Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach: Another cost of too little computing literacy

July 22, 2015 at 7:25 am 8 comments

I believe the result described in the article below, that a critical limitation of teacher’s ability to use technology is too little understanding of technology.  In a sense, this is another example of the productivity costs of a lack of ubiquitous computing literacy (see my call for a study of the productivity costs).  We spend a lot on technology in schools.  If teachers learned more about computing, they could use it more effectively.

In 2010, for example, researchers Peggy A. Ertmer of Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind., and Anne T. Ottenbreit-Leftwich of Indiana University, in Bloomington, took a comprehensive look at how teachers’ knowledge, confidence, and belief systems interact with school culture to shape the ways in which teachers integrate technology into their classrooms.
One big issue: Many teachers lack an understanding of how educational technology works.
But the greater challenge, the researchers wrote, is in expanding teachers’ knowledge of new instructional practices that will allow them to select and use the right technology, in the right way, with the right students, for the right purpose.

via Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach – Education Week.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  July 22, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Warschauer has done a lot of work on this. At the end of the day, it can also boil down to a few “simple” limiters outside of the teachers’ control – 1.) In the current test driven K12 environment, in “at risk” schools (e.g. low income, high ESL, majority minority) even ed-tech programs that work splendidly will be shut down in favor of explicit test practice (e.g. Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010) and 2.) in such “at risk” environments, already in strict competition with drill & kill practices, instructors (at higher levels, e.g. high school level) have to commonly spend class time on teaching the basics of software — basics that students have often learned in more affluent households (Warschauer, 2007; Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone, 2004), not to mention the fact that such classrooms are less likely to have access to “worry free” or even working technology.

    This is not news per se (cf. Papert, 1997) – I just wanted to temper any “if only teachers knew more technology.” Because it extends well beyond that. Might it help, sure. However, for many of these classrooms, teachers could be tech whizzes and nothing would change.

    Papert, S. (1997). Why school reform is impossible. Journal of the Learning Sciences.
    Warschauer, M. (2007). A teacher’s place in the digital divide. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 106(2), 147–166.
    Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Educational Policy, 18(4), 562–588.
    Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of the equity in access, use and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 179–225.

  • 2. Mark Urban-Lurain  |  July 22, 2015 at 9:10 am

    ” If teachers learned more about computing, they could use it more effectively.”

    Agreed, but the devil’s in the details. What do they need to learn about computing? Coding? Literacy? Can CS departments teach them what they need to know? Do CS departments know what they need to know?

    My colleagues Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehler talk about teachers needing Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) an extension of Shulman’s PCK framework. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_Pedagogical_Content_Knowledge

    As for everyone else, computing must be contextualized for teachers. Simply learning about computing and expecting transfer to occur is not realistic.

  • 3. Myra Deister  |  July 22, 2015 at 10:50 am

    In my district, the basic problem is that the district administration and board do not see how technology or rather current technology could be used in the classroom to engage students. I have access to one desktop computer when I am teaching math and 35 10+ year old computers for CS. I have tried to educate the board and I have spoken to the district admins but to no avail. I am now applying for grants and accepting donations of hardware that is end of life. If a teacher has to work that hard to get hardware, then it’s use is not going to happen. I also attempted to have to the district admins create tech mentors but that also fell on deaf ears.

    • 4. gflint  |  July 22, 2015 at 12:40 pm


      All of my computers are hand-me-downs. In the whole school. My whole infrastructure is second hand. I have not bought a computer, switch or server in 10 years. Law offices, real estate offices, stock brokerages, the local hospital, all seem to have this lovely 3-5 year rotation policy. I get really nice equipment for free. Contact parents who work for these kinds of businesses and have them give you the name of their IT person. A 3 year old i5 computer is as good as a brand new one. I have a bunch of $1200 managed switches in the school, all free. And they love giving me the stuff, it is tax deductible as a donation. Not as simple as ordering from a vendor but my administration loves me.

    • 5. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  July 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      Have you seen http://www.donorschoose.org/ ? A set of Raspberry Pis for your class sounds like a perfect pitch for them.
      And if you’re scrounging, I’ll just add that Linux better supports such older hardware. [And it’s more conducive to a programming oriented environment. cf. Maddog’s discussion of bash as the best first language. http://www.techworld.com/operating-systems/john-maddog-hall-why-raspberry-pi-is-only-beginning-3453073/%5D

  • 6. gflint  |  July 22, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Ed Tech issues are so multi-dimensional that it is an almost impossible subject to discuss. The LAPSD iPad debacle on one hand then schools like Myra talks about on the other. In both cases training is the major problem, for teachers, school boards, administrators and parents. There is also the student improvement side of the discussion. Does a lot of the ed tech sold to schools actually improve the teacher’s ability to teach or improve the student’s ability to learn? From what I have seen a lot of the hype is from a real good sales pitch. Apple seems to be the winner in this category. Some ed tech is a no-brainer; decent computers in labs, but a lot of it requires extensive in-service training to make it worth the costs; iPads, interactive boards, clickers and so on. You just cannot plop these down in front of a teacher and say “Here you are, use them.” Older teachers will just say “How is this an improvement on what I am doing now?” If it is not obvious the tech becomes a dust collector.

  • 7. Bonnie  |  July 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I read the Education Week article and the accompanying comments, which in many ways were more informative. I think one thing to realize is that when districts adopt technology, it often isn’t for the reasons you assume. What the administrators envision typically has nothing to do with computing or even computer literacy. I see a lot of this firsthand because I am a parent liasion with my district’s technology committee, which is mainly comprised of the top administrators. They are going to a one-student-one-device model, as are most of the districts around here. When the administrators talk about what this model will do for students, they don’t talk about computing or computer science. They don’t even talk about any of the research-baced active learning methods that get discussed on this blog. Frankly, I doubt any of them know about active learning in STEM. No, what they envision, what they call “student centered learning”, is a model in which students look up everything on the Internet for themselves while the teacher looks on. Since the teachers know that this model doesn’t work very well, they tend to passively resist. It isn’t because they need to know more about computing, since the goal of one-student-one-device has nothing to do with computing.

  • 8. Howard Johnson  |  December 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    I agree w/ Bonnie, I think the hard part is in finding affordances that increase capabilities in different layers of cognition and and in the production of intelligent products by students. So (1) I can learn more from people like yourself through communication activities, I can create visuals (graphics) to support my short-term cognitive capacity, but not much else. In ed tech, I think there is real progress in tutoring programs but little acknowledgement of limitations in these programs, especial if we are considering student capabilities to produce complex analysis not just fact recall.
    I find programming very hard, time consuming and of little value for myself, though in the hands of a skilled and dedicated programmer, it becomes highly valuable due to the unlimited capabilities for reproduction at little or no cost. I will listen for your opinion on values and capabilities in computing, I’m just not sold on our current direction.


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