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EdTech Update




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Why technology is resisted

The Yale Chalkboard Rebellion of 1830 on Mental Floss tells a tale of students resisting technological change - that disruptive device, the chalkboard. I had not hear this chalkboard-related bite of history, but I do know that the chalkboard was not always popular with teachers either. From an old column of mine written for parents...

What piece of new educational technology is being described in the following quote?

“[This device] appealed at once to the eye and to the ear, thus naturally forming the habit of attention, which is so difficult to form by the study of books …. Whenever a pupil does not fully understand, [it] will have the opportunity … of enlarging and making intelligible.” David Dockterman, Great Teaching in the One Computer Classroom, Tom Snyder Productions, 1990

Educational television? The computer? No. The quote is from 1855, and describes the latest advancement in the technology of the time: the chalkboard. High tech? Well, it once was, and interestingly enough, this now standard piece of educational equipment was not accepted or used by teachers when it was first introduced.

It wasn’t a matter of teachers being stubborn or fearful of the new technology. It wasn’t because teachers didn’t know how to use the device. The chalkboard just didn’t fit in with the way schools of the 19th century were structured. The vast majority of schools at that time were one room buildings which held students of a wide variety of ages - anywhere from 5 to 17. This meant that the teacher spent almost no time teaching to the entire class; she taught to small groups of children, each with his or her individual slate.

It wasn’t until schools were “restructured” in the 20th century and students were separated into rooms by age, that large group instruction and the use of the chalkboard became widely practiced.

By the way, college professors of education, the experts, extolled the virtues of the chalkboard for years before it was widely used by practicing teachers. This had less to do with their visionary abilities, and more to do with the fact that they were already using large group instruction methods.

Can the same rationale for resistance be applied to some teachers' reluctance to embrace individual student devices? It's not resistance to technology, but the difficulty in moving from whole group to individualized (one-room-school) instruction; from being educated meaning knowing things to being educated meaning constructing knowledge; from passive to active learning environments; from memorization to creation? So perhaps technology is scapegoat, not the reason, for change reluctance.

And are we relying on technology to drive educational change instead of educational practices driving technology adoption? I get the feeling that were it not for technology enthusiasts pushing for change, the classroom would look much as it did 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

Happy Friday.



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Reader Comments (2)

I refer back to a story I heard about a doctor and a teacher from 100 years ago being transported to their respective employment positions today. The doctor would be lost while the teacher would feel right at home.

I am beginning to think that the school I am currently with might actually make some changes to their standard eight periods schedule. I talked to a small group of teachers about making Wednesdays "open", where students choose to spend that day in any way and any where they choose.Why not let a student who needs to spend two or three hours focused on a single subject or report do so?

October 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

I've heard that story and it resonates with me as well.

Your "open" Wednesday sounds a bit like the Google 80/20 plan where employees get to work on a personal project 20% of the time. I like it!


October 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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