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New Technology for Teachers? Play, Then Create


Jody Passanisi


As teachers, we are often asked to incorporate new, cutting-edge technologies into the classroom at the request of our schools. Given the pressure that schools face to stay current, the pressure to implement new technology is understandable.

However, putting new technology in the classroom isn't as simple as handing something to a teacher and walking away. Teachers often are wary of new technology, worry about how to use it, and wonder if it is going to require a drastic change in pedagogy.

The breakdown often occurs during the introductory phase of a new tech tool. When schools and administrators introduce new technology for teachers, those administrators frequently have expectations that the technology will have immediate application in the classroom.

Most of the time, these expectations aren't properly grounded. When teachers are asked to learn a new technology and immediately incorporate it into the classroom, two things happen: the technology doesn't get learned, and it also puts constraints on our pedagogical creativity.

So how, then, should introduce new technologies? My teaching partner and I have been working on this question with our students. We've found that first giving students a chance to discover and play with a new technology increases their ability to use it effectively when we ask them to then apply it to content.

This idea—that technology can be made more approachable through play—can be applied to teachers as well. Think about the experience of learning a second language. When language students are anxious, that anxiety puts limitations on their linguistic abilities. Why would this be any different for people learning technology as a "second language"?

Yet, when we go to conferences or introduce tech tools, the facilitator and the participants are all looking to make that experience immediately relevant to the classroom. It's an understandable impulse; who wants to spend a day learning something that isn't clearly applicable to what's happening in the classroom?

However, this may be wrongheaded when it comes to the learning new tools, or "training" on a new technology. Forcing teachers to come up with practical applications for a technology that they have never seen before is only going to guarantee lots of that "second language" anxiety.

Teachers don't need technology training: They need time to play.

When teachers have time to play with and discover the applications of a new technology, the result is teachers who feel confident about using tech and imagining new uses for it. Like any tool, the benefit of these technologies are realized by discovering their creative potential.

We need to look beyond the technology to examine our classrooms and our pedagogy, not to limit our focus to the technology and how it works. Give teachers the chance to play with technology; don't push to make it fit the current classroom model. We will respond with more creativity and more comfort with the technology itself.

Jody Passanisi is a middle school teacher at an independent school in the Los Angeles area and a clinical educator in the Day School Leadership Through Teaching's teacher-induction program. She and her teaching partner, Shara Peters, write about education on their blog and on Twitter @21centuryteachr.

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