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Want Better Classroom Tech? Give Teachers More Time

Bud Hunt

"The subjects . . . may often be suggested by the pupil's observation or personal experience." —Report of the Committee [of Ten] on secondary school studies, from an 1892 meeting of the National Educational Association (p.88)

As an instructional technology coordinator for a large school district in northern Colorado, I see an awful lot of interesting uses of technology in the classroom. However, as a professional developer and former classroom teacher, I see too many things done to teachers and students, rather than with them.

If we believe that student choice and passion and curiosity are essential to learning, then how can we approach professional development for teachers without considering these as starting places for teachers and their learning about technology? Top ten lists, sit-and-gets, and vague mandates about "technology proficiency" are not useful. And yet they fill up Twitter streams and Facebook walls and blog pages all over the place.

Four years ago, some of my colleagues and I attempted a radical (at least for us) shift in the way we approached technology-related professional development. Teachers, as learners and as inquirers, should have control over their learning and explorations in technology. Thus, the Digital Learning Collaborative was born.

A two-year program that costs about as much for a team of teachers as one day with most technology consultants, the DLC is an attempt to return the agency around teacher learning to the teacher. In the first year, we help team leaders to convene teams of teachers curious about exploring more of the technology around them. In that first year, we instruct our teachers not to race to implement new technology in the classroom; instead, we encourage them to take time to play and explore and wonder. Dig deep. Try something new. Fiddle with it for a while. Explore. Play. Experiment.

In year two, we ask teachers to explore the consequences of their explorations and learning in their classrooms, and to conduct a teacher-research study about what happens when they apply their learning to students' experiences.

This can be messy work, and some of the teachers we work with are unsettled by it. They would much prefer that we tell them what to do, and when to do it, and why it matters. School districts, it seems, have sometimes taken the agency away from the folks we trust to facilitate that agency in others. That's not such a good thing.

But we have learned that prescriptive learning isn't learning that lasts, so we try to build support structures where our teachers can struggle together to better understand the technology that surrounds us. We want those teachers, and the students they support, to actively engage the tech of today, and to be ready to face the technology of tomorrow.

You can keep your top ten lists, or your quick tweets of "must reads." And while advocacy days are fine and certainly can raise awareness, they're not terribly useful in terms of actual day-to-day organizational change. So a special day is a good start. But that's all it is.

I've found that thoughtful inquiry and meaningful time for exploration are the best tools for thoughtful technology integration. Deep learning and instructional change take time, and I hope you're helping the folks you work with to find the time in their days for learning to happen.

Bud Hunt is an instructional technology coordinator for the St. Vrain Valley Schools in northern Colorado. He works with teachers and technologists to ensure the thoughtful use of technology for teaching and learning. Bud blogs at Bud the Teacher.

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