This guest blog post is written by Dr. Dave Mulder. Dave is a teacher educator at Dordt College, where he takes his work very seriously, but himself decidedly less so. His professional interests are related to preparing pre-service teachers for technology integration, online teaching and learning, and social presence and community development in online settings.
I have been a professional educator for all of my adult life; I’m beginning my 20th year of teaching this fall. I have always been a “techie” teacher, and I definitely have a love gadgets and learning about the latest tech toys. I was often (and continue to be) an early adopter of various educational technologies on the various faculties I’ve been part of, both when I taught in K-12 schools and also now in higher education.
The longer I’ve taught, and the more technologies I’ve tried out in my own teaching practice, the more skeptical I’ve become of the claims made of the value of many potential educational technologies. I am a technophile, but I’m also an EdTech skeptic. I am simply not convinced by the claims made by many companies touting a particular educational technology that they will have the promised impact on student learning.
I wonder sometimes about the supposed need to become certified in using various EdTech tools. Do I need to become an Apple Distinguished Educator? Should I invest the time in becoming a Google Certified Innovator? If I want to use tools like FlipGrid, or VoiceThread, or Edmodo, or a SMARTBoard, do I need to pass some sort of course first?
Let’s back up for a moment and think about what EdTech tools are supposed to be doing in the classroom.
Actually, let’s back way up, to the 1700s.
What, you thought EdTech began with the advent of the personal computer in the 1970s? I suppose it depends on your definition of “educational technology.” I prefer Neil Postman’s thinking about what makes a “technology” from his 1992 book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, where Postman suggests that technologies are tools devised by humans to solve particular problems. This broad definition goes far beyond the typical conception of “technology” as something digital.
Postman uses examples as “low-tech” as the practice of assigning letter grades in school: “This procedure seems so natural to most of us that we are hardly aware of its significance. We may even find it difficult to imagine that the number or letter is a tool, or, if you will, a technology; still lets that, when we use such a technology to judge someone’s behavior, we have done something peculiar” (Postman, 1992, pp. 12-13). Postman goes on to elaborate the beginning of the assignment of letter grades to judge the quality of students’ work at the suggestion of a Cambridge University tutor in 1792. This use of a technology–a tool, even if that tool is really just an idea–to evaluate the quality of students’ work is so taken for granted today, it almost sounds a little odd to think about letter grades as an educational technology! But…should we require “Letter Grade Assignment Certification” as a prerequisite for allowing teachers to wield this technology?
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Do teachers need to be certified to use tools in their classroom to ensure that they will result in students’ learning? Should teachers be “textbook certified,” or “chalkboard certified,” or “pencil-and-notebook certified” if we expect them to use these tools?
You might argue, “Well, Dave, digital tools are different! They are more complicated and have more features than these analog tools. So teachers need training and support!”
You’re right about that. I think that the tools are often more complex, and if we really do want teachers to use them to their utmost, the will likely need training and support.
Here’s my real question: is it worth the tradeoff? If teachers need to devote that much time and energy to being able to effectively use a digital tool, is it worth implementing it in the classroom? Is “good enough” technology…good enough?
What do you think? What criteria should we demand for educational technologies we use in the classrooms of today and tomorrow?
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vantage.