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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.