David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
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Technology & Teaching

I’m sitting in the main hall of the Holiday Valley Yodeler Lodge, where I’ll be talking to about 200 high school teachers about contemporary literacy — in just a few minutes.  At present, there is a horn quartet playing on the floor above and a string quartet on the floor below me.  Interesting, but hard to concentrate.

I do want to say something about the two polls I’ve been running over the past few days — in which I’ve used the word technology more than I typically do during any given three months.  One reason I try to avoid the word is clear when reading through the comments on those posts.  People, rightly, want to clarify exactly what is meant by the word technology, qualifying their answers based on this perspective or that.  Still, it’s not a useless term, and following Alan Kay’s definition, that “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born,” I’m talking about computers, the Internet, software, and devices that you can connect to your computer — things that didn’t exist when I started teaching 33 years ago. 

Question 1

Question 2

My first poll question asked us to consider whether a teacher could be a good teacher without using technology.  The results were just a tiny bit less than an overwhelming, “Yes!” 

As I wrote yesterday, I had a few “good” teachers when I was in school, and this was long before the appearance what we now call technology.  I agree that some teachers, today, depending on their subject, can teach it without using technology, and teach it well.

But this brings us to the second question, “Is that teacher, who is not using technology, doing his or her job?”  The answer here was a fairly resounding, “No!”

I use to say that you should use the tool that was appropriate to the job.  If you can do it with a paper notebook and paper encyclopedia, then those are the tools you should use.  I’ve changed, though.  Actually the world has changed.  Today, our prevailing information landscape is increasingly networked, digital, and abundant.  Information behaves in new ways that are impossible in an exclusively published, print-based world. 

When I was in school, you waited for the 6:00 news, or the morning paper for the latest about the world.  Today, you don’t even go to CNN.com for the latest. You go to Twitter, where citizen journalists are constantly reporting what’s happening around them.  I learned about the plane crash in the Hudson River from Twitter, and saw the first pictures on Flickr, uploaded from the cell phones of passers-by — before anything appeared on CNN.com.

This changes what it means to be literate.  It changes what it means to be a learner.  Today, being able to read and write and pass a test are not enough.  They are not nearly enough.  Today our students must become information artisans, able to learn, work, play, contribute, and prosper in a new and constantly changing and enriching information environment, and do so in a way that conserves the planet — rather than consum it.  We can not do this today by scratching and printing on pulp-based paper.  Teaching and learning must be digital. 

If you don’t want to do technology, if your not good at technology, then find another calling.

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  • Dottie

    I agree wholeheartedly! In the corporate world workers don’t get a choice to “buy in” to using available technology. If that is part of their job, then they are expected to use it effectively. Of course that also means an IT department that makes sure the hardware,software and network are working. The school district I work with had their network down for the last 3 weeks of school(just down the road from where you live David). That would not fly in the corporate world.

    • Lee

      In the business world, the powers that be also provide the PD that’s NOT optional. I strongly believe that if our kids are expected to have a certain level of technological proficiency by the time they finish high school, our teachers should have at LEAST that much!

      • http://lisaslingo.blogspot.com Lisa Parisi

        So right, Lee. Making PD optional does not even come close to ensuring that ALL teachers will achieve that level of technological proficiency. It should no longer be an option.

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  • Otto

    I agree teaching and learning must be digital. I see the problem as access to the technology. We don’t have computers for all students in all classrooms and all students don’t have access at home. That’s another issue. Many of the students we teach today have experienced much more than us on their computers. Not only can they manipulate around the web they can locate and fix hardware problems that I could only dream of fixing. Now comes the difficult part and that will be to convince teachers.

    • mrsdurff

      Where there is a will there is a way. Only 1 computer in your room during a class is needed, and it doesn’t have to stay in the room all the time.
      Every cellphone, which the kids all seem to own, is a potential computer.
      The local library has computers & internet.
      I don’t believe we need to keep making excuses not to integrate the available technology.

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

    @Otto: Of course this is a barrier, and largely out of the hands of teachers. But to assure that all teachers and learners have access to digital and networked content (the tools that facilitate it), we must come to expect that access, and be outraged when it is not there. There is simply not excuse left.

  • Cindy M

    Perhaps this will support your position. A little something I wrote for the Waterloo Region Record (published Friday, July 17, 2009).

