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EdTech Update




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This too shall (not) pass

I am spending a week away from the office working on a book I have under contract. It's going to be a "survival guide" guide for classroom teachers using technology in their work.

And guess who will be my guinea pigs for some of the pieces. Yes, you lucky Blue Skunk readers.

This from the introduction. Feel free to comment! - Doug

This too shall pass

As veteran classroom teacher I dreaded my administrator going to a conference. Invariably she would return with a new educational “silver bullet” for improving teaching and learning and expect us teachers to implement it. This usually meant a ton of additional work despite being already very, very busy actually teaching. And unfortunately, these new process, techniques and plans were abandoned when the next “silver bullet” rolled around. Yesterday it was Outcomes Based Education. Today it is probably Essential Learning Outcomes.

A survival strategy than many of adopted was keep doing what we’d always been doing but use the vocabulary of the new thing. We’d keep quiet during staff development sessions and quietly pray, “This too shall pass.” It was difficult not to become cynical about any change effort in school.

The use of information technologies in schools is a different matter. As we look at society in general, technology has had and continues to have a powerful impact on the way things are being done. To think that medical CAT scans, online banking and shopping, or computerized diagnostics of motor vehicles is a “passing fad” is erroneous. And to think that the use of technology in schools is a “passing fad” doesn’t make any sense either.

Classroom teachers have a finite amount of energy and time to devote to change. So why not invest in the kinds of changes that will with us, not until the next “silver bullet” comes along, but for the remainder of our careers? While technology does change – sometimes at a seemingly impossibly fast pace – the basics of its use in education will be with us for many years.

It’s the basic use of technology in the classroom that this book is about. It’s written for teachers who do not consider themselves technology enthusiasts, but still want to harness the power of the tools and strategies that can truly improve their instruction and their student’s learning.

If you are a teacher who wants the benefits of technology use but who also wants to lead a normal life away from a keyboard and monitor, read on.


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Reader Comments (12)

"changes that will BE with us" (was that a proofreading test?) This is a great introduction. I like the way you start with something every educator can relate to--the latest greatest fad that we-all-must-now-use. I also like the way you clearly state what the book is about--for "teachers who do not consider themselves technology enthusiasts, but still want to harness the power of the tools and strategies that can truly improve their instruction and their student’s learning."

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJude

I'm already anxious to read the book!

I'm thinking, as I compose this with my Mac and my cat on my lap, that there may be "silver bullets" that have and will come along in technology as well. It seems to me that some schools (not to mention any in particular) has followed technology "silver bullets" in the past by too hastily purchasing things like smart boards, mimios, projectors, flip cameras, and document cameras. The reason I'm classifying those things as silver bullets, is that they are sometimes (too often) purchased with no real, clear idea of how they can be used to actually impact student learning.

I'll use this as an example: I see way too many digital projectors installed in classrooms only to be used as fancier white boards or overhead projectors. Too typically, they are used to project a word-processed direction like "When you come in, take out a piece of paper and a pencil and turn to page 47. Do problems 1-15 and then read quietly when you're done."

Don't get me wrong - I love using technology to enhance my teacher and student learning. But, I firmly believe we should not purchase it until we have a clear plan and plenty of professional develop on how to use these tools ito enhance learning in ways that could not be done without the tools.

Did I just blow my mind, or did that actually make sense?

Anyway, will your book take a stab at that issue?


December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob F.

Good hook to grab the audience you're targeting. I starting reading the first two paragraphs and I had different ideas, but you aren't talking to administrators about're talking to teachers who may have been reluctant users in the past.

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Write on! Looking forward to reading more...

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

The education trends come and go as you said, Doug. Profiles of Learning... to Academic Standards... and I'm sure there will be something else coming - maybe Outcome Based Academic Choice Profiles of Standards Not Left Behind as America Recovers or something. Superintendents and principals will continue to sign up for leadership institutes and come home with the latest iNooky, Pod Apple, Kindlepad or whatever it is. They will be very jazzed about their recent experience and want to jump on board because they just spent a day learning about this latest little device and are now CONVINCED this is the FUTURE OF EDUCATION. They will go back to their schools honestly believing this is the latest, greatest innovation to hit education EVER and will completely reform education as we know it.

Right. Maybe you think I'm exaggerating. Does anybody remember Palm Pilots? The Gates Foundation spent millions putting these into the hands of administrators and conducted hundreds of hours of training on how they would transform education.

And have they?

I am not slamming administrators. Or even Palm Pilots. I'm totally sympathetic. These vendor demonstrations are IMPRESSIVE. Administrators are understandably looking for anything that will help them meet the demands of parents, help the students achieve, keep the school off the AYP list and themselves out of the newspaper. Not to mention keep them competitive with the neighboring district so they don't lose kids to open enrollment. Who can blame them?

