Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Best App of the 21st Century

"The best app of the 21st century is a good teacher" 
--Google Apps for Education Summit, Boulder, CO

It's Not About the Tools!
I've learned a valuable lesson recently as an Ed Tech Specialist and it began with this realization--many schools, district leaders, elected leaders and even some teachers believe that technology should be the answer to the question of "how do we fix our schools?". They believe that technology will be the savior of education--the answer, solution and final say in all things related to our schools. They believe that somehow putting technology into the hands of teachers is enough. They believe that somehow putting technology into the hands of students is enough. Both beliefs have been proven misleading, and it wasn't until recently that I finally heard why I bristeld against such thinking. 

While we attended the Google Apps for Education Summit last fall, I heard the above statement ("the best app of the 21st century is a good teacher"), and I almost didn't even catch it. It was said offhandedly, as if this is an accepted fact everywhere and by all stakeholders in education. While the statement is simplistic, even if not too overly generalized, the thought gave me pause. 

A Changing Mindset
First, more often than not, in conversations with district and school leaders (and even teachers), they eventually reveal that they believe it's all about the tool of technology--the tool being a magic wand capable of revolutionizing the classroom. The 21st Century Principal, J. Robinson, doesn't agree. He remarks "our relentless pursuit for some magical formula that will suddenly transform our schools is a fruitless quest" (Tech & Learning, May 2013). He goes on to say that we should stop running towards initiatives and instead understand that the mindset of a teacher is more important than any tool purchased and used in the classroom. He believes that some teachers look only for ways to use technology to do things they've always done. If the technology doesn't fit, they don't use it. According to him, "the mindset is the obstacle" (2013). It's the reason we've seen so many schools with 1:1 initiatives or SMART Boards in every classroom still have students in teacher-centric learning environments: the laptop becomes a glorified worksheet, the SMART Board amplifies lectures.

And I agree that yes, there is a mindset obstacle normally having nothing to do with technology. I've met educators who do not believe in allowing their students to have access to real-world audiences or authentic learning experiences, don't want them collaborating on their learning and thinking, and most definitely do not empower their students to lead in the classroom. They're frightened of losing control and still believe that an obedient student is a student that is learning. It's not an aversion to technology, it's an aversion to the kinds of teaching strategies that "good teachers" have always used, regardless of the tool. 

Change the Teaching, Then, Worry About the Tools
While Robinson believes it's a mindset, I believe it's as much about the teacher's philosophy of education and approach to teaching and learning. If the teacher doesn't believe in taking risk, why let students take risk? If the teacher doesn't believe in embracing confusion or mistakes, then why let students embrace confusion or mistakes? If the teacher doesn't believe in learning that is individualized and relevant to students, then why would they ever see technology as anything more than a tool to deliver instruction that is lectured, packaged and teacher-centric?

The shift has to begin in the teacher's beliefs about teaching and learning. The reason the statement from the title of this blog matters is that good teaching is good teaching, regardless of the tool. I believe that a teacher can facilitate and cultivate 21st century learning experiences for their students with any tools in their classrooms (be it paper or iPad)--for many of them, they've already been doing it since they began teaching. 

What About Educational Technology Specialists and Coaches?
So, where do people like educational technologists find purpose? If good teachers are already good teachers, what do we do? I think my role is two fold--help teachers change their mindsets and see what students are really capable of doing, as well as provide teachers the tools to help make these transformations in their classroom. Of course, for our already "good teachers", it's just helping to equip them with tools and training that continues to enhance what they're already doing, as well as challenge them to continue to stretch what they provide for their students.

In order to move forward, we must help change mindsets. Otherwise, if we don't, our teachers are only Muggles holding wands, instead of wizards wielding magic (thank you Harry Potter for the analogy). 

See the 21st Century Principals article on Transforming Our Schools by Changing Mindsets Not by Buying More Technology

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