  • Cindy M

    Here is the actual link to the article just mentioned…http://news.therecord.com/article/571009

  • http://cazenoviacreek.com Joel

    David, I caught your presentation in Elicottville yesterday and really enjoyed it. I’m a long time reader and it was nice to see some colleagues get to hear the ideas you were sharing. I presented alongside two of my colleagues (“Creation, Collaboration, and Communication”…basically about how we use social tools to support our students’ creation across multiple senior English electives at our high school) and we started our presentation by having our attendees write a short reflection about the your keynote (and, later in the day, other sessions they had attended).

    The toughest sell for us was illustrating how blogs and Nings and, more importantly, multimodal creation such as podcasts and digital video, can enhance learning in curricular classes with heavy content demands. I mean, we’re English teachers, so critical analysis, discussion, and creation is what our students do day in and day out. The tech fits. But it’s a harder sell to, for instance, Social Studies teachers, who feel the constant demands of content breathing down their necks.

    I know that the larger answer to them is to teach with more depth and less breadth, and that multimodal creation breeds deeper understanding, and that knowledge without the ability or opportunity to create in a meaningful way is useless, but many times these teachers don’t see it that way.

    Anyway, big picture is, loved the keynote. I’m looking for a website to order my GPS enabled toe ring right now.

    • http://lisaslingo.blogspot.com Lisa Parisi

      Joel, we’ve been dealing with these issues too. The reality is content area subjects are taught better using tech. I can’t even imagine today learning about Global Studies and not connecting with people in those global areas. Or learning about heavy scientific content without connecting to experts working in the field. Technology allows us to make the content purposeful and real.

  • paul shircliff

    I agree that we must be using some form of technology in our teaching. The world is a technology based realm. It is about making connections and collaborating and creating. Business/economies are global and the tech connects them. We are no longer (& never have been) just content teachers. We are all reading teachers. We are all writing teachers. We are all Special Education Teachers. If it is tech, I will try it and see what doors it opens for kids. But I am constrained a bit by the “curriculum”.

    Access is a massive issue. Do all kids have a computer at home? We have about 20% that do not. Do all homes with computers have adequate Internet access. I do not know how many of ours are using dial up, but too many. Now how about during the school day. 1 computer lab with 24 (hopefully if all working) computers for 750 students. We all have 1 computer and a SmartBoard in our classrooms, so everyone has “access”, but how much can 30 students do with one (some, but not enough). I actually have bought/built/refurbed to get 11 computers in my room (Mac/Linux/Windows) so we can do group projects.

    The tech people and I talk about 1 to 1 but so many things have to happen before students get their own. An up to date network backbone, a reliable wireless set up, teachers with their own laptop, teachers who can integrate tech into curriculum THEN the money to get 750 computers (then how do we maintain them since teenagers are not too gentle). The biggest impediment : teachers who do not want to change.

  • http://blogwalker.edublogs.org Gail Desler

    I agree that teaching and learning “must be digital” – and that ALL students should have access to a learning environment that is “increasingly networked, digital, and abundant” – regardless of their poverty levels or their school’s API score.

    Your continued efforts to advocate for change are much appreciated.

  • Amanda Miller

    I agree with all your comments. I am interested in the reaction you received from the teachers? Were they responsive?

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      First of all, it is important to note that this was a technology conferences and all of the high school teachers there attended voluntarily — so they were largely the converted. My job, in that particular presentation is to cool their heels a bit and say, technology is nothing. It’s just the pencil and paper of our time. What’s really changed is the information: what it looks like, what we look at to view it, how we find it, what we use to find it, what we can do with it, and how we communicate it. My urging is that they think less about how to integrate technology, and more about integrating networked, digital, and abundant information, and utilize the new literacy skills that apply.

      The response from most was enthusiastically favorable, though I’m told that there were a few who were frightened of this shift. My response to this is, “What self-respecting teacher should be afraid to learn something new?”

  • http://www.oneseventeenmedia.wordpress.com Beth Carls

    David, I apologize for not knowing more about your survey audience specifically regarding Can A Teacher Be a Good Teacher Without Using Technology? In our past 9 years of working in public schools after taking an internet consulting firm public, I can definitely say that the answer would be quite different depending on who is being asked – teachers/educators or students. I’m curious, was this a poll specifically aimed at adults only?

