« A Principled Principal | Main | Does Happy Pay the Bills? »

Too Much Tech?


At first glance, the T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria seems like a shining beacon on a hill. The school cost nearly $100 million to build, equipped every student with a laptop connected to a wireless network, gave teachers LCD projectors for their classrooms to use instead of chalkboards, and increasingly, encouraged the administration to rely on email for interaction with faculty instead of meeting face to face, writes Patrick Welsh, a teacher a the school, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post.

But T.C. Williams’ teachers, even the young and computer savvy, have hit the tech wall. An excess of technology has had the effect of alienating them from their students, Welsh says. Hamstrung by the gadgets the administration forces down their throats, teachers feel they are sacrificing the creativity of their craft for the novelty of the newest gizmos. “It's technology for the sake of technology—not what works or helps kids learn, but what makes administrators look good, what the public will think is cutting edge,” said one young colleague of Welsh's.

The answer may be in moderation. Welsh cites the case of the North Point High School for Science, Technology and Industry in Waldorf, Maryland. More selective in her philosophy on tech integration, the school’s principal believes in a finer balance. "Technology is just a tool, not an end in itself," she says, "It will never replace good teaching."


Keeping with Welsh's "Field of Dreams" rerference.

As "Field of Dreams" was a Baseball movie that has little to do with baseball, this op-ed is a technology article that has little to do with technology.

This is an article about a Board and Administrative Staff trying, possibly too hard, to institute change. At least they are willing to take risks, spend money, and hopefully look for feedback to make your school an excellent example of education.

Perhaps working together as a cohesive group you can create a positive, and balanced, learning environment. Have you tried? Or maybe the lack of voice given to teachers regarding the direction of the school is the real story here.

As a CEO of a 9-yr old education technology company, I normally cringe when I read stories of educators and school administrators dismissing new technologies as ineffective, but I couldn't agree more with Patrick Welsh's overall perspective on technology and learning. And the last line of the article really says it all -- technology is just a means to an end, and like any tool with great potential, if you use it for the wrong job, it won't get you the right result. The shiniest best screw driver shouldn't be used as a hammer. Doesn't mean it's a bad screwdriver, just means that the people who's job it is to figure out how to build a great house may not have thought through fully what tools are needed and when they should be used as much as the carpernters have.

Teachers need to be part of the planning process for all technology innovations. Buy-in is a must, because even if the technology is potentially productive, the classroom is where the rubber meets the road, and if the driver of the classroom is not bought into and is not a master of the new technology, the technology will do more harm than good.

George Cigale, CEO of www.tutor.com
[email protected] and blog at http://ceotutor.blogspot.com/

As adminstrator in a private school system that focuses on the use use of "cutting edge" methodologies, I was gratified to read the article "Too Much Tech". In our efforts to make education relevant and "cutting edge" we fail to realize that the most important component of the student's learning experience is a caring, well-prepared teacher who is not afraid to touch a life for eternity. Technology has its place, but will never replace an effective and effectual teacher. We must be careful to assess the needs of both teachers and students, then equip them with the knowledge and know-how to meet those needs.

The article cited is sad for many reasons - including what I might suggest is a brutal indictment of both teacher training and the ability of educators to even comprehend what technology is. For while, yes, this seems like a poorly implemented technology plan (more spending than thought) all the other basic assumptions are completely wrong.

For example, let's say this - weren't the old classrooms filled with technologies? From chalkboards to desks and chairs, from lighting to flooring, from room shape to acoustics, from books to paper and pens - hmmm, does Mr. Welsh feel these are "natural" things?

The sad thing is that he does. But that's because his own education was probably so poor at helping him to understand the world. Those "old" things are all technologies, and like all technologies they both enable and disable - certain technologies working for some students and not for others, working for some lessons and not for others. But also, all technologies DO transform education - to think the other way is ridiculous. Did the book alter education? The school building? The pen? There was a time when teachers were often hired in remote American communities primarily for their skills in cutting quills. Likewise, 21st Century technologies transform when placed in the hands of skilled, well-educated, and adaptive teachers who work for supportive schools.

Of course, just to mention - if you want to see a good way of helping teachers to work with a flood of new technologies, I recommend visiting the Becta Test-Bed Evaluation site from the UK, and looking at the shared Action Research - it is at

My concern comes from the phrase "gave teachers LCD projectors for their classrooms to use instead of chalkboards." I am a high school science teacher who has embraced technology. I probably use my LCD project every day, or nearly so. However, some of what I use it for is simply as a high tech overhead projector. I project a worksheet from chemistry, then write on the board (a whiteboard, granted, not a chalkboard) to help students work through the problem. I will still always need something on which to write, be it a whiteboard or a Smartboard (which I do NOT have, but would love!). Some things that need to be posted throughout a class, but only on for a single day (testing schedule, or something similar) will not work with just an LCD.