So here's my big problem with the whole thing. It's not just because superintendents and principals get invited to these events and I don't. All envy aside, it means TECHNOLOGY DEVICES, these mostly inanimate objects of metal and wire, are DRIVING teaching and learning. We never wanted this to happen. We preached against it.

For years we argued that the teachers' instruction and students' learning should be the driver for the technology choices and not the other way around. We have all said this. Many times. In public, even. I know I've read it in very reputable publications - possibly even some of yours. Technology companies, on the other hand, promote their solutions as educational improvements as a marketing strategy because they need to make money. This does not make them evil, they are only doing their job. In addition, these vendors have cleverly clued into the fact that administrators who hold the checkbooks and are the peole who are held most publicly accountable (for the most part) for the performance of the school.

Obviously, technology and education technology applications continue changing faster than schools can keep up. Look at the last few years. Desktop computers. Laptop computers. Stationary labs. Mobile labs. Netbooks. Thin clients. 1:1. Interactive whiteboards. iPods. IPads. Smartphones. Student-owned devices. They keep coming and we keep scrambling to adopt them, desperate to integrate them with instruction because, well, we should, in order to engage students in the digital life they live every day. But are the learning needs of our students driving us to make the best decisions about technology tools or are the tools driving us to retrofit our educational mission to fit the tools?

Maybe the old argument that learning should drive technology choices needs to be reversed. Maybe I've had it wrong all along. I think, however, that when we allow technology to determine how and what we education, we are like that Greek guy who constantly has to push the rock up the mountain only to have it roll back on him. We keep trying device after device but never really see the overall difference.

I don't want to be overly cynical but when have schools EVER had enough money, staff development, time, or capacity to keep up with the pace of technology innovation? For the last couple of years, w've been frantically installing interactive whiteboards and oh boy, now we've got this iPad thing. Not that these devices are bad or shouldn't be purchased - but how many schools really had the chance to think through how these would be used to promote learning and 21st century skills. How many of these devices are being used effectively and with purpose?

Instead of investing thousands of dollars on technology because it is 1) the latest and greatest tool ever and 2) all the districts around me are doing it, I wish we woudl always see schools taking an approach that looks more like this:

Principal: OK, so I just got back from the SHOES Conference where I was treated to a whole afternoon with an international expert on education and they gave us this new combination e-reader-computer-Swiss army knife-media player-Hibachi grill device. From what I saw it looks like this might really make a difference for our students and change how we teach for the better,and it would be nice if we could get them for everyone, but we probably can't right now because our referendum didn't pass this year. So maybe we should get a few and try them out in a pilot project to see if they really would make a difference for our students then we can plan where we need to go with this.

This year, our school will designate sufficient funding towards staff development and additional time to help you find the best ways to instruct your students using the technology tools we have available to us right now. And yes, we do need to be providing some real-world learning experiences and helping students develop 21st century skills, so here's what that means and there will be training to help you do that. And maybe you could use some some guidance for using social networking applications for engagement and expansion of learning not only for your students but to help you work in professional learning communities. The reason we will do all this is because we want you to be able to effectively use our teaching tools and resources to meet the EDUCATIONAL GOALS FOR OUR STUDENTS.

From what you're saying in your post, it looks like this is the approach you are taking in your new book. I'll buy it. :-)

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Good target audience Doug. Too often resources are for the "techies" or for the other end of the spectrum with the "for dummies" books. There are many educators who are looking for practical strategies. I look forward the finished product.

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Ganje

Hi Jude,

The Navajo when making blankets always leave at least one imperfection as an acknowledgment that nothing is perfect but God. I'd like to be able to say my typos are of a similar intent, but I'd be lying.

Thanks for the catch.


Hi Bob,

I've been struggling with the rapid change in technology while writing this (and before I signed on for the project.) While Twitter may indeed be a flash in the pan, I've been using a word processor and the skills it requires for 30 years - over half my lifetime. While IWB's may someday go the way of the overhead, finding ways to engage students with technology ought to be around for a while. Good parent communications, helping kids grow using good assessments, and creating involving project will continue and can all be supplemented with technology.

I've been deliberately vague about costs, specifications and tools that are very new - that info is what the web is for. And I realize the shelf life of any tech book is fairly short lived.

It's a dirty job, but somebody has to try it!

Thanks for the comment and enjoy your cat!


Hi Nathan,

New, pragmatic and skeptical teachers are indeed my audience here - not geeks or enthusiasts.


Hi Mary,

I'm worried now your comment may be better than my book!