  • http://parentella.com Aparna

    I completely agree with all your comments! Thank you I really enjoyed reading it. Aparna :)

  • Donna

    Hello David. I recently attended the Technology conference in which you were the keynote speaker in San Francisco in Jan 2009. Now that I have some time this summer, I’d like to go online and create a second life virtual classroom. I can’t remember the recommended website that you gave to us in the conference for teachers. Of course, being a teacher, I need a site that is for education and is free. Thanks. Donna

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      You can set up your Second Life account by going to the SL web site (http://secondlife.com/). You can download the the software there. You will find gobs of tutorials on YouTube, and there are quite a few educator bloggers who are talking about virtual worlds in education.

  • http://www.sciencewithme.com/ Tracy

    It is funny how your two polls contradict each other. Personally I feel a teacher can be a good one if they do not use technology and they can still get their job done. But they are choosing to do it the harder way if they are not willing to use the new tools available to them.

    • http://www.dutiel.com/mrd Curtis

      I don’t think that they conflict at all. Yes, you can be a great teacher without using technology. But a teacher who completely rejects using technology is just not doing their job, which is to prepare students for their future.

  • Kirk

    What a great post. I really enjoyed reading this – you brought up some very important points to think about when considering technology and education.

  • Karen Riewe

    I agree with you, Paul. The problem is ACCESS. I’ve been a teacher in Maine for 6 years, prior I was a teacher in Maryland for 5. In Maine, we have an initiative at the high school that all students will have a laptop, however, they break, kids lose them, etc. In the elementary setting where I am, teachers share 1 laptop with the class (and some don’t even share it) and a computer lab that holds about 25 PCs. I would love to incorporate more technology with my kids, but who’s going to foot the bill? Instead of buying handwriting books and focusing so much on neatness, these kids should be exposed to computers in first grade!

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      I agree with you, Karen and Paul, that access is a problem. But, it is a problem of choice. I know that finances are tough right now, and the shame on our houses is that we did not do more when the economy was strong. We (collectively as a nation) were lazy and stingy.

      What I want to do is to stop excusing our classrooms, our schools, teachers, administrators, school boards, legislature, the president for not doing what needs to be done. In today’s networked, digital, and info-abundant environment, continuing to expect our children to learn primarily with paper, is no different from expecting me to have learned with stone and chisel.

      No more excuses!

    • Jennifer

      It is very difficult to fund a laptop for every student. Have you or your school ever considered getting a projector for each classroom? I have used my laptop/projector for many lessons from power points to virtual tours of far away places. In math we have played online Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionare as a class in preparation for a test. We even dissected an owl pellet via online before the actual lab. I have also integrated some online sites to enhance lessons such as unitedstreaming.com and brainpop.com. I hope this helps…don’t give up.

  • Jennifer

    Someone once described to me the difference between my generation of learners and the current generation of learners. My generation is the “digital immigrants” whereas the current generations are “digital natives”. My generation was born into a paper and pencil society that slowly began to grow into using some advancing technology. The current generations are born into a world of technology that includes video games, IPODS, cell phones, Face Book, and Twitter to name a few. Our children are receiving information via technology.

    Research is saying that our brains are like a “plastic” ball that is constantly changing to accommodate new information. It makes me wonder how my brain’s appearance would compare to my 15-year-old son’s “digital native” brain. As professionals, we should always be looking for new and innovative ways to educate students. Yes, I agree that it is not in the best interest of the student if a teacher uses no technology within the classroom. I also am familiar with the challenges that teachers and students face to integrate technology. Districts and states say that there is little to no money for equipment or training. Is it the lack of money or the lack of importance? I agree that reading, writing and passing a test is not enough if we want to help students grow into productive members of society.

    If anyone knows of any technology grants, I would appreciate the information.

  • http://www.krismort09.blogspot.com Kris

    I agree. Technology is changing the way we interact with people and the world in general. It’s our duty as teachers to equip students to function in that environment. Anything else would be a disservice to them.

  • mrsdurff

    You stated, “If you don’t want to do technology, if your not good at technology, then find another calling.” to which I say a resounding, “AMEN!”