Administrators, please do give me technology, support me with training, but do not eliminate low tech that works quite well.

Jax FL

As one of two Technology Integration Specialists at TC Williams High School I would like to respond to this oped piece. My colleagues and I work very hard to constantly keep in the forefront of our work, 'what is best for students.' We help teachers use technology in a way that makes sense for their classrooms and will enhance their student learning

We provide large group, small group, and one-to-one professional development. We offer co-teaching as well as model teaching. We help teachers navigate new tools and reflect on how these tools may impact student learning. We want to ensure that the technology enhances, not replaces, classroom instruction.

There are many teachers at TC (including Mr. Welsh) whom I see using the tools, which we are lucky to have, in ways that deepen student understanding. I would have loved to see at least some of these examples presented in the article.

To dismiss the integration of technology in Alexandria City Public Schools as being for superficial reasons only is unfair and inaccurate. These teachers understand the goal: to prepare students for today's world, in which technology plays a key role, by using all methods at our disposal. If the process and communication by which this goal is pursued have been less than perfect, we should work together to improve the approach, not discard the goal.

I invite anyone to contact me for more information about our program or to schedule a visit and see how technology is being integrated in Alexandria. [email protected]

I see in many responses the comment that administrators/planners albeit comptrollers need to seek and respect input from teachers. Take that one step further - planning should BEGIN with teachers and work its way DOWN to administration. When will administrators see that this will solve a multitude of sins including the lack of effective training, modeling and planning time to develop technology skills. Another, sin of omission, not providing the technology support that we all need to become efficient and proficient in our use of technology. Another deadly sin is the belief that new technology can REPLACE the old - words, thoughts, feelings, experience and personal communication. NOTHING can replace or improve upon the sense a student should have that a teacher cares via human response/communication.

I wish every school adminstrator would hear and comprehend, "Technology is a tool. It is a means to an end." It isn't always useful to spend most of the school budget on the newest high-tech equipment just to have it in the rooms--especially when no training or maintenance is provided. The tail (high technology) is wagging the dog (learning) in my local elementary schools. In two fifth grade rooms in my last building, where computer programs replaced instruction from the teachers, the students took out their frustration by cutting mouse cords and disabling some software. In my previous school in the federal Reading First program, the second grade children were required to use speech recognition software with incompatible hardware. The result was that the programs crashed continually. When tech support could get the system working, it didn't work well for these children from the rural south whose vowel patterns are not mainstream. The saddest cases were the children with cleft-palate and other speech impediments. The software couldn't begin to understand them. Nevertheless, we were required to subject the students to this program for 40 minutes a day, even though they cried. I see it as institutionalized child abuse, but the administration loved to point out all the computer-based instruction as a sign of what a good job they were doing. I wish the parents knew how unhappy their children were in both these schools, and how much of their school day was wasted in using ineffective technology. Technology can be a good tool, but principals and teachers need to have time to learn how to use it. The problem isn't the tool but how it is being poorly used. Until expensive new tools can be used more effectively and efficiently than the low-tech ones they replace, they are not an improvement.

It is unfortunate that much of the dialogue that has resulted from Mr. Welsh's article has turned to the assumption that teachers are not supported in the implementation of technology. As an embedded Technology Integration Specialist at TC Williams, I can say with great certainty that this is not the case. I have confidence in saying that teachers have been very quick to make that statement throughout the last couple of weeks. When I have spoken with Mr. Welsh regarding the article, it has become evident that his point was not that teachers don't feel supported. Rather, they are overwhelmed with the amount of technology and the prospect of "having to use it" in engaging, meaningful ways with their students. I, for one, look at it as an opportunity to define what that means and communicate with teachers that while they are fortunate to have all of these wonderful, 21st century tools available to them, they are not required to be using them every day if they, as professionals, don't see a meaningful application. We stress in every workshop the exact phrase that "technology is just a tool". New technologies can be intimidating but often things that don't quite make sense end up being our most valuable tools.

I would strongly encourage anyone interested in this issue to investigate the newly released "Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) for Educators", edited by The AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology. You can also find out more about this important work at www.tpck.org . As has been previously stated, teachers and administrators need to know how, when, and why to use technology; the framework developed in this handbook helps to identify where each of us is at in that process. Having access to technology is only a beginning to the educational pathway!

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter: I would strongly encourage anyone interested in this issue to read more
  • Mary Fluharty: It is unfortunate that much of the dialogue that has read more
  • Sethe: I wish every school adminstrator would hear and comprehend, "Technology read more
  • Lee Barrios: I see in many responses the comment that administrators/planners albeit read more
  • Kyle Dunbar: As one of two Technology Integration Specialists at TC Williams read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here