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Technology Should Bend to Fit Your Needs—Not the Other Way Around

Kathleen Sheehy

Remember Dwight Schrute, from the television show "The Office"?

A running joke on the show was his obsession that he be treated as the assistant regional manager (all while not-so-secretly scheming to become manager). But his title was actually assistant to the regional manager—a big difference in terms of the size and importance of his role.

As technology in education gets more and more attention and funding, I worry that tech tools might be making the same kind of power play as Dwight.

Teachers are getting a lot of pressure to elevate the role of technology in their classrooms, when technology should be an assistant to the teacher. The teacher is the expert in the room who knows her students and their needs best. She has the personal connections with each student that are needed for real teaching and learning to happen.

We plop shiny new pieces of technology down in classrooms and purchase licenses for fancy programs, and we expect that the tools themselves will take the lead. We don't always think thoughtfully about student needs and learning goals, and finding technology that can assist the teacher in meeting those needs and goals.

There are some amazing technology tools out there. As educators, we need to understand what each student is interested in, what they struggle with, and what they want and need to learn, and determine "What technology tool will best assist me in teaching that student?"

Let's not forget that it can even be a simple and relatively low-tech tool that provides the assistance the teacher needs.

Recently, a colleague of mine was frustrated because her school installed TVs in every classroom. The administration asked all the teachers to begin projecting their lessons from their laptops to the TV screen.  As a math teacher, she appreciated the ability to project lessons and tasks so that all the students could see.

But beyond its value as a projector, the TV just wasn't meeting her students' needs. Many of my colleague's students needed to write and draw on images and problems, and they needed to see their teacher doing the same while she was teaching. So, my colleague found a tool that made the TV useful: a clear plastic cling that went on top of the screen, turning it into an erasable writing surface.

Suddenly, she wasn't just limited to projecting things from her computer on the TV—she could display images and problems and write and draw on them, and have the students write and draw on them as well.  The TV became an assistant for her teaching and the learning needs of her students.

Don't allow your technology to pull a Dwight. The tools exist to support you, not to dictate your practice.

How do you use technology as your assistant and resist its call to take charge?

Kathleen Sheehy is the 2008 Washington, D.C. Teacher of the Year and the co-founder and chief academic officer of LearningAI, the creator of carsonapp.com, an assistant coach that teachers can deploy to help kids accomplish really hard things. As a former instructional coach and first grade teacher, she is committed to supporting educators in using technology to enable joyful and rigorous teaching and powerful learning experiences for all students. You can reach her at [email protected]

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