Being Responsive To User Needs

It’s easy for an education technology professional to get swept up with the dominant discussions in the edtech blogosphere. How will social media and mobile devices change education as we know it? When will new models of education sweep away the old? Such conversations largely diverge from the dominant issues facing teachers.

This spring, we asked what technology workshops we should offer this summer. Moodle? Facebook? Laptops? Not at all. We identified topics through conversations with faculty-staff leaders and our annual laptop program survey. Take a look at the list and the attendance figures (in bold).

  • Social Networks: 2
  • Editing the Catlin Gabel Website: 5
  • Email Management Strategies: 15
  • Mac Essentials: 8
  • Windows 7 and Office 2010: required for all Windows users

Most teachers and staff commented on the difficulty of mastering existing information sources and productivity tools. Basic competency and literacy trumped new skills. We do have teachers who live on the cutting edge, but they are relatively few in number and often meet their technology needs through different means.

Email “overload” is a particularly hot topic at our school at present. Teachers and staff find it difficult to keep up with the heavy stream of information and questions that arrive by email. For some, reading and responding to email takes up precious free periods that could be used for face-to-face conversations, lesson preparation, or student assessment.

Our users have said it clearly. They need to feel comfortable with email and operating systems first. They know best when an aspect of their professional life is out of balance. Let us provide them with support, strategies, and resources.

Encouraging teachers and staff to take the next step in their technology work is best done through smaller, more personal means. Many vehicles exist, but I find the “showcase” model the most effective. In faculty or department meetings, individuals stand up to show their latest work with technology. These peer presentations are usually grounded in practical, important needs of the school. They also send the message, “if I can do this with computers, then so can you!”

“12221 Emails” courtesy of somewhatfrank


  1. I’m wondering if these are user ‘needs’ or ‘wants.’ A few years back we surveyed our faculty about the kind of professional development that they wanted and most indicated they were interested in MS Office and Smartboards. Other options included topics like, “developing student writing via networked blogging,” “building an interactive learning environment in moodle,” and “knowledge building via wikis.” I was a bit dismayed that so many people indicated an interest in Office/Smartboards over other topics that clearly had greater potential to positively impact the student learning experience. But I guess it leads to my original question-are these needs or wants…and who decides?

  2. admin says:

    I appreciate the question, Matt. We do have a challenge to distinguish wants from needs. At our school, email management is definitely a need. We have observed many more comments about email struggles and even a decline in reading effectiveness. More importantly, we trust our colleagues and their self-assessment, especially when the comments come from individuals who are respected for providing sound advice on other topics.

    How do we ensure that teachers and staff are stretching themselves to try new technologies? The peer showcase is my favorite method, and leadership initiatives and watching external trends also works. I can’t say we have it all figured out, but I’m comfortable with this balance.

    Even when wants trump needs, catering to them builds trust and comfort that may pay off later.

  3. […] mentioned yesterday, our most popular technology training this summer is Managing Your Email Inbox. Far from […]