Sunday, June 22, 2008

A School is No Place for Luddites

If you have forgotten about the Luddites, please allow me to refresh your memory. In the early nineteenth century, a group of Englishmen called Luddites rose to notoriety. The Luddites so feared modern (nineteenth century) technology, specifically new technology they thought threatened their future employment, some of the Luddites broke into factories and destroyed the high-tech machinery that ostensibly endangered their livelihoods. In recent years, the term Luddite has become a metaphor for anyone with a technology phobia.

So, what is the correlation between Luddites and educators? Simply put, there are Luddites among us but a school is no place for Luddites.

In the time between the end of one school day and the beginning of the next, the average teenager has texted, IMed, poked and been poked, friended and been friended, downloaded tracks and reorganized his playlists, written on a friend’s wall, bought an item on ebay and paid with PayPal, uploaded video to and watched YouTube all before his parents are asleep. (If you don’t know all this jargon, you better get caught up soon!) When this student shows up for Social Studies class the next day, worksheets and definitions hardly will hold his attention. Digital kids need teachers who can keep up with them, not Luddites.

How do we as educational leaders inspire teachers to move past their techno phobias and embrace technology? How do we successfully encourage teachers to incorporate technology into their classrooms and lessons on a regular basis?

First, teachers must be shown examples, firsthand, of technology available to them. We can’t deliver a mandate for more technology in education without introducing educators to effective technology. Second, teachers must be given solid examples of practical applications of technology. If a teacher doesn’t see how technology will make his life easier or make her lesson more interesting and effective, the technology will not be used. After an effective sales pitch and a dazzling demonstration, though, much remains to be done to get faculty buy-in.

One of the most successful strategies I have used involves finding one or two influential, eager and willing teachers on campus to experiment with technology. Once these teachers have become proficient, I ask others first to observe and then to think about ways this technology could impact their own classes. Furthermore, the technological pathfinders often become so excited about the technology in the classes they spread the word about its success faster than I ever could. Examples of technology I have fostered interest in include interactive whiteboards, class blogs and websites, and the frequent use of YouTube and United Streaming clips. Another great strategy involves sending faculty to other campuses to see what other educators are doing. Using technology in faculty meetings and at Open House events also helps convince teachers of the usefulness of technology.

The process of winning over the Luddites will not happen overnight. However, I believe it is reasonable to expect to see half a dozen teachers move towards technology in a single school year. Once the momentum picks up, it won’t take long for virtually your entire campus to become Luddite-free.

What strategies have been successful for you in encouraging more frequent use of technology in your classrooms? What have been the major obstacles you have had to overcome in this process? What is a major success story from your campus?


Harold said...

What forced me to think about technology as a teaching tool was distance teaching. That helped me to form my opinions on this topic. My biggest concern because of that experience is that people somehow think that technology teaches. It does NOT. It’s a tool by which teachers can reach many more learning styles than you could have previously. For your teachers, it load shifts. That means that instead of having a constant work load, the technology work load seems to be much greater at first, but the results lessens the work later in the course. Indeed, if done correctly, it reduces considerably. BTW, PowerPoint IS a technology!! If used as a platform, you can embed all kind of stuff in it.

If you want my favorite sites for what technology can do for your teachers, go to:

Phil said...

In my experience as a teacher, word of mouth and one-on-one "tutorials" dealing with the "how" of using technology seem to be effective--and Harold you are exactly right, technology does not teach.

I've spent many an afternoon describing and demonstrating how to use a smartboard, for example, or how I use a weblog in class.

Al Tucker said...

I am one of those teachers who have been an early adopter. I am lucky to work in an environment that places a value on engaging learners and empowering them to be creators (not just consumers) of content. My students are part of a 1:1 laptop initiative, we have smartboards, wireless networks, class management tools and software out the wazoo.

The reality is that the majority of veteran teachers excuse their way out of any use of technology. They are credentialed, licensed and tenured and they are smug about having stopped learning decades ago. Meanwhile, they are protected by the union. The end result is students who are bored out of their minds with an educational system that is twenty years behind the rest of the world. At age 52, I have become really bitter about the waste of such resources.