Is technology literacy and institutional responsibility or an individual responsibility?
Schools are moving to a more digital landscape, some quicker than others. One-to-one initiatives are slowly becoming the norm in many districts across the country. Some prefer the tablets and provide students with iPads while others are purchasing Chromebooks. Other districts are taking the cost efficient but risky strategy of “bring your own device.” There are so many factors and variable involved in the move to toward 21st century skills and digital literacy that it can be difficult to keep up. As a member of our district’s strategic planning team, I co-chaired a committee charged with writing our strategies and plan concerning digital learning. Because many aspects were out of our committee’s control (e.g. purchasing devices, approving new tech, etc.), we focused on how to better utilize the tools and devices that were already available or soon to be available. We wanted our teachers and staff to be able to maximize our resources to improve classroom instruction.
There was one question that kept eating at me throughout the process. Every time we discussed any of the new technology or trends that were out there in education today we heard the same response. “I (we) would love to use that, but we’ve never been trained.” There is also the common response, “I (we) do not have time to learn all of this new tech stuff.” I had to ask myself, who is responsible for making sure teachers can use many of the tools that are currently available?
One idea that kept creeping into the discussion was to include training for all of these new tools in our yearly staff development plan. Oh wait…we also have to include college and career readiness training, best teaching practices, Gallup Strengths, classroom management training, and on and on. There are only so many staff development hours set aside throughout the year and technology receives a small piece of that. Besides, there is simply too many options out there for teachers to possible provide training on everything.
Another idea was to provide staff with optional training sessions held during off-contract or planning times throughout the year. This is a great idea for those who are highly motivated and have the free time available. The problem is providing trainers for these sessions during a time when budgets are shrinking.
When I say this is the solution it by no means implies that we took this approach or that I have seen it work in practice. This is my own personal vision for how technology can grow and develop with a school system. If we decide that digital learning is important to our mission then it must become an expectation that much of the technology is self-taught by teachers and peers. This is an organic solution that starts with developing a culture centered around a clear vision for a forward-thinking digital climate. It must be expected that we aren’t going to waste staff development hours teaching a group of teachers how to open and respond to an email. We can’t plan staff development around the least common denominators that do not devote time to improving their craft in a way that includes technology. Administrators…hold your people accountable for identifying needs, researching solutions, and solving problems without the need for endless, structured staff development sessions aimed at improving the skills of those stuck in the 20th century. We must ask ourselves, how do our students know so much about this technology? Why do some teachers need very little formal training while others take months or years to catch up? The technology is out there and much of it is free to use, experiment with, and learn. Let’s stop wasting time and resources on those who refuse to take advantage of that fact.