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A deficit of imagination

I've been doing faculty focus groups as a part of a long-range technology planning process. For the past six weeks or so, armed with cookies and a notepad, I've been asking four rather simple questions of voluntary groups of teachers:

  1. What is the district doing right with technology and should be continued or expanded?
  2. What are your major frustrations with technology and how might they be lessened?
  3. What do you hear that other schools or districts are doing with technology that you think might be good for the students in this school?
  4. Would you support a 1:1 laptop (or netbook/tablet/etc.) project in your school and what might it look like?

I'm out in buildings enough to not be terribly surprised by any of the responses I got. Teachers like their Smartboards, laptops, and GoogleApps. Teachers are frustrated by dim projectors, slow Internet speeds (that prevent YouTube from streaming), lack of training and lack of time to work on technology initiatives.

So, no hesitance about questions one or two.

But what I did find surprising was the dearth of ideas and any excitement surrounding questions three and four. A couple teachers ventured they might like iPads in their classrooms and there were a couple requests for student response systems and document cameras, but the most common response was no response at all.

And make no mistake - I would put the quality of our district's teachers up against any in the world. These are committed and caring people with whom I am proud to be associated.

As the technology director, I take this as a personal failure*. Why have I not found the means of getting people excited about possibilities? About thinking creatively about technology? About dreaming of a better way to educate students that technology might enable?

Is a deficit of imagination even worse than a lack of skills and information? 

How do I get teachers excited, courageous and imaginative about how educational technology might be used in their classrooms?

* Are rigid state educational requirements, a lack of funding for conference attendance, and feeling demaned by the press and politicians resulting in a "just hunker down and survive" mentality in many classroom teachers? 

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Reader Comments (13)

I think maybe you could get a few more excited about opportunities and possibilities they just aren't aware of but by and large (based on my time in the classroom) you have too many that are interested in doing it the same way they've always done it. Any introduction of new technology is more energy and effort on their part and they aren't interested in doing any more than the bare minimum. This is a largely pessimistic view and I hope it's only true for my school. Like I said, you will get a few young teachers or vibrant teachers that are always interested in doing something innovative and creative.

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGCFLearnFree

Maybe you've done such a good job they don't feel they need anything else right now. I'm fine with the tech in my school. I need more money for books. A new tech initiative for me would be money for playaways or something like that. I'd rather see teacher's classroom libraries built up. Of course we have plenty of document cameras and such. Maybe your teachers do as well.

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

This sounds like technology fatigue to me. The landscape is changing so fast and so often that folks outside of the IT world feel like they can't keep up. I work with highly motivated and intelligent teachers that are just now feeling confident enough about using email in a meaningful way. The sad part is that the next generation (ie students) doesn't even use email.

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Now I know your secret - Cookies! :) Actually Doug, I just went through the same process in my school and received similar feedback. I also feel the same way - my staff are #1 in my book and I consider every one of them rockstars! However, as I think about their day to day jobs, and the amount of work they have to do on a daily basis...Is there time to dream? Sure there may be a few great ideas to support, integrate, implement learning technologies within the teacher's 4 walls - but I often dont see that traveling outside a classroom to impact a grade level, building, or district.

I wonder if it has to do with vision? Have you ever met an administrator that did not have vision? Yes. Have you ever met a teacher who had vision? Yes. If one or the other does not have it - it is constant friction and lets face it... alot of work!

I would have to imagine in districts where vision is equally shared and a culture has been developed where ideas and innovation are embraced - that they see fantastic gains and the sky is their only limit!

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen Hegna

I think there are three issues:
(1) If it ain't broke, don't fix it - I still see overhead projectors and teachers cleaning plastic sheets to use the next day. I even believe that there could be one teacher who is using their smart board as the screen for their overhead projector.
(2) Lack of information - I have talked to and shown a number of teachers some small things I do which I consider insignificant, and I usually get the "I could totally use that!" look.
(3) Fear - both from the next technology and from administration. If someone wants to do something new, how do they go about letting administrators know without sounding annoying or complaining? When a principal is so deep into parent phone calls and teacher hiring, do they really listen to new ideas?

April 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

What would you like to see your schools try out?

You are one of the resources I look to for new ideas/strategies on using tech in schools and libraries. So maybe have something you'd like to try out but don't have time to do. Pull a few "pioneers" together; you know, those gadget types who enjoy playing with the newest and figuring out what to do with it. Offer them a choice of some things to pilot for possible rollout to the district. I think about online tools like Edmodo or perhaps PollEverywhere/cell phones in the classroom. Give them some administrative cover, support and a few snacks and see what happens.

Have fun

April 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRick Paula

Do you think the lack of ideas is because the teachers get stuck at technology and never get to integration in regard to technology integration?

Is it that they don't see what could be; what they could replace or take to higher levels using different technologies, because they aren't approaching the question from an integration perspective. Rather, they are putting the spotlight on technology instead of learning?

