U.S. Presidents, philanthropists, parents, and researchers all say, no, swear, that teachers are the most important in-school factor in children and youth learning. Yet those very same teachers, professionals with advanced degrees, have little say in determining access or use of hardware and software in their classrooms. Policymakers decide, not teachers, to buy and deploy new technologies for classroom use.
School boards buy iPads for kindergarten teachers. Superintendents contract with companies to supply every classroom with interactive whiteboards. Sure, maybe a few teachers show up on a district-wide committee that advises the school board and superintendent but decisions to spend and distribute machines are seldom made by teachers, the foot soldiers of reform who are expected to use them in lessons.
Teachers–most of whom already use an array of electronic devices at home–are expected to use new technologies in classroom lessons but have little to no say in determining which devices and software they will use and under what conditions. That is the paradox that champions of technology–including philanthropists, software engineers, programmers, and CEOs–fail to understand or if they do understand choose to ignore.
Yet that is not the case in other professions. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants working either as solo practitioners or in small groups decide which new technologies they will buy and use. In most public and private organizations that pay salaries to professionals, in hospitals, top decision-makers often meet and confer with doctors. Ditto for engineers and architects in big companies, and senior lawyers in firms. But not in school districts.
Non-involvement does not mean non-use. In school districts, for example, once major investments in high-tech are made, there are many teachers who choose to use the new equipment and software in their lessons. And there are those teachers among them who ingeniously weave learning and machines together in imaginative ways that both entrance and spur students to learn even more than they would from conventional lessons. There are such teachers and they show up in articles in Edutopia, on technology advocacy websites, and in software testimonials. They comprise a small fraction of a district’s teacher corps, however.
So what? What’s the big deal about teachers not being part of the decisions to buy and deploy new technologies?
I offer two answers to the So What question.
1. Such policy and administrative decisions ignoring teachers’ ideas, concerns, and issues of implementations send the message that those who teach are mere technicians who hammer the nail and turn the screw. They are not professionals capable of making judgments about what and how to teach.
2. Without serious teacher involvement in decisions to purchase and use new technologies, avoidable, even foolish, glitches occur time and again in putting the new technologies into practice. Anyone who has been in schools when new technologies were rolled out at the beginning of a school year knows all the “Oops,” “Sorry about that,” and “we had not considered that possibility” that get said in subsequent months. Much, but not all, of that could have avoided had teachers participated fully in trials of the new devices and discussions prior to implementation.
Were teachers to become part of the decision-making process in determining access and use of new technologies would they eventually integrate these new technologies into classroom lessons? Yes, far more than occurs now.
Why? Because teachers would have thought through and learned connections between curriculum knowledge and skills and software applications, how lessons could be taught that use and not use the new devices and software, and a pool of expertise would have emerged among teachers that could be shared.
Even were that to happen, however, most teachers would continue to use both hardware and software, including apps, in conventional ways that largely reinforce existing ways of teaching and learning, especially since the standards, testing, and accountability reforms have dominated federal, state, and urban district regimes in these years. And that is another paradox that has stumped high-tech advocates for decades.
Treating teachers as undeserving to be at the table when decisions are made about the buying and deploying of hardware and software reflects the low esteem that policymakers have for teachers. Would decisions on access and use to high-tech devices in classrooms be better-informed? You bet. Would teachers use the software differently. Perhaps. It would be worth finding out.