A Teacher’s Manifesto on Technology (Doug Johnson)

I first met Doug Johnson in the mid-1990s when I was teaching a seminar on school reform for the Bush Fellows program in Minnesota. He had extensive  teaching experience in many districts and, by then, was director of technology for the Mankato (MN) public schools. In that seminar and since, we have had many feisty exchanges over technology in school reform and teacher responses to high-tech devices in schools.  He has written often about technology and other subjects. His Blue Skunk blog (http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/) attracts thousands of readers. One of his postings I had particularly liked because it captures so well how policymakers who decide to buy and deploy technology  have little sense of the teacher’s perspective, including those teachers who are enthused about integrating high-tech into daily lessons. Few policymakers who push online instruction, blended schools, and other so-called “disruptive innovations” would applaud this manifesto.

Doug wrote this on December 11, 2005.

Dear Technology Director:

I will enthusiastically embrace technology only when the following conditions have been met:

  1. Teaching students technology skills is a priority.  Until the high-stakes tests and state standards require that I teach technology skills, I will focus my teaching efforts on what is tested and mandated. Our school board goals are all about reading, writing and math. Until my bosses tell me technology skills are important, I will not spend a week in a lab teaching with technology something I can teach in a day with paper and pencil.
  2. Technology use is supported by research showing it is more effective in teaching skills than traditional methods. Until there is unbiased research that shows I can more effectively teach basic and content area skills using technology than traditional methods, I will not change my teaching methods. I will continue to advocate for school budgets be spent on smaller class sizes, better library programs, art and music programs, and services for special needs students.
  3. Technology in my school is reliable, adequate, and secure. I use the telephone, the overhead projector and the VCR in my classroom because I can count on them working. I will not use computers, LCD projectors, and the Internet unless they work 99% of the time. And if you ask me to create lesson plans for when the technology works and when it doesn’t, I will dope slap you. If I have 30 children in my class, I need 30 computers actually working in the lab. And effective means to reduce my worries about online stranger-danger and inappropriate websites.
  4. Technology use is proven to be safe and developmentally appropriate. Science just doesn’t know the impact of staring at computer screens or using keyboards on small human beings. We do know childhood obesity is on the rise because too many children are inactive. Please let me know when playing with blocks on the screen is proven as beneficial as playing with blocks on the floor.
  5. Technology comes with support people with interpersonal skills. I am neither a child nor an idiot nor a fool. Don’t treat me like one. Let me run my own mouse when learning something even if it takes a little longer. Use English when explaining something and tell me only what I need to know. And cut out the cute asides like calling a problem an SUD (Stupid User Dysfunction). I have a Master’s degree. I also need timely technical support. If I have to wait three days to get my computer working again, I will develop a negative attitude.
  6. Technology comes with effective training. Classes about a technology that I might someday use taught by an instructor who hasn’t been near a classroom recently are worthless. Teach me in a small group about the things I want and need to do today to be effective. And how about a little follow-up? We are finding Professional Learning Communities effective in implementing other kinds of pedagogical change. Take a hint.
  7. Technology is a genuine time-saver. I will not learn to use technology to make someone else’s job easier. I resent having to login three times to get to an application, especially when the usernames and passwords are all long and impossible to remember. I understand the importance of security – but it needs to be balanced with convenience.
    Two pieces of advice:
    Make sure a committee made up of a wide-range of stake-holders develops technology plans, budgets and policies. You want me to use technology, give the users a say in how it is used, deployed and controlled.Remember that as a teacher, I consider myself first a child-advocate, second an educator, and only third a technology-user. You might consider thinking of yourself in those terms as well.

19 Comments

Filed under school reform policies, technology use

19 responses to “A Teacher’s Manifesto on Technology (Doug Johnson)

  1. Bob Calder

    Doug’s mention of taking a week to teach something you can do in a day without distraction rings true to some extent. However students in my new school have a second problem beyond poorly designed desks with glass tops you can’t see thru, keyboard trays that rattle, slide in and out and skin your knuckles, and a filter that won’t allow them to visit this blog but can’t keep up with proxies or HTML games. It seems they have had very little acculturation on the Internet compared to students in my former school despite being nearly identical in all other respects. I suppose it could be the district Internet culture and policies, but I’m now thinking it’s partly less access at home plus fewer opportunities at school, plus a different classroom culture. Could it be that we are now encountering a generational effect of a local technology culture?

