“It’s Not the Technology; It’s the Teachers”

Students participating in virtual student panel  Few things can compare with the sheer joy of watching our students use what we’ve taught them to take control of their own learning. I had that pleasure yesterday, watching two of my students—Linda Jimson and Tito Gardner—participate in a virtual, student-led panel as part of Connected Educator Month.

The panel, sponsored by Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN) and the Oregon Academic Technology Society (OAtS), linked students from six different schools around the U.S. (Alaska, Mississippi, Arizona, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Kentucky) discussing how they have used various technologies in their literacy learning. These students, ranging from third graders to community college sophomores, described their various projects and collaborations, often using online video clips they had produced.  [Special thanks to Scott Christian, Assistant Director of Oregon Health and Science University, Teaching and Learning Center, who conceived and coordinated the panel].

My students spoke last, and I noticed they were paying extremely close attention to their fellow presenters and taking detailed notes. When their turn came, they deviated from their prepared remarks several times to comment on what struck them about the work in the other classrooms. At one point, they turned to each other and exclaimed, “It’s not the technology; it’s the teachers!”

They went on to share with the audience how our school has a relative abundance of hardware and Internet access for students which is significant here in the Mississippi Delta since many of our students do not have access to such technology outside of school buildings. However, some instructors choose not to use the technology, or use it to a limited extent. As Linda noted, “Every class at our college has the option to use online components, but all students don’t have access to those. We need teachers that are trained in technology tools, in order to be able to teach the students what to do with technology.”  Tito added, “The opportunities we have are tremendous, but I’m really dependent on teachers to implement some of these tools. It is vital that teachers use technology and prepare themselves properly.”

In his last semester here at the community college, Tito is taking all of his classes online via the Mississippi Virtual Community College consortium. Before the panel session, he talked passionately about the differences he sees among his online teachers—those who use the online tools to encourage discussion and research versus those who just post information and give online tests.  He believes the former helped him to develop critical learning and social communication skills that he will need to be successful in his career, citing some recent job interview questions as evidence.

I’ve written before about why I believe it is unjust to make poor students attend poor, under-resourced schools. But it is even sadder to have access to resources that can make such a tremendous difference in the learning and the lives of students, and not put those resources into their hands. Often, the disconnect is that teachers are not comfortable enough with the technology to make it an integral part the teaching/learning experience.

I know of a rural school that used a grant to install a state-of-the-art iMac lab, which then sat totally unused for months because no one in the building knew how to work the equipment (funds for training were not part of the grant). Serendipitously, a substitute teacher hired mid-year owned a Mac, and the principal promptly put her in charge of the lab. She and the students began to teach themselves how to use the tools.  [ #problembasedlearning]

My students’ observation has prompted me to approach my colleagues and administrators about stepping up our professional development, so we can make more effective use of our Internet access, our learning management system, and other social media tools across all courses.

  • AnneJolly

    Preaching to the choir

    I think you’re preaching to the choir here on CTQ – but what a desperate need you’ve identified for our teachers nationwide!

    I know teachers who believe they don’t have time to learn the technology because they have to spend so much time teaching. Then there are teachers who have zero interest in the technology and still consider it a fad – it’s not part of their life in or out of school.  By far, however, the biggest hindrances to teachers using technology are problematic in-school Internet access and – as you’ve already mentioned – lack of training.  I truly believe that most teachers would like to integrate technology effectively into their curriculum and, if the supports were there on an ongoing basis, they would do so. 

    Thanks, Renee, for reminding us that we need to be diligent in calling attention to this need. Either that, or we’re going to be preparing our students for the 20th century. 


  • ReneeMoore

    Teachers Getting Tech Training


    I was really struck by how my students on this panel took in what they saw these other students doing–and it was a great cross section of students and teachers doing some real learning and using various types of technology–then reached the conclusion that the pivotal issue was the teachers.

    Specifically, here at the community college, every instructor has access to some pretty powerful web-based tools for use with students, but the students cannot even access them unless the instructor makes them available within our learning management system (we use Canvas). What the students were critiquing is how some teachers use these tools extensively; thus encouraging students to do so; while others don’t use them at all. 

    I’ve seen and heard many debates about how best to get teachers the training they need to make wiser use of technology in our teaching. Some argue we should pursue it on our own, and to an extent I agree, especially now when such information is so readily available through so many venues. However, if we are serious about preparing students for the present and future world; then we should be making new tools available to teachers and students and build the time to learn those into our worktime. Other countries manage to do this, we could if we wanted. 

  • Dixie Goswami

    Students as sources of info and insights about their education


    What your student panelists  said with great restraint (but not resignation) about

    access and equity, at home and at school, K-20, is missing from talk about

    digital media curricula coming at us fast.  They emphasized that it’s not the technology,

    it’s the preparation that teachers need to be innovative and effective. It’s also embracing the experiences and skills that students are bringing to the classroom and seeing them as powerful resources—allies.  I hope you’ll consider connecting the panelists (and their teachers), perhaps to do a little shared inquiry…looking at digital media issues  across

    sites, ages….

    Many thanks to your students for their clarity and commitment.


    • ReneeMoore

      Going Beyond the Panel

      Thank you for the suggestion, Dixie. I would love to see the students and the teachers involved in this panel continue our discussions, and examine these questions more deeply. 

