Instructional Education Technology Continuum
In some school places it is understandable to still hear educators say, “My students know technology, but I don’t know much about technology.” I have to admit that when I hear that statement in some places in the world my initial reaction is to cringe, until I remember that what many education technology educators know, and can do with technology, isn’t universal—yet. It is something that transports me back to the 1990s, dancing around my computer lab excitedly delivering more instructional technology than my staff could handle in one professional development. I felt the urgency, then, because their students were learning more with me in a 40-minute block than their teachers ever would with months of workshops. Adults, for the most part, get set in their ways, and aren’t the learning sponges they used to be as kids. Today, I feel the same sense of urgency, but on a far more global level.
That time when computer labs, PowerPoint, and network folders began doing what businesses had learned to do earlier was the beginning. We pushed out and collected work from users. At the time, as educators it was an amazing and scary paperless thing to do at school, and there was always a printer nearby for hard copy back-up safety. In some places in the world that same thing is happening in the same way today, many years after we first figured out how to—sort of—modify it for teachers and students at school—and actually do it. It’s true that in some places in the world that is the new reality—and that is considered the modern classroom. We cannot take for granted, or assume that all instructional education technology in schools is equal. It isn’t, and it may never be. I do think that all students should have the opportunity to learn equally as well. That said, we need to avoid reprimanding educators for not using technology, or using it in a primary-stage way, because it is where the district, or school happens to be on the edtech continuum. We can, though, help teach administrators and educators to reach more students in that fashion than we presently do, and to move beyond what presently exists in all those disparate dissimilar places.
Always a beginning
Whenever I get too high horse about classroom technology use, or the lack of it, I think about a teacher under a tree somewhere drawing in the dirt, or using a piece of cardboard for a presentation display, or a teacher somewhere using a lone smartphone or laptop as if it were a picture book to help demonstrate a lesson. I think of a teacher in a computer lab with students on desktops machines—sharing the same things I shared 20 years ago to my own students, staff and parents. It is too easy to toss the same blanket over it all, and criticize those who have not discovered technology use in classes with students, yet. It is too easy to forget the process, and that change is easier to think than it is to actually accomplish.
The same can be said for knowing what a modern classroom should look like, when the instruction and tools educators and students use are so disparate. It is rare to find the same thing happening from school to school in a district, let alone from district to district. Now, expand that out to states, provinces, and countries to really get the complete picture. That disparity cannot be blamed on educators. While the teacher is a major influence in every classroom and faculty meeting, there are more influences outside those places that affect what happens. While teachers can control what happens inside their classrooms, to a high extent, they may not have the clout, or understanding to discover how go beyond, unless guided, or shown. But what if that guidance isn’t there? It requires partnerships that may not have been developed, or even thought to exist—yet.
The living continuum of change
This traveling from where you are to where you should be—this continuum—should be alive and moving forward—and never stagnant. Wherever an educator is on the instructional education continuum, there needs to be a way to move him/her forward to whatever is the next step. Hopefully that next step is the appropriate one for moving forward. Sidestepping takes time students and educators don’t have. I’m a firm believer that professional development needs to be geared up to take educators from where they individually are to where they individually need to be—avoiding most of the sidesteps. Of course that professional development may look like things I did in the 1990s to start, depending upon placement on the continuum, which also may be contingent upon location—place in the world, but it is a prime component, often neglected in strategic planning for success.
The leadership difference
That instructional education picture looks different depending upon where you stand. Some educators and students will be using handheld devices—smartphones, tablets, laptops, flat panels, or desktops, while others are still at the computer lab, or one-computer per classroom stage. It doesn’t matter where the start is, but it does matter what we do with that starting place, and it is important to have and know that starting place, too. No matter where on the continuum, knowing starting places, and knowing next appropriate steps can begin a solid instructional education plan—even in places where there is a weak one, or no plan at all—yet. This start in most cases falls on leadership, and many times that leadership can come from someone not yet in a leadership role. It is another prime objective—discover the leaders within schools and districts. Interestingly, those individuals may not see themselves as leaders at all—until they’re discovered and told. They are obvious, and they do stand out, so easy to spot. Those hidden leaders will not hesitate when charged to lead.
Because none of those starting places are contingent upon one particular device, or solution it can be confusing, but educators should never confuse a solution or device with the learning that happens because of a complete and strategically planned learning approach. Of course, we all know that the best learning happens more directly due to good teaching. Great teaching allows students the freedom to use their learning and creative energies daily. For that, knowing the appropriate and correct uses of applications for chosen devices and solutions is important. That too, cannot be assumed for educators or students, and requires teaching, training, and professional development patience. Today, professional development and partnering with knowledgeable experts to find out what is best makes sense. It can save a great deal of wandering around a continuum than traveling along one successfully. Think of instructional technology education as needing a fitting cart of solutions, with a wide range of answers to fit every imaginable place and step on the education continuum.
A caution to remember
Remember, that while it is fine to observe and comment on those at different stages of education technology on a local or global continuum, it is counterproductive to compare and then be negatively critical without knowing all the facts. A continuum means that the journey traveled really hasn’t an end, but rather new landing stages are being attempted to discover the next stone across a river of change. It is the responsibility of those who offer, and talk about the solutions, as well as lecture on the solutions to actively offer solid suggestions to those places that are still stuck in 1990s best practices—or haven’t even arrived there, yet. Criticism without offering solid, places to stand, and practical suggestions for moving from continuum starting place to a place beyond, isn’t actively positive for promoting change. Change can only happen when positive results are achieved from what has been written or said. For that, nobody should rely upon what they, alone, know. Help is certainly needed, so help should certainly be offered—and accepted. That is when and where the constructive part of the instructional education technology change happens. It should be the agreed upon direction.
About the Author
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.