Teacher Priorities and Technology Integration

I spent an hour with some teachers today discussing the merits of required PowerPoint and Photoshop activities for ninth and tenth grade students in our school. Since we do not offer an “intro to computers” course, we rely on teachers of required classes to teach the tech skills that are needed to accomplish the learning goals of their courses. Though we teach fewer skills than we would prefer in this manner, the skills are well-embedded within meaningful learning activities and educational contexts.

The interesting part of the discussion came when we attempted to identify which tech skills were essential supports for teachers’ classes and which were “nice to have” but less essential. Microsoft Word formatting (document, paragraph, and character), Excel formulas and graphing, and Internet research skills were all deemed “essential.” (Email is universally used though we provide no instruction for it.)

In a surprise for me, the group relegated PowerPoint and Photoshop to the “nonessential” category. Teachers felt these applications had a secure place in electives but could not justify the effort needed to make them required in core classes. In the ninth/tenth grade curriculum, it is necessary to get all of the co-teachers of a core class to agree to cover the same material, and the pressure to cover a particular body of content is very strong. These factors sometimes make it difficult to experiment with new kinds of activities or embark on medium to long-term projects.

This explains the death of two former ninth grade multimedia projects: the PowerPoint component of the Mexican History research presentation and the Photoshop collage component of the elder biographical sketch project in English. After at least two years of each of these projects, teachers felt that the benefits of the multimedia components of these projects did not justify the time and effort spent learning the skills and putting them together.

Though I might find presentation and graphics software essential in my work, I always respect thoughtful teacher ordering of priorities. I resist dogmatic assumptions that multimedia or Internet technologies always improves learning regardless of the circumstances. If teachers feel that time spent on other activities better supports learning, then they must be on to something. Still, I will keep on with my strategy of supporting the core technology integration activities that do take place, the very exciting work that happens in elective classes, and look for opportunities to move promising new technologies into the mainstream classes in our school. We are making great progress with interactive course web sites, use of computers for writing and data analysis, and use of audiovisual supports during classes. I will keep a close eye out for exemplary work in PowerPoint and Photoshop to share with the faculty and trust that this will lead to greater effective use of these technologies in the future.

6 comments

  1. Janice Friesen says:

    Richard,

    I like your respect of teacher’s priorities in the classroom and the fact that you work with them. On the other hand most of us were brought up in a very textual linear way of learning and it is tough for us to understand the importance of visual literacy to our kids. I am not sure what the answer is though…

    Janice
    http://malahinitx.blogspot.com

  2. rkassissieh says:

    Thank you for that thought. Yes, my legislating a particular way of thinking is both ineffective and biased toward my learning strengths. Yet, I trust that the successes that some teachers experience will inspire others to give it a try.

  3. Joe Schwoebel says:

    Richard,

    Our students seem to learn much of what they need to know about using the new technologies "on their own". Such learning is occurring outside the classroom, where the use of technology is more spontaneous, accessible, and a part of students? authentic life experience.

    It might be inferred from a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that more teens than teachers are regular users of technology. In the Pew report dated July 27, 2005, it states:

    "The number of teenagers using the internet has grown 24% in the past four years and 87% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online. Compared to four years ago, teens? use of the internet has intensified and broadened as they log on more often and do more things when they are online.

    Among other things, there has been significant growth over the past four years in the number of teens who play games on the internet, get news, shop online, and get health information.

    Not only has the number of users increased, but also the variety of technologies that teens use to support their communication, research, and entertainment desires has grown."

    So the kids are "getting it", and have apparently become avid learners and users of technology. Perhaps what is needed more is more "professional development" for educators to achieve the same level of technology utilization as the kids.

    Our teachers must prepare to guide and coach their students in this new ?student-centered? learning environment. To do this, teachers must also become 21st Century learners and users of the new learning tools. We might simply consider that keyboards and keypads are becoming surrogate pencils, and that flat panel displays are becoming surrogate paper.

    What?s going to happen when the $100 laptop arrives, and School Boards discover that ?technology? has become less expensive and more powerful as a learning tool than paper textbooks?

    Joe

  4. Ben says:

    Joe: To quote numbers and data about students learning the technology "on their own" without offering any sort of antecdotel evidence makes me think that perhaps you should visit an elementary classroom. Yes, you’re right in that students learn how to navigate the web and how to manipulate lots of tool online. However, most students aren’t rushing home to create an exciting new PowerPoint presentation; they’re logging on to check their Neopets and play games at Disney.com. Granted those are limited examples, but the majority of my sixth graders are so fixated on making their work pretty (whether it be Word, PowerPoint, or Publisher) that they’re ignoring the true power of these tools.

    Richard is right in that you need to respect the direction that teachers want to take. Disrespect for my teaching abilities and what I wanted to do in my computer lab lead me to quit my previous teaching position. However, at the same time you respect a teacher’s decision to ignore PowerPoint requirements you need to find out way it has happened, and like Richard suggests, find a more effective use of the technology.

  5. Ben says:

    Sorry about the double post, but I forgot to add that it’s nice to see you join the discussion Joe :). I should have said so at the start of my post, my apologies.

  6. rkassissieh says:

    Thank you for your thoughts, Joe. While much of what you say is evident, it is important to move beyond the blogosphere’s ed tech rhetoric regarding youth and new technology skills. Teachers have a much more difficult task than youth. Not only do they have to learn to use the technology, but they also have to strategize how to use technology to support their teaching objectives in a manner compatible with their pedagogical and curricular aims. Kids don’t have this problem. Multi-billion dollar companies have already researched their life practices to the nth degree and come up with technical solutions (e.g., iPods, mySpace) that are perfectly suited to their needs and intuitive to use. Educational applications do not have nearly the same level of capital investment and concern, so the burden falls on teachers to figure it out on their own — not an easy task!

    Unfortunately, most professional development is still captivated by the need for teachers to master the technology before learning how to use it to support teaching and learning. And most school districts happily provide large startup grants for technical infusion and then do not sufficiently support training or technical support later on. Witness a recent post in your aggregator: Rethinking Technical Expectations for Teachers (http://www.schwoebel.biz/wo…) Until laptops are nearly as easy to use as pencils, their complexity will turn off teachers looking for a reliable instructional support. Until laptop screens offer the contrast and resolution of the printed page, most people will prefer to read books in print.

    I would also avoid the hype on the $100 laptop. First of all, the project is still immature — "the number’s don’t add up" (http://kairosnews.org/node/…). Second, the target audience is developing countries, not the U.S. school market.