And yes, ‘too much of anything IS too much’. But…who decides what is too much?

    I’m going to write my “few quick things” in a new blog post HERE, for the sake of readers who are RSSing entries and might miss this great conversation.

  6. #7 by kmcg2375 on March 23, 2010 - 1:30 am

    A good example of digital ‘trumping’ paper for English teachers hating book reports:
    http://techtoolsforschools.blogspot.com/2010/03/book-trailers.html

  1. The conversation continueth… « Kelli McGraw

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