Education is currently at a crossroads as traditional methods and tools are changing as a result of advances in technology and learning theory. We are beginning to see some schools across the country take the lead in merging sound pedagogy with the effective integration of technology. These schools and educators, whether they realize it or not, are not only enhancing the teaching and learning process, but they are also providing their learners with essential skill sets pivotal for success in today's society. These skill sets include critical thinking/problem solving, media literacy, collaboration, creativity, technological proficiency, and global awareness. The ultimate result with this shift has been increases in engagement as well as a sense of relevancy and meaning amongst learners, all of which are foundations for improving achievement.
Even as we are seeing more schools and educators transform the way they teach and learn with technology, many more are not. Technology is often viewed either as a frill or a tool not worth its weight in gold. Opinions vary on the merits of educational technology, but common themes seem to have emerged. Some of the reasons for not embracing technology have to do with several misconceptions revolving around fear.
Time: The time excuse seems to rear its ugly head more than any other excuse not to move forward with technology integration. The fear of not being able to meet national and state standards, as well as mandates, leaves no time in the minds of many educators to either work technology into lessons, the will to do so, or the desire to learn how to. Current reform efforts placing an obscene emphasis on standardized tests are expounding the situation. This is extremely unfortunate as integrating technology effectively does not take as much time as people think. Educators would be well served to spend a little time investigating how technology can be leveraged to engage learners. Once they do, their fears will subside as it will become apparent that standards and mandates can still be met while making learning more relevant, meaningful, and engaging for students.
Cost: With budget cuts across the country putting a strain on the financial resources of districts and schools, decision makers have become fearful of allocating funds to purchase and maintain current infrastructure. This is unfortunate as there are many creative ways to cut costs, as well as to free resources that can be used with existing infrastructures. Schools can utilize cost-effective lease purchase programs for computers, investigate the implementation of a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program, or promote the use of a plethora of free Web 2.0 tools. Where there is a will, there is a way. Cost can be prohibitive at times, but there are ways to overcome this and move forward.
Assessment: Many teachers and administrators alike often fear how students can be appropriately assessed in technology-rich learning environments. This fear has been established as a result of a reliance on transitional methods of assessment as the only valid means to measure learning. Projects involving the use of technology that unleash creativity, promote critical thought, have students solve problems, and enhance communication/collaboration can easily be assessed with teacher-developed rubrics. There are also many software and web-based computer programs aligned to standards that have assessments embedded into them while offering real-time results and feedback.
Control: For technology to be not only integrated effectively, but also embraced, a culture needs to be established where teachers and administrators are no longer fearful of giving up a certain amount of control to students. The issue of giving up control seems to always raise the fear level, even amongst many of the best teachers, as schools have been rooted in structures to maintain it at all costs. Schools and classrooms do not, and will not, spiral out of control when we allow teachers the flexibility to take calculated risks to innovate with technology or permit students to learn using social media or their own devices. To truly create an innovative culture of learning, we must not fear failure either. When we give up control a certain level of failure will follow. However, it is from failure that we learn best and get better.
Lack of training: With the integration of technology comes change. With change comes the inevitable need to provide quality professional development. Many educators fear technology as they feel there is not, or will not be, the appropriate level of training to support implementation. Rest assured, training can be provided and, in most cases, it turns out to be cost-effective. Schools can leverage tech savvy teachers to facilitate professional development. There are also numerous free webinars available throughout the year. One of the most powerful means of professional development is through the use of social media where educators can create their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) based entirely on their unique needs and passions.
All of the above misconceptions that promote a sense of fear when it comes to educational technology in schools were a reality for me a mere three years ago. It wasn't until I took the time to educate myself to better lead my school in the 21st century that I soon realized my fears were solely built from misconceptions. The end result has been the transformation of New Milford High School, a transformation which is still continuing today. Don't let fear based on misconception prevent you from creating a more student-centered, innovative learning culture. Rest assured, everything else will fall into place.