I'm finding that many of the teachers I work with don't see the integration side of technology integration. They see technology as something that they need to add to the plethora of things they already do (because they're being told they have to), instead of seeing how technology will enable learning to transform their classroom taking learning to places they currently don't and doing it more effectively and efficiently. They don't look for what could be. Their view of technology is that is it is an add-on to attract student attention, which they define equate with engagement.

I think there is validity in your questions/statements:
"* Are rigid state educational requirements, a lack of funding for conference attendance, and feeling demaned by the press and politicians resulting in a "just hunker down and survive" mentality in many classroom teachers?"
"I would put the quality of our district's teachers up against any in the world. These are committed and caring people with whom I am proud to be associated.".

Our/your teachers do great things, given the resources provided. But, unless they are creative and futuristic, they don't see the incentives or vision to embrace transforming education and need the visionary leadership of people like you. You are an agent of change, but many teachers are resistant to shift to the new culture of learning.

Andrew Churches shares a great model for managing complex change. Without vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan you will not achieve change. If any one of these is mission you will instead have confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, and no action (treadmill). Which of these are your teachers missing?

April 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergitsul

Hi Jessica,

Oh, I am sure this is a universal issue - not just with my teachers. Strangely, though, I don't see the enthusiasm levels correspond with age - I've got some "mature" teachers who are really techie and young teachers who are struggling just to keep their heads above water.

If you find some things that work, let me know! Thanks for the comment.


Hi Ninja,

That's nice to think might be true - they have so much stuff they can't imagine more. We have done pretty well for staff - computers, Smartboards, projectors, telephones, online resources etc. But if I were in the classroom, I think I would still want more for my students!

Hope you are getting a long weekend!


Hi J,

Fatigue - tech or general - is probably at play here.

Yeah, adults seem to catch on with technologies just as they are being abandoned by the young. Hence: Johnson’s Kid Law of Cool Technologies: A technology is no longer cool once adults adopt it. Therefore, no adults will ever use a cool technology.

Have a great Easter/Passover/Nondenominational Long Weekend.


Hi Jen,

Your comment made me think of the old saw "Did you ever consider that your horizon is just the edge of your rut?" Vision has a lot to do with this and I have no idea how you spur people to imagine a different way of doing things. Maybe I will figure it out over the weekend.


April 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug,

a big fan of your blog but this is my first time commenting! thought you might find some interesting insight in a project we've done twice now at my school called "Exploratorium." I wrote an article about it titled "Hands on Learning with a Hands Off Approach" for School Library monthly's February 2010 issue. We discovered that giving our teachers the gift of time and freedom to choose, while also making them accountable, was a great combination for lighting a creative fire in terms of learning and technology for them. I would be happy to share our experiences by email or however else you might be interested.


April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Ahlfeld

This sounds like me. I really feel, this year more than any other, that I have let my staff down. I am going to do what you did and see how I can fix it for next year. Right now I am dealing with students (and teachers) who think that aliens invading in 2012 is scholarly research and animals who play sports are scholarly topics for research...sigh...

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLibraryGirl62

Hi Kenn,

I think these are all valid observations. i'd perhaps even add to the third one - that administrators are fearful of technology as well and that filters down.

Now - what do we do about this???


Hi Rick,

If I had my way, I'd like teachers to be more excited about:

- individualizing/customizing education for all kids using tech
- creating a more constructivist/problem-based approach to education with the aid of tech
- using technology foster collaborative learning experiences and PLNs for all kids
- finding ways to engage students through more and better online activities and resources tied back to the classroom
- figuring out how student-owned devices can be used to enhance the classroom experience and how to get those devices into all kids hands

Maybe this is about getting excited or creative with technology as much as it just re-invigorating teaching.


Hi gitsul,

Thanks for reminding me of Andrew's model. It has a great deal of validity and I need to review it.

I appreciate the thoughtful and helpful comment.


Hi Library Girl,

Hmmm, invading aliens sounds like the research I like to do ;-) I am guessing a couple cable news networks would be interested in the result too. I suspect anyone with a conscience probably feels the way we do - that we don't do enough!


April 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I have this same conversation all the time. For me it comes down to two things:

1. Initiative Fatigue - Teachers are always telling me, " That's a great idea! Too bad I don't have time to do it because I'm too busy with x, y, z." One thing that I think really needs to happen is a discussion at the highest level about what the district values. Teachers will always put those items on which they are assessed first. State testing and district initiatives have taken priority over student inquiry and creation. I find that when I can demonstrate how a technology helps with an existing priority, teachers are more apt to prioritize it.

2. Teachers don't know what they don't know - If we don't educate our teachers (and administrators) on the impact of information technology on education, they will not figure it out on their own. They have too many other things occupying their time and energy. We need to continue to frame what the future of education will look like so they can understand the implications. Then we can introduce the tools and skills they need in order to take their classrooms there. If teachers don't know what to ask for, it is often because they don't know what is missing.

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Zukor

Hi Dave,

Both great points. One of my major objectives for next year is to try to get some tech expectations in the teacher eval system. Wish me luck!


May 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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