  • Jennifer

    Your “Teaching and Technology” inspired me to dig further into how students deserve a digital-based classroom. I have decided to take some of my old lessons and update them with newer digital means.

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  • Tracey

    I have to agree with your comments. I teach at a high school in NC as well. We have just undergone a digital conversion that has equipped every student in our district from K-12 with Apple laptops. They take them home and use them daily in class. We’re in the midst of training right now at moving from teach-centric classrooms (lecture-based) to more collaborative project-based learning. It is no longer given to us as an option – we were pretty much told get on board using the technology or get off the train and find a new school system. The upside is the district has provided us with lots of training on using the Apple tools like Garageband and iMovie as well as how to relate them to our specific content areas. I can see after doing a sample lesson today where my “students” had to create iMovies to show their daily routines using reflexive verbs (I teach Spanish) how much more engaged and attentive students will be. It’s hard enough to keep their attention in a traditional classroom; now that they are equipped with IM and e-mail at their desks, it’s even harder. I can see the emphasis shifting to more product-based learning and collaboration, much like it will be in the “real world” for them. Thanks for posting this, I’m a first-time visitor to your blog but plan to be back again.

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Tracey, What I’m curious about is how far and how quickly teachers in your district start to invent new ways of using digital networked information in their classrooms — beyond what they’ve been taught in staff development. I’d also be curious about the input and/or impact that the students have on this process. To what degree do the students influence how the technology is used in the classroom.

      • Tracey

        Well David we are only in our second year right now so it’s still coming slowly. Last year the focus for staff development was on learning the new Apple platform and the Angel program we are using – like your killer e-portfolio app you mentioned- it combines classroom management (grading program) with digital content delivery. We create dropboxes for assignments, wikis, discussion boards, rubrics, etc. in the platform. Today for example I uploaded to one of my courses a file with directions on how to do a multimedia project, linked it to a rubric created in Angel that the students can self-evaluate on and then I grade them on it, it goes right into my gradebook once I’ve linked the two items. Then I created a dropbox for them to place their iMovies (they were to gather photos of their family members, record a voice over in Spanish telling me about them using the grammar topics for the chapter), and create a song in GarageBand that represented their familiy’s personality and set it as a background in the iMovie. Once they submit those to me through the digital drop box, they post their movie in the discussion forum where students view and comment on each other’s work. Then I set up a survey option for them to vote on the best movies – top 3 vote getters get published on my external website which family, friends, other students, etc., can visit. In this case I specified which apps/technology I wanted them to use but I plan to allow them more freedom with that going forward once they’re more familiar with what the apps can do.

        As for the teacher abilities – they are surprsingly good. We’ve been very clearly told this not an option for us, so even those resistant to change are having to implement in their classrooms or face being let go (easy enough to do given the massive amounts of budgetary cutbacks we are facing in NC). The more tech-savvy staffers are teaching the less digitally inclined, both within content areas and across all areas. We have sharing repositories set up in Angel where administrators view our tech contributions by department so it’s in our best interest to help our fellow department members out as we are “graded” so to speak on the whole department performance. The more the teachers see it in action, the more impressed they are and they are learning to think more outside of the traditional box. It will be an interesting process for sure.

  • http://khareena.blogsite.com khareena

    Great post!
    I couldn’t agree more! I can still remember when my son started a new school ( a number of years ago now). He and I were both ‘into’ computers, but at this school, there was ONE, OLD computer, the CD didn’t work, and only the students were allowed to use it. One of the teachers spent a great deal of time loading and unloading programs on it, as it wouldn’t hold much. My son looked at me and said, “Mom, we gotta help them”. So we started making computers out of spare parts and donating them. The teachers weren’t interested at all in learning how to use one..”I’ve taught for 20 years and never needed a computer”

    Luckily, most schools have moved forward in this situation, and most teachers at least understand they need to know how to use a computer.

    The world requires computer literacy, and although I find many computer literate students now, often I’m shocked at how limited their understanding is. They can use their cell phone and “text” their friends without hesitation, but using multimedia in an educational setting, researching in such a way as to create a valid, authentic report may be a different story. From my perspective, many teachers still need a lot of in-service on technology and the use of computers, in order to help their students develop their potential

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      I agree with your observations. But what I’m starting to question more and more now is if we are expecting the wrong things in the wrong contexts. Perhaps the better question than, “Are they computer literate?” is “Are the capable of developing the literacy skills they need to accomplish the tasks at hand?” They are very good a cell phones and social networks, because they connects them to their friends and their immediate plans. If they find themselves with an authentic need to communicate an important idea to a meaningful audience, can they quickly and effectively develop those multimedia skills. The skills are and should be seen as a means, not an ends — and they should be learned the same way.