    As far as teaching media literacy for computing goes, – from basic skills to understanding the amplification effect of technology on science and globalization – I simply don’t trust the community of educators to be deep enough into adoption to have a useful perspective on where kids need to be on a given day. That is, I will continue to be happy being allowed to teach subversively, outside of a framework affected by creationists and technology-phobic educators that consider themselves “savvy”. As for the anachronistic EdLine and GradeQuick software that makes me want to open major veins, if my principal wasn’t a fellow science nerd, I would totally run away screaming.

  2. Larry,
    I’ll use this article reply to update you (you already may know this) on Auburn, Maine’s proposal to give iPods to kindergarteners. At the beginning of this school year half the kids will be randomly selected to receive them. The school district will then compare academic gains with those who did not receive them. The other half of the students will get iPods in November. Question how much validity there is in an approximately twelve week study of five year-old learning gains. Funding is half left over stimulus money and half a grant.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the update, Jussayinme, on funding and evaluation. Not only the brief period of time makes the evaluation suspect but giving the other half iPods muddies the assessment further. Also, am I correct in thinking that different teachers of kindergarten classes will be involved? If so, then there is no control on how these teachers teach–in short teachers vary in how they organize and instruct their kids daily. Let me know, if I am correct in the random assignment being by classes, not individuals.

  3. Pingback: A Teacher's Manifesto on Technology (Doug Johnson) | Larry … - Angryteach

  4. Thanks Larry, I am struck by the contrast between Dougs overly cautious approach to the use of digital technology for teaching and learning and the excitement and innovative approach taken by pupils and young people?

    The 2005 post has reminded me how much progress we have made in six years because some teachers were prepared to take the risks that Doug wasn’t.

    • larrycuban

      Bob, see my comment to Jen. Although Doug’s manifesto sounds dated with references to only labs, still his clear voice gives heft to the usually ignored teacher’s view in the classroom.

  5. Pingback: A Teacher's Manifesto on Technology (Doug Johnson) | Larry … | Your Tech Reviews

  6. Jen

    “The 2005 post has reminded me how much progress we have made in six years because some teachers were prepared to take the risks that Doug wasn’t.”

    Like what?

    • larrycuban

      Perhaps you are correct about risk-taking, Jen. What attracted me to Doug’s manifesto written in 2005 is that it hits on so many points that teachers have told me over the years and that I have encountered in my own teaching when others made policy decisions about purchasing and deploying technologies that I knew little about. Sure there are early adopters among teachers–risk takers– but most fall into the middle category where I was. The larger issue remains in 2011: how come nearly all teachers cell phones, laptops, and desktops at home but much less so in their daily lessons in school?

  7. Pingback: Een manifest rond technologie in de klas uit 2005 met wat kritische commentaar « Is het nu generatie X, Y of Einstein?

  8. Zack

    I’ve been apart of a small private school and have been pushing technology for quite some time. One thing I’ve learned when adopting tech is fail quickly. A lot of the ideas or projects we try either gain momentum quickly or fall flat on their face, if you’re going to try and be an earlier adopter you don’t want to waste your time with things that don’t work. As Larry points out that teachers are in constant contact with technology but are hesitant to implement them in their classrooms. Maybe, they figure the way they learned was good enough for them so it should work for their students.

  9. Jen, My comment about progress is based on evidence here in the UK where,until recently,there has been a significant investment not only in the technology but also the vital role of workforce development.

    A good example of that is the Vital programme http://www.vital.ac.uk/
    and the Toshiba Ambassadors community of practice.

    http://www.toshiba.co.uk/education/downloads/AmbassadorsNov08.pdf

  10. Cal

    I’m with Doug, and Bob strikes me as a bit of a judgmental idealist.

    I do use technology in the classroom, though. The kids that have smartphones take a picture of their homework and email/text it to me. Those who don’t, I take a picture of. That way, I don’t have to deal with paper.

    I also use technology in the form of a document camera and a laptop, which is great. But use tech with students? As in a lab, with computers? Not with math.

    • Bob Calder

      http://mathdl.maa.org/
      There’s something you can use. It’s the NSDL’s new incarnation. The materials science site http://www.mathdl.org can be used in conjunction to demonstrate practical use. I have always envied a mathematician’s ability to carry his office in his or her head.

      That said, technology teachers tend to be shrill advocates partly due to “protection” in the classroom in the name of superstition. It’s not much different from teaching biology in a community of creationists. You either give in, or fight to maintain your self-respect.

  11. “judgemental idealist”? Thanks Cal….perhaps a tad judgemental?

  12. Pingback: A Teacher’s Manifesto on Technology | ESL & Education | Scoop.it

  13. Pingback: A Teacher’s Manifesto on Technology (Doug Johnson) | Using Technology to Change the Way we Lead | Scoop.it

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