by: Alex Stubenbort

“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational.”-George Couros

Last week, I led a professional development session with the social studies department at Lecanto High School where we analyzed and discussed the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education’s study on what works when implementing education technology in the classroom. Camps immediately formed. The hip, tech-lovin’ teachers prepared to have all of their dogmatic beliefs confirmed; the sage-like, veteran teachers prepared for battle against the newest bell and/or whistle promising to “save” education. The tension was palpable.

This scene is not atypical in schools across the nation.  Education Technology is often jockeying for respect amongst teachers with proven low to non-tech practices that see technological advances as more of a nuisance than a godsend. Meanwhile, the same advances are treated as miraculous cure-all’s by open-armed newbies casting eye-rolling stares towards their archaic counterparts. However, both approaches are flawed in their misrepresentation of the purpose and scope of education technology.

As a first year administrator, I’ve had the surreal experience of viewing the classroom as a proverbial fly on the wall instead of being an active participant. From this purview, I’ve begun to realize things that weren’t as evident when I was in the “trenches”.  The most paradigm-shattering realization I’ve stumbled upon is that some of the least tech-savvy educators are the ones that are ripe for tech to take hold in a real, impactful way in their classrooms! Let me explain.

In some classrooms, tech is the primary driver of instruction. Upon entering the classroom, every child’s face is aglow with the gleam of digitized content. Unfortunately, this is where their faces remain throughout the 90 minute block. Students are led through drill and kill content that attempts to maximize test scores. Teachers lecture as students silently take notes via the latest and greatest notetaking apps and upload their end products to the teacher’s LMS of choice. At night, the teacher glazes over the data produced by the students daily test prep and assigns completion grades for classroom notes. Despite technology playing a major role in the ebb and flow of their classroom ecosystem, the content and design is far from engaging, rigorous, and innovative.

Inversely, there are classes that exist like Mr. Nelson’s. David Nelson’s room is a treasure trove. Every inch of wall space is covered with purpose. His chalkboards (Yes. Chalkboards.) are adorned with intricately drawn charts in attention-grabbing neon hues that hold problems begging to be solved. His Word Wall serves as an arsenal for students to pick their weapons wisely before entering the field of debate.  Polaroid photographs, hand-drawn artwork, and newspaper clippings are plastered on every nook and cranny teasing half story after half story of past students’ successes.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Nelson’s teaching style is awe-inspiring in its artistry. Actively weaving critical content with student inquiry, commentary, and thought; Mr. Nelson creates a patchwork that is as intellectually rigorous as it is engaging!

Hence my epiphany: Mr. Nelson is lightyears ahead of the classroom formerly described in his pursuits of the effective technology integration described in the SCOPE study. The pedagogy at the core of every lesson, every assignment, and every instructional shift exemplified in Mr. Nelson’s class is education technology’s necessary precursor. Without this type of pedagogical mastery, edtech is merely, to quote the good book, a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. Imagine Mr. Nelson flipping a lesson, writing a classroom blog, or connecting with education’s brightest minds via Twitter! He is EVERYTHING you would want to follow because edtech is NOT a teaching panacea; it elevates instruction if and only if it’s rooted in proven pedagogy. So buyers beware! If you’re being told that edtech will cure all of your classroom woes, think twice. Simply put, it’s too good to be true.

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