When I was eight years old living in Southern California, my parents bought a video conferencing system to talk with my grandparents in Philadelphia. To this day I could never figure out how my grandfather, set it up on his end. The mammoth devices used a combination of wires to connect to our phone line and television, delivering a blurry 200x100 image of my grandparents. It was quite a scene. With a mixture of movement delayed by 45 seconds and their voices echoing through the telephone, I felt as if I was in a 14.4K internet induction program. It was at that moment though, through a mixture of “Hi Michael” , long pause, and a severely delayed handwave, that I realized technology was the tool I was going to use to change the world.
For me, having the latest and greatest technology was and is less about staying on the cutting edge, and instead about trying to figure out ways in which technology can make people's lives awesome. Plain and simple. When I was 12 and sent my first email, to my father (It was 1997 and none of my friends had email), it was awesome. When I was 15 and I learned how to use Photoshop 6.0 on my own without YouTube to create graphic and media content, it was awesome. When I video conferenced with my grandmother at my wedding when she couldn't be there due to health reasons, it was awesome. So what do these three stories have in common? Meaning. Each experience was life changing, meaningful, and allowed me to help make the lives of others better.
If technology is not improving someone's life and being seen as something of value, then maybe technology is the problem, and not the person.
It's easy to judge someone not embracing technology. It is 2017 after all. Have you wondered why? Have you tried to empathize with them and see from their perspective why technology isn't viewed as something useful? There isn't a dedicated teacher on the face of the planet who would pass up creating an engaging and thriving community of learning in their classroom. So why is an iPad, Chromebook, or laptop viewed as a barrier to achieving such an impactful reality? Once I understood that purpose and value must be viewed through an empathic lens, I was ready to impact education and support all faculty in adopting technology in their classrooms. Without empathy, I could not take credit for aiding in the successful launch of a 1:1 technology initiative. I couldn't take credit for our school becoming an Apple Distinguished School 3 years after we went 1:1 and ditched that computer lab. Mind you that owning Apple products does not qualify you as a distinguished school, but rather, visionary leadership, innovative teaching and learning, evidence of success, use of learning spaces, and continued professional development. Many congratulated me, but at the ceremony in front of 800 members of our schools community I reminded them, this award was to the students who took charge of their learning with technology, and the teachers that helped them get there.
The students at my former school used technology to aid themselves in loving to learn. I must confess though that I haven't always loved learning. It wasn't the act of learning, rather it was the rigid and limiting way in which I was told how and what to learn but not why to learn. It's ironic then, (like so many amazing educators) that I became the very thing that I didn't appreciate. I became a teacher. In the beginning before any formal classroom roles, I didn’t even realize I was “teaching”. Soon enough, it was clear to me that I had a special ability to help people learn new things, and even more to learn new things on their own. After 3 years of teaching I then became a Director of Educational Technology, and it was in this role that I stumbled on something amazing. It was 2011 and I was sitting in a packed conference room with 400 plus educators, learning about “10,000 apps for the English classroom”. As I sat there, I tried to discover the purpose, the magical essence of why anyone would need that many apps, methods, or approaches to anything in life, especially something so specific. That's when it dawn on me, that in life, and in education we cannot use technology because of what it does, but because of what we can do with it.
Now I am not writing about technology use because I have all the answers, or because I found some magical (and easy) solution to classroom management woes. I also didn’t write this because I believe technology is THE answer. I do however believe, or even bolder know that technology is a garment, and no matter how classy you look, it won't change who the person wearing it truly is. That’s why this is a bit of a paradox. It's about how technology can make things awesome, and at the same time isn’t about technology at all. In the end, I am writing this because I believe that when any technology is harnessed properly, it has the ability to engage, enrich, and enliven our learning and our life.
“There's an App for that”
This catchphrase represented something pretty amazing in 2011. The question is how far have we come writing this in the middle of 2017? The idea that technology could allow us to view, share, or make digitized experiences on just about any topic is amazing. As the years progressed and technology advanced, the question that I started asking is “Why do you need an app for that?” WHHHY!!!!??? OR worse, “Why do you need to digitize EVERYTHING?!?!” Technology is a tool that provides ability, productivity, and efficiency. Digitizing our lives can actually make them more complicated, confusing, and delayed. The truth is that for real technology integration to occur, you must understand why to use a tool in the first place and what can be achieved through its use. One way I have found to be extremely successful when discussing the idea of integrating technology in a classroom is to challenge educators to think about familiar and so to speak “safe” technologies that they know and love. Think about a typewriter, a calculator, and yes even a pencil. They are familiar, timeless, and their singular functionality leads to expected results. What makes these devices so trusted? Is it the device or what we do with it?
Remember when you learned how to drive? What excited you the most? The appreciation for how the gasoline powered the engine? How the differential properly distributed power to the wheels? Like most of us, our focus was not so much on the inner workings of our automobiles, but all of the awesome places we would get to go.
So when looking to shift the mindset of a skeptical teacher, maybe this teacher is you, and their view of technology’s role in their classroom, the first question we must help them answer is - Why? Why should we use technology in our classroom, and what will it do for us and our students? It is a hard question, because it might result in a realization that one possible outcome is that technology may prevent learning from being successful. So before we figure out how technology might magically solve a problem or make an experience awesome, let's look at areas in which technology can help us. Remember that car? Well it won’t do much for you if you are trying to get from New York to London.
It's with this shift in mindset for both the techno-addicts and technophobics that together we can ensure that students are given the chance to not just redefine their learning, but prepare them for a way of thinking and processing to thrive in the world of tomorrow.