      They are actually very good at validating the information that they research — for their own reasons. If it’s searching for video game cheats, then if the cheats WORK, then they move on. If they don’t WORK, then they keep searching. The key here is WORK. Of the are researching for something that is going to WORK or NOT WORK toward some personally authentic goal, then they will likely validate. If it’s just for the sake of academics, and they have no plans to become a college professor, and we have no intent to make them all college professors, then we need to set new goals.

      Just me 2¢ worth.

  • Jennifer

    This topic is so near and dear to my heart. We are in a huge transition period in our schools. Technology can be scary for teachers, access can be a huge issue, and let’s face it…the students know more than we do. But can we turn our backs to this? I agree with an earlier poster who is looking at how she has done things in the past and looking to revamp these items with embedding new technology/resources. Think baby steps and this is a step in the right direction…

  • http://jeh-early.blogspot.com JEH

    My feelings after reading this blog post and the reactions of others following this blog were pretty strong. I absolutly agree that teachers should be trained, professionaly taught, and required to learn the newest technologies, to teach through technology, and to prepare students for the future using technology.

    Is anyone outside of education aware of how much is demanded of educators? Do you know how many hours teachers work- beyond the hours of 7:45-3:45? I wouldnt be surprised if the hours a teacher works in the nine months of school are far beyond the total hours some professions tally through out the year. Has anyone looked at a teacher’s paycheck lately? Did you know teachers are in the same pay category as Garbage Disposal workers?

    As a teacher, I sometimes feel disrepected by society. I feel taken advantage of and used. 20 years ago, teaching was all paper and pencil. Teachers used textbooks and simply read the same story to the same kids.

    Now, there are no text books, computers line our classrooms, every student requires a different method of teaching. A different book club, a different discipline plan, and varying mathematic levels are taught to each individual student during the same hour. The strong teachers change lesson plans, and academic plans every year to keep up with the newest trends and technologies. We even pay for professional development and certifications out of our OWN pocket with no raise.

    On the inside so much has changed in teaching, the demands are higher than ever. Yet, nothing around us has changed. We are still payed the same as if all we did was walk in the room, open a book and read or hand the kids a worksheet and sit at our desks.

    I want educators to be held accountable to learn the newest technologies. Educators need to be held accountable to train and learn how to teach students technology applications. Teachers should be required to know and teach with the most recent computer softwares and programs. However, if this is the case, if this is where education is moving… will you please respect us more? Maybe even move our pay scale out of the gutter. If you are not an educator and ever thought teaching seems easy or “fun”….I Dare you to try it.

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  • http://www.attachmate.com Alana H.

    Hi there,

    You raise some valid points. However, technology should be used as an adjunct to the teaching process. There is no replacement for bad grammar thanks to the text speak we see all over social media. Traditional teaching can’t be replaced by the current social media wave we’re currently experiencing; we just need more educators in a participatory role in the process.


  • http://ED-MAN.com Anthony

    Using technology is simple, any fool can dial a phone. Explaining how a cellphone signal can be hacked is different. The 15 year old hacker is far more talented than the 20 year old still playing Donkey Kong. One must admit there is great old technology and bad new technology. The wheel for example.
    New technology goes bad when people get greedy or lazy. I have seen School district after School District blow huge dollars on worthless technology such as curriculum mapping software. Administrations listened to the companies with the biggest and fanciest marketing and burned up millions of tax dollars on junk. They completely ignored a simple fact which is…The teacher is in the classroom, the student is in the classroom, the information is in the teacher. Why have anything involved with educating students out on the cloud where you must continually pay to access it? You all got tricked into buying data time. I can hold half of the Washington Library on a flashdrive in my pocket. These people took the wheel, cut it into an octagon and told you the answer is to buy their special set of shocks. Eat your pride, admit you should not have listened to them and go back to good old simple technology. EPEE Software for Teachers. Simple, old technology.

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