Technology Trends | Q&A

Bringing Teachers Onboard with Tech

Ed tech adoption isn't about forcing new technologies on teachers or wearing them down in an effort to obtain grudging "buy in." On the contrary. In order for any technology-centered education initiative to have meaningful results, according to Rushton Hurley, it has to be born of a spirit of collegiality, teamwork, and openness.

And, he said, it doesn't hurt to give teachers some time share their successes with one another.

Hurley heads up Next Vista for Learning, a project that provides free online media for educators and offers training on the use of video content in the classroom. He's also a frequent featured speaker on topics related to issues in education technology. Next week he'll be presenting at the FETC 2011 conference in a session focusing on technology adoption among teachers.

David Nagel: There's resistance from some teachers when it comes to technology adoption. How much of that has to do with the ways administrators and IT staff approach teachers?

Rushton Hurley argues that any meaningful technology initiative in a school is going to happen "in the teacher's heart first."

Rushton Hurley: Certainly some of this resistance is a function of leadership. The more top-down the approach to having teachers use technology, the greater the chance teachers will see it simply as a necessary minimum to meet or even an annoying requirement to avoid if possible. I believe that if something educationally meaningful is going to happen with technology, it happens in the teacher's heart first, and this is a function of seeing various possibilities, choosing those to pursue, and having time to explore with colleagues.

Nagel: You have a number of suggestions for getting teachers on board with technology. But what do you think is the top thing schools should stop doing right now and approach in a different way?

Hurley: I don't believe that technology sits apart from effectively addressing such things as teamwork and morale. I would suggest that those who lead staff meetings make time available on a regular basis for teachers to share the little things they are doing in very short chunks (one to three minutes), whether or not those things include technology. The idea is to get in front of the staff the creativity and successes happening all around them, and let that help them enjoy and celebrate the professionalism and talents of their colleagues.

It's wonderful to work with a staff for whom the dominant mode of communication is, rather than the complaints a vocal minority may be inflicting on the group, a celebration of exploring what's possible. Where I've seen this happen, the leadership communicates openly, finds time for teachers to work together, and can trust the staff to expect much of themselves.

Nagel: Sometimes the teachers who resist a particular technology initiative are right to resist it. How can they communicate that effectively, and what should administrators listen for?

Hurley: The key is what is happening with student learning. If a particular technology isn't or, given the circumstances, can't contribute to student success, then teachers and administrators have to take proper steps to identifying what would. This means working together to figure out if the issue is what the technology is or how it is being used. For the teacher, this means explaining what they are seeing (in detail and, ideally, with data) and being honest about the variables involved. For the administrator, this means focusing on how to help the teacher be successful and being honest about when the concerns are more about their commands rather than student learning.

Nagel: Do you have any other suggestions for getting teachers involved in technology initiatives? Maybe something longer-term or farther-reaching that administrators should invest time and resources into?

Hurley: Make it fun. The chance to explore new ways of sharing stories related to that about which teachers are passionate is exciting, and nobody wins when the life is sucked out of such learning activities. Teachers need to learn to fish: They need professional development that helps them learn to explore technology's possibilities without someone standing over their shoulders. Too often we simply give them fish: We give them a set of steps to follow, and that doesn't help them extend and explore. If teachers get professional development in which they are guided in how to have fun with technology, they'll bring that enthusiasm and sense of possibility to their students, and then everyone wins.

Nagel: Regarding the actual technology used in technology initiatives in schools, the costs of commercial software can sometimes be prohibitive. Free and open source technologies--both desktop software and hosted suites--can provide solutions when commercial software is out of reach. And sometimes the free versions are are actually better than the paid versions anyway. What are a few outstanding free tools that you'd recommend every school investigate immediately?

Hurley: Another point I would stress is that when teachers use freely available tools and resources at school, their students can use the same ones at home. Even beyond our anemic budgets, this may be the primary reason to explore what's free.

Given the work I do with, it probably isn't surprising I would first point to simple multimedia tools and video libraries as outstanding learning resources. Windows-based schools should have Photo Story and Audacity [also for Mac OS X] on every computer to allow kids the chance to learn to take pride in crafting their work well and explaining creatively what they've learned and how they think.

For any setting (Linux, Mac, Windows), the collaborative tools of Google, Wikispaces, etc., represent a powerful way for students to learn to share insights and feedback tactfully--something it seems few teachers effectively work into their courses.

Communication tools such as Skype give students the chance to reach well beyond their school's walls to their peers around the world, and these are the kinds of experiences that help them see new possibilities for their futures.

Finally, teachers who aren't using communities such as Classroom 2.0 and Learn Central are missing an amazing avenue for breaking down the professional isolation that is such a cancer on our system. Find those who do what you're doing, share ideas and resources, and enjoy what it means to know that you have colleagues who value how you think and what you try.

A frequent speaker on all things ed tech-related, Hurley will be presenting a session at the FETC 2011 conference next week on this very topic. To find out more, visit FETC's site here. If you'd like to find more coverage of the FETC show, including interviews with prominent speakers, check out our special FETC 2011 section here.