  • Doug Silver

    Agree – especially when they use the same technology!

    I think you touched an important idea in your post: when students feel like they are not gettting what they could, they do react. When students experience some of their teachers using technology and challenging them with new learning, they feel more motivated than the same teacher if they withhold technology the student knows exists. Imagine a teacher requiring some students to use a simple word processor vs making other students write everything by hand.  Students get it – they aren’t being challenged to even use basic technology; what do they expect of what they are being taught?  Tell a high school kid he can’t use his calculator – he’ll ask, what’s the point I’ll have one on my phone for the rest of my life.

    I would add to this point by saying, teachers and students who use the same technology benefit each other.  I have seen teachers and students in partnership using WriterKEY to engage in an ongoing dialog about writing, providing meaningful feedback, and examining data as part of their formative learning.  Technology like WriterKEY actually helps improve the relationship between students and teachers.

    • ReneeMoore

      If They Know What They’re Missing

      A couple of points on your response: 

      First, it’s not as if teachers are deliberately withholding technology from the students. What the students clearly pointed out in the webinar is that some teachers are more comfortable and knowledgeable with the technology than others. That’s why they kept stressing the need for training and preparation of the faculty. Second, and I experienced this first hand again just today, many of our students are more afraid of technology than their teachers are. They rely on teachers to open up these tools and take the fear out of using them. 

      Thanks for the suggestion about WriterKey. I’ll be looking for what other teachers have to say about it. 

  • Andrew Eads

    Teachers and Technology

    Let’s do some research. Why would a teacher not use technology? I can think of several reasons but until we nail down what they really are can we then determine a set of effective interventions. I confess to being a teacher who needs targeted interventions.

    Professional development needs to be calibrated to real teacher needs. I’m no technophobe, but I was lost in a sea of “apps” presented at our last PD. There was no way to connect my class to the vital few apps that I really need. This is a gripe specific to my circumstances but I suspect it is not uncommon.

    • ReneeMoore

      Focused Professional Development

      I’m with you on the need for tailoring the training to the specific needs of individual teachers. We recently switched our LMS here at the community college from Blackboard to Canvas. We did it over two months (usually such a switch is spread over a year). Our e-learning coordinator wisely prepared a team of us to serve as mentor coaches to our colleagues. Every faculty member attended a general orientation to the new system, after that they could turn to the coaches for more individualized help.  Teachers who taught summer school learned more about it than those who got the general orientation at the end of the Spring; then had to try to remember how to use it this Fall. The system has many tools and features, but many teachers are just too busy or too overwhelmed to figure out which ones they really need to use or make available to students. 

      What’s missing, I think, for us and many teachers around the country, is broader, deeper instruction on the role of these tools in the teaching of our specific subjects. Not just tools and apps, but the why and how of integrating technology. 

  • billferriter

    Renee wrote:

    Renee wrote:

    I’ve written before about why I believe it is unjust to make poor students attend poor, under-resourced schools. But it is even sadder to have access to resources that can make such a tremendous difference in the learning and the lives of students, and not put those resources into their hands.


    This line gave me chills, Renee.  Thanks for being the voice of challenge for high poverty students and schools.  



  • JoBeth Marano

    Lack of Technology Training and Time for Training

    I have been teaching computer classes 8 years for our school. I teach 3 year olds through high school students.  After reading Connected Educator I have been able to take using technology to a new level.  

    I was able to upgrade our lab to using a Mac lab as described above.  I have been trained as a Master Digital Educator in Florida to assist teachers with implementing using technology in the classroom.  After about three years teaching with the school, I was able to start encouraging the teachers to use technology. However, the lack of equipment and training time slowed things down tremendously. 

    Administration has to give teachers time and encourage them with incentives to learn how technology can benefit them in the classroom.  The teachers have to be provided with equipment that is reliable and easy to access to encourage them to use the technology.  Besides Administrative support and having the right equipment, I have thought of three other ways I think teachers can be encouraged to use technology in the classroom.   

    I try to encourage our teachers to just try one thing a quarter to get started and don’t overwhelm themselves.  I am confident once they start just one project at a time they will catch the bug to begin using technology more and more. 

    As an IT on staff full time, I try to encourage the teachers to schedule times to teach with me in the lab to get started using technology  to complete a project.  I would be there to help teachers and students use the technology while the teachers oversee completing the project until the teacher and students become more comfortable using the technology.  I have a history teacher this year I am very encouraged to work with in the lab.  She has booked the lab for every hour it is available two days a week to bring history classes to the lab.  She has them research the topic they are studying.  They are becoming more engaged in learning about the topic. 

    Last thing I think would better encourage teachers is to use staff meetings toward the end of the year and last week teachers are in school without students, to introduce new programs and technology to the teachers. While they may not begin using the technology before the end of the year, it is my hope they will use the summer to learn more about the technology and programs to be used in their lesson plans.  They are more likely able to make the time to learn more about the technology and programs they wouldn’t take during the school year.  I also want to make training videos and let them know of training videos they can acces over the summer.   I have just learned that as a resident of our county, the county library has free access to online videos training the teachers which I will be passing on to our addministration and teachers to encourage them to access and use over the summer.