Should schools buy technology teachers don’t want?

April 19, 2012

in 21st century schools, ed news and trends, instructional coaching

Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of teachers in a lot of different schools. The schools include public and private, urban and suburban, and are located in wealthy and in high poverty neighborhoods. And yet in schools all across the country, there is the same phenomenon: only a handful of teachers use the technology the school has purchased.

I recently heard of a school in which tens of thousands of dollars had been “invested” into SMART Boards that get used 2-3 times a week, mostly to show movies. The laptop carts stay locked in closets.  School-wide subscriptions to amazing educational sites are accessed by only a handful of teachers who know that the subscriptions exist.

Part of the reason why technology in schools goes unused is that the teachers never asked for it to begin with. But the fact that they haven’t been shown HOW to use the technology compounds the issue.

The teachers that I work with as an instructional technology coach have a distinct advantage, in that their schools apply for grants and spend the money to train teachers in how to use the equipment they purchase. Many of these schools even scrounge up school-based funds for ongoing mentoring and coaching so I can help teachers create lessons and support them during implementation.

And guess what the result is? The vast majority of teachers start to regularly incorporate technology into their lessons at a level that is comfortable for them, and slowly increase their technology use over time. In fact, I’ve never coached a teacher who had absolutely no interest at all in using technology when the equipment AND training was provided. Some are apprehensive, sure, but they’re all willing to try a few new things when they’re not left to sink or swim on their own.

The mentoring/coaching piece seems to be the critical one. If schools aren’t going to invest in training teachers, is it worth spending millions of dollars on new technology that teachers didn’t ask for?

Doesn’t it make more sense to ask what the teachers WANT to use and buy it for them?

Part of me says it could be that simple–just let the staff determine how the technology budget is allocated. Allow teachers to decide what would be most useful for them and their students. But on the other hand, many teachers don’t know what their options are: they’re not familiar with the range of equipment and programs they can choose from, and are unsure of how they could integrate them in their classrooms. Non-techy teachers need someone who understands technology AND pedagogy/curriculum well to assist in making tech purchasing decisions.

There are no easy answers, but each time I hear about a Promethean Board that’s never been turned on, I have to believe schools can create a better process than what currently exists. What about having a committee of tech-savvy teachers (or tech-interested teachers) in each school meet and determine how to appropriate the budget? They can confer back with their colleagues and head up a vote. I don’t know if this is the best way to do it, but shouldn’t tech purchasing decisions be made at the individual school level with input from the teachers who will actually be using it?

How does your school determine what technology to buy? Do you think schools and districts  should continue to buy the equipment THEY think teachers should use? How can teacher (and student) input be incorporated?

 

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kerri Heinrich April 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Almost all the teachers in my school have a promethean board and I’ve been curious about how they use them. I use mine everyday for lots of things. I have created a flipchart for every letter and each week we do a variety of things on the board. But I know there are teachers out there who only use it like a big screen. To obtain the promethean board we had to go through trainings and create lessons to teach with it. We are also suppose to meet once a month to discuss ways to use it. I was kind of excited to meet and discuss how we’re using it. I have some great ideas I would love to share but these meetings don’t actually turn out that way. I really enjoy using technology and sharing ideas for using it with others. It is just hard to find the time.

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2 Jim Randolph April 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

In our district they’re now making “technology” something that counts towards the school points for their rankings. Problem is, principals aren’t sure exactly what counts and are throwing money at all kinds of stuff with little discussion. It’s crazy and wasteful.

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3 Matt April 19, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Thanks for writing this. As a kindergarten teacher, I’m constantly frustrated by the money in my district that gets funneled to the upper grades while the elementary school gets all but ignored. The ONLY technology we get is the old used laptops that have been through the middle school… you can guess about how well they work. I just found out my district is buying iPads for SIXTH GRADERS next year. I almost popped a vein in my neck ala The Incredible Hulk when I heard that… :)

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4 uksuperiorpapers May 18, 2012 at 11:48 am

I think it is the teacher and parents who must make education relevant to students. Technology should become an inclusive tool. Where all are able to have access to hardware and applications.Laptops, iPads, and netbook computers — paid for with the help of state dollars — are becoming an increasingly common sight in classrooms.

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