It’s a line you’ve probably seen on ads for sports equipment:
The basic debate is which matters more: having good teachers or having good tools. I think many districts invest in new technology for the same reasons they often choose curriculum materials that are marketed as “teacher-proof”: they hope that the one-time cost of the equipment will be an investment that pays off in better learning regardless of what teacher is using it.
But as Tony points out, simply handing a fabulous piece of equipment to a mediocre teacher doesn’t instantly transform that teacher into a star player.
On the other hand, there is a real reason that outstanding performers, whether they are athletes or musicians or computer programmers, seek out and use the highest-quality equipment: it elevates their ability to perform. Sure, Ted Williams could have hit brilliantly with a $10 bat. But he hit better with his custom-made, Hillerich & Bradsby 35-inch, 33-ounce blonde ash Louisville Slugger model W166.
Is technology in schools any different? What affects learning more, the pedagogy or the technology? Or is it the synergy of the two that makes the most difference?
Can giving them new tools spark a desire to learn in teachers who have stalled? Does the necessity of learning how to use the tool translate into better instruction and better learning in students?
I don’t have answers to these, and I’m not even as certain of my opinion on them as I used to be–which is part of the power of these conversations and the reason I appreciate following a variety of people with different viewpoints. What do you think? What has been your experience? I’m interested in pursuing this more, even as I delve into my plans for talking about what tools and methods will be useful for gifted education.
@Colleen and @Amy: I think that’s part of my point—that the availability of new technology can break us out of a rut. We get comfortable (or even complacent) with doing the same things the same way year after year. We know that people don’t learn unless they are moved outside of their comfort zones. Perhaps as schools embrace new technologies, it will encourage more teachers to re-examine their pedagogy. I suspect in at least some cases, learning the technology first can work backwards to help a teacher improve teaching skills.
@Elaine: I’m certain that it takes both. What I’m wondering, though, is if solid pedagogy must come first before a teacher can really take advantage of the technology, or whether both can grow and develop in parallel.
@Tony, that’s a great point, and well taken. But I still contend that the “coolness” of the tool can grab the interest of some people who wouldn’t otherwise even think about the fact that their approach to teaching doesn’t work in the 21st century.
Another part of the problem is that there isn’t universal agreement on what 21st century literacy includes. Some have argued that what are now being labelled as 21st century skills are really just 20th century skills with new names. Collaboration and problem solving, for example, were just as important 20 or 50 years ago. I think perhaps the difference (or one difference, anyway) is that these skills are now critical for jobs at every level of the economy.
Great topic, and one where you could really chase your tail around and around with! I really think it starts with the pedagogy. If you are a terrible teacher, throwing even the best technology your way is not going to help! I think the best teachers think carefully about which technologies will enhance their instruction every day and are always reflecting back on what works and what didn’t work in each individual situation. I love my gifted students and always want what’s best for them, but sometimes I think it’s important to just draw a picture with a crayon instead of creating one in a ‘paint’ program if I want to tap into the affective domain a bit! Good teachers think about what they are trying to accomplish, the authenticity of their tasks, and then the best way to get their kids where they want them to be. The technology is the tool, not the magic!
I don’t think it is an issue of one or the other. As you alluded to in your post, the most advanced educational technology will not make someone a good teacher. I also know excellent teachers who do not embrace much beyond an overhead projector. ‑grin-
However, if we can get those excellent teachers to utilize different technologies, the opportunities for learning abound.
The main thing I believe we have to be careful of is not allowing the technology to drive the lesson. For example, Twitter is not what we should be teaching. The content that can be found on Twitter is.
I have seen classes where the teacher was more concerned about the bells and whistles of a piece of technology than they were in what they were supposed to be teaching.
Again, I do not see this as an either/or issue, but a blending of pedagogy and tools.
Such a good question and one I am currently pondering myself.
I do like to experiment with new technology — it can provide variety in my lessons for myself and the students.
Recently I showed them Storybird (http://storybird.com/) and have been delighted with some of the Maths ‘stories’ my young students have written. The fun element has inspired them to write about their Maths.
I appreciate you extending our conversation here. I too have thought a lot about that particular #edchat discussion as it not only was very provocative, but the struggle to decide how to budget monies for new technologies is a constant struggle.
My general thinking is this: Tools are great and they add untold benefits to students and teachers in the classroom. But, as “cool” as they are, their life cycle is such that by the time we infuse their use, the next “cool” tool is hitting the market. That is why I believe we need to invest more in tool independent pedagogy that is consistent with 21st century literacy — pedagogy that focuses on using any tool that is connective in nature and that support collaborative problem solving.
I think that learning to teach with technology rather than teaching the technology has help me appreciate the educational struggle that students go through at times. Just as a student may have a wonderful paper in his head but has a hard time getting it to actually happen, I sometimes feel that way with technology. I “see” a great lesson in my mind but I have to work through the learning process to get it to happen (which can be true with or without technology). I think it was the “coolness” of the technology tools that first got me to use them while teaching, but now I have a hard time imagining a better way to cover the skills of critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving.
Such a timely topic, I was just thinking about this today. We have a building full of amazing tools…new state of the art everything. But, some classrooms have much better learning going on than others. It isn’t the tool that makes the classroom great, it is the teacher. However, great teachers will use the technology available to them, and their classrooms will improve. I like what you said, it is a synergy of the two working together.
@Kelly One thing that has frustrated me as a teacher (and which I hope to make an attempt to remedy as an administrator) is when teachers were handed new tools with little or no training in (a) how to use them and (b) how to teach with them.
As I write this, though, I realize that I’m a bit of a hypocrite here, since I introduced two new tools to my teachers this year and had little opportunity to do much more that get them signed up. What I’m trying to do, though, is be available to help and support them into the process, and to encourage them to keep coming back and trying them out. In this particular case, I think the tools are simple enough (blog and wiki) that they can ease in on simple uses–I’m also going to be making them a more integral part of what we do on a daily basis to help get them comfortable.
It will be interesting to see if any of my teachers read this blog and comment on how successful I’m being in that effort!
I think that a good teacher is a good teacher with or without technology. Nevertheless, if technology could be put at the service of a dedicated teacher tremendous results abound…