As I replied to Bill in an earlier comment, this book will emphasis the tried-and-true uses of technology in education - things the regular teacher can do with fairly standard technologies. Whether it is a desktop, laptop or iPad, it seems to me there are some basic ways classroom teachers can engage kids. The classroom is where the real revolution must occur!

If you are interested, I'm happy to share draft chapters as they are written. The book would benefit from your feedback!


Hi Nathan,

I've written books for media specialists. Just looking for a little broader audience this time. All educators, I think, need a dose of practicality when it comes to tech!


December 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I am an avid reader of The Blue Skunk and really connect with much of what you are talking about. I am however being carved from a slightly different stone. I am not a traditional classroom teacher. I received my B.S in Technology Education, many would call this “shop”, and while in that major we learned things a little different than traditional education majors.
Our classes focused on trial and error. Yes, we had lectures but they were a small part of our classes. Instead of our classes being the traditional 1 hour of class time per credit our classes were doubled. We spent a minimum of 6 hours a week in each class. A typical class consisted of a 45 minute lecture and then hands-on lab time directly after the lecture. By doing this we were able to practice what we just learned in the lecture.
Even though I loved my classes, I hated knowing I had to spend upwards of 30 to 40 hours a week actually in class (huh - imagine hating working a 30hr week) while my roommates were able to spend half that time in class and earn the same amount of credits. Only today do I realize how beneficial that time really was.
We practiced reverse engineering, problem based learning, challenge based learning, hands on learning, small group learning environments and most of all learning was fun. What is surprising is we were not trying to learn in any of those specific ways, our education professors never mentioned any of the above concepts.
After 10 years now I see more and more schools and programs moving towards many of the concepts we practiced during those “shop” classes. I am current a teacher (with a light class load) and part time “tech coach” (I guess that is the best term for it) and I am struggling to try to move our teachers in more innovative directions with their lessons. We are currently the highest achieving HS in our district and our students are yearning for more interaction with technology.
Come January we will (again) become a 1-to-1 school with 410 MAC books entering our building. I am looking forward to the new technology and hope our staff, I am not worried about the students, can successfully transition from PC to MAC world. I also hope that this new technology sparks some ideas within the staff to incorporate more innovative challenge based thinking.
I am anxious for your new book and hope that it will become a great success within the education world. If you would like any guinea pigs I am always happy to assist.
Keep up the good work.

December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTony ONeal

Hey Doug,
I'm not sure this fits the context of this chapter, but teacher use of technology isn't just a tool, it's a means to access the thinking processes of the students we teach. Technology has mediated a lot of change in our culture, producing a growing inter-generational perceptual/processing gap, and the assertive (and occasionally challenging) use of technology by teachers keeps them relevant in their teaching practice. Tech is not just a new toy, but a "personal/professional development experience" that keeps us able to do that which we aspire to do.

December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

Best wishes on the book, Doug. The issue as I see it is there are so many damn acronyms out there for the standards-based competency-based design collaboration, depth of knowledge, student initiated, understanding by backward NCLB Big6 design for PLC differentiated instruction, so we can march into the 21st Century according to the Frameworks, state guidelines, and assessments under a mapped curriculum. And all that needs to be completed by Monday while you need to grade your papers, call parents about discipline issues, collaborate with your team, update gradebook, see if technology is actually working, try to book the computer lab before everyone else so you can use technology in the classroom, and actually prepare a lesson plan. Of course as soon as we do any one of these things, two months later we do something else, so in 5 years every teacher has been through the woodshed of all these damn initiatives which take them out of the classroom for the various meetings you have to have to engage each acronym, wordsmith the objectives and mission statements of each, and comb through all the number and letters of each objective under each directive that falls under each competency which falls under each standard. Oh wait...gotta get back to today's acronym workshop...I think they put them all in a hat, mixed them up, and came up with a new one: CRAP.

This is why no one is real excited about technology in the classroom. It's one more things.

December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob

HI Bob,

I see you recognize the challenge. If this book has to convince the reader that investment in technology makes their professional life, if not easier, at least better. It's my entire goal!


Hi Bill,

Reaching the "Net Gen" learner was going to in a later chapter, but I am now thinking it needs to be moved forward.



December 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I'm at a school that is going full scale implementing tech but, many teachers have no idea where to start. I have read at least 10 books on integrating tech and there isn't a book like this out there. I believe that it is all about being willing to try and know that there will be success and their will be failure. I have spent the past three months trying new resources and techniques. I believe that the best advice for teachers using tech is to have them add the tech at their pace and to help them to reflect on what they have done. I have already seen amazing things happen in my class that I would not have seen without the technology.

December 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Mangum

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