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Technology in Education

Are Tech and Learning Compatible?

Feb 02, 2018

Editor’s note: Author and blogger Tom Whitby asks whether technology and learning are actually compatible and what constitutes learning technology experience for educators. Comments are encouraged.

Originally posted on TomWhitby.com on May 22, 2017.

I recently read yet another article that questioned the effect of using technology in education. I believe it stated that there are 3.6 million educators using edtech as the basis for the post. The post itself was well done, but throughout my reading I was troubled by what defined an edtech-using educator. How is it determined that an educator is truly an edtech user?

I have been in meetings where educators had to fill out questionnaires asking about their technology experience. They claimed to be technology-using educators based solely on their use of PowerPoint for lectures. Technically, using PowerPoint for a lecture does require technology, but that is like claiming to be a social media guru after using Facebook to only follow some family members who post their family vacation pictures at every opportunity.

If we were to conduct a survey of 10 educators who claim to be edtech-users and six of them base their claim on PowerPoint lectures alone, two use tech to send digital worksheets to their students, and the final two have students using tech apps for collaboration, curation, communication, and creation of content, we could confidently claim that edtech is not having a great effect on learning. It would be effective for probably less than 20 percent of the students. The next obvious question would be, how much of an effect is tech having on learning in the classes of those final two educators? I imagine the resulting percentage would be a much more positive influence than the other classes, but we lump everyone together.

If we are to establish data on the effects of technology in education, we need to first establish a valid method of evaluating the information from a level playing field. We need to evaluate the experience of the educators claiming to use it. Teachers who have been identified as users of tech to teach, need to—at the very least—be digitally literate. Consequently, we first need to define what is meant by digitally literate. It should not require that a person needs expertise on every application available, but it does assume at the least a comfort with some tools for collaboration, curation, communication, and creation of content—the very things we want our students to learn. How many schools can claim a majority of their teachers and administrators have such a comfort level with technology?

In order to determine the effect of technology on learning for students, we need to establish the effects of technology on teaching for teachers. Let us collect data from tech-savvy teachers who model tech use as much as they would hope for their students' use to be. We need to clearly state what we expect a technology-literate educator to be. It is no longer acceptable to allow educators or administrators to determine what they are minimally going to commit to when it comes to learning tech for professional development. We have reached a point where what was minimally accepted even five years ago is not acceptable now. We must have higher standards for educators if we have certain expectations for students. The education system does not create what society demands for students to survive and thrive in this technology-driven world. It does, however, need to prepare kids for that very life.

Of course, this will never be a popular position to take with most educators. They have all attended school for years to prepare for their positions. Their preparation to become an educator was left in the hands of colleges and universities under the scrutiny of accreditation organizations. The question is how do those institutions stay relevant in an ever-changing, technology-driven world?

If the demands of the world that we live in keep evolving and changing at a pace never before experienced in history, we need to adjust what we are doing to meet those demands. We cannot count on twentieth century methodology to prepare our kids for twenty-first century demands. Before we redefine what we expect from our students, we need to first redefine what we expect from their educators. If we need to determine if technology is having a positive effect on learning, then we need to determine if it is being equally provided to students by educators who have a thorough understanding of technology and are flexible enough to meet the inevitable changes that technology fosters. As always, if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

Tom Whitby authored The Relevant Educator and The Educator’s Guide to Connections. He is a blogger and has presented at many national, statewide, and local education conferences, as well as Edcamps. He founded #Edchat and Edchat Interactive, and has contributed to the WISE Conference in Doha, Qatar, an International Education Conference, for the last three years. He also served as a social media consultant for SmartBrief and a contributing Editor for SmartBlog on Education for SmartBrief. He currently blogs and is a consultant for the London Times Educational Supplement in the USA, TES. Follow Tom @tomwhitby.

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