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Ed Tech Integration Is a Low Bar


Jennie Magiera

Technology has changed my life. If you're reading this, then I'm sure it's changed yours too. Think about how much information you receive via a digital device. How often do you communicate, explore, and pass time with one? When our children grow up, they will need to use word-processing software and email, and create spreadsheets and presentations. So why aren't these skills also an integral part of their foundational education? Why are there still so many classrooms devoid of any technology other than an overhead projector and a handful of aging desktop computers?

There are a myriad of blogs, news articles, and YouTube videos featuring the amazing, transformative effect that technology can have on teaching and learning. I myself experienced this tech transformation as a teacher in the way of nuanced assessment, expedited feedback, and more individualized differentiation. While my students' test scores soared, more importantly so did their self-efficacy and self-esteem. Our school has grown from one iPad classroom to eight, with an eye on expanding to 1:1 for all students. And a recent staff survey shows that teachers are excited for this opportunity.

However, as you may have seen, many teachers are scared of technology. They're often scared because they don't know what it could do (as they have seen poor/no modeling) or don't know how to do what they have seen. Some are simply afraid of change. An educational technology roll-out, no matter how powerful the devices and programs, will only be as effective as each individual teachers' implementation. Simply throwing devices into a classroom and putting "technology integration" as a checkbox on evaluation forms will result in—at best—mixed results. Teachers need support that speaks to their different levels of technology expertise. Professional development needs to reflect the best practices we use for teaching our own students—it must be differentiated, time-efficient, and hands-on.

Furthermore, it shouldn't cease after an initial "here's what's in the box and here's how you can use it" session. It should continue and evolve as teacher needs change, familiarity increases, and confidence waxes and wanes. I believe that much of the success seen in Chicago's iPad program is due to the supportive and responsive nature of the monthly PD embedded in its pilot and during the introduction of these devices into the classroom. Perhaps reluctant teachers would start spending their time creating ePubs and other rich digital content instead of protesting educational technology if they had better modeling, training, and access to quality digital content.

Additionally I have seen schools that try and integrate technology for technology's sake. This is what gives educational technology a bad rap. It isn't enough to have devices in the classroom; teaching and learning should be redefined with the power of the devices in mind. Therefore the phrase "technology integration" may be a bit of a low bar; perhaps we should be calling the introduction of technology into the classroom "technology redefinition." I hope educators who are transforming education with innovative devices can continue to promote and publicize these best practices to show what a teched-out classroom can really do.

To make redefinition a reality, policy makers should look towards models of success and ask themselves what supports, resources, and situational factors led to this. They shouldn't close the door on technology because of cost, fear, or logistics. They should be willing to invest in ongoing, responsive trainings, foster dynamic professional learning communities and provide the tools/infrastructure needed for teachers to succeed. Will this be easy? Certainly not. As with any great revolution, this education redefinition comes at a price and it won't come easily. But the most powerful and magical changes are those worth fighting for. This is one of them.

Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools.

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