Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Technology - what teachers want

It's been an interesting start back to the school year.  A colleague has been off sick and I've been doing what I can to support all the teachers and students in the primary school alone.  Invariably this has meant that some of the more experienced teachers are using the lab or laptops with their classes by themselves.  For the past couple of years I've wanted to move more towards the teachers being empowered to use technology to support teaching and learning without the need for an IT teacher to actually be leading the lessons.  I've felt the teachers can do this with the right support and over the past couple of weeks I've been able to see what support is really needed for this dream to become a reality.

Technology that is reliable, adequate and easy to use:  This has got to be in place before teachers will even think about integrating technology into their lessons.  Teachers want to know that when they book the lab or a cart of laptops, that all of the computers will be working and that they will all work as expected.  That all computers will have the software on that the teachers have planned to use (and most teachers will want this software in the dock, they don't want to have to search through the applications folder for it).  That they can create work on their laptops at home and then work from their laptops at school, rather than having to transfer everything onto a memory stick and then onto the school computers or email it to themselves.  That they and their students can save and print their work easily.  That they won't get any unexpected problems, such as blocked access to websites, or pop-up messages telling them that they need to allow certain functions that they cannot allow because they don't have the administrator's password.  I feel for teachers who are faced with these problems, which can cause chaos with their carefully constructed lesson plans, and who then decide it's just too much hassle to bring the students back to use the IT again.  I feel for them because I've been in this place myself.  A couple of years ago I was creating 3 lessons plans for every IT lesson I taught - one if everything was working, one if some of the computers were working and the students could use them in groups, one if none of the computers were working.  I was at the stage where even I wanted to throw in the towel and give up using technology forever!  This brings me onto the second thing that teachers want:

Adequate technical support:  Teachers want to know that if there is a technical problem someone will come straight away and help them to fix it.  If their SMARTboard is not working at the start of the day, for example, and they have planned some lessons using it, it might be possible to re-jig the lessons and do them later in the day, but they don't want to have to wait 2 or 3 days for help.  If they are in a lab or using a cart of laptops the situation is probably more urgent - this might be the only time they have been able to make a booking for the lab or laptops for that week.  If help and support is not given straight away, it may not be possible to redo the lesson the following week - the students will have moved on in their learning.  This brings me onto the third thing that teachers want:

Training:  Sometimes the need for some of this technical support can be reduced if teachers are properly trained on how to use the equipment or the software, or in what to do if problems arise.  The sort of training that most teachers are requesting is in-class coaching and mentoring, not extra "add on" sessions about things that one day might be useful.  Last year, at the end of the year, I conducted a technology survey with our teachers in grades 2-5.  The overwhelming thing they asked for was that they not get any new technology but that instead they are trained to use the technology they already have more effectively and that they are trained on how to use the technology not just as a teaching tool, but as a way of transforming student learning.  I've often thought that this is the thing that is really lacking in many decisions to buy new hardware or software: staff training is the key to integrating technology and has to be thought about as part of a technology plan and budgeted for.  And this brings me onto the fourth thing that teachers want:

Time:  The biggest issue raised by teachers who talked to me last year was that the technology they have been given has not changed their teaching in the way they hoped it would, and the reason it hasn't is because they need time to develop their pedagogy as well as their skills when new technology is introduced.  Many teachers expressed disappointment - not in the technologies themselves but in the way they were using them.

Appropriate policies:  Teachers don't want a one-size-fits-all approach, they want something more individual.  Just as we differentiate for students' needs, we need to differentiate for teachers' needs.  Different teachers have different training needs, they have different times when they want to do the training and different learning styles.  Depending on the age of the students they are teaching, teachers may prefer different ways of communicating with parents too.  Many of the teachers of our Early Years children see parents daily, as they bring their children to school or collect them.   Perhaps the need to send home newsletters is not so great when there is this personal contact, but perhaps a good way to communicate is through a class blog with photos of what the students are doing in class so that parents can talk about these things with their children at home and give feedback.  In other cases a portal might be useful as a way of older students accessing their work, whereas with younger children it may not be age- or stage-appropriate.  Teachers, like everyone else, get frustrated if they are mandated to use technology is a way that is not useful or that is too time consuming.

Are there other things that I've missed off this list?  What do you think teachers really want in order to use technology effectively to transform learning?

Photo Credit:  Help  by Mike Scullen AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 


  1. Maggie, I think you have hit on the biggies: time, PD and reliability. Without time to explore what tools they already have, or time to practice what they are learning in the PD, they will not feel comfortable using them, nor will they feel like they want to use them because they will not realize their potential or application to their lesson. Additionally, the reliability issue is key: how aggravating to a teacher who has access to a site but when the students try to get there, the access is denied. Two things I would add would be a technology mentor and technology conversations. The mentor could be someone on their grade level or near their classroom (I think proximity is key for going and asking for the help/feedback); and the conversations I mention could be ongoing within grade levels, departments or school-wide about how they want to use the technology, how it is expected to be used and how they can learn from each other, in addition to the IT facilitator.

  2. Thanks again for this Maggie - we are struggling with this at school...we coming from behind the start line but we will do it!

  3. You have summed up the issues quite well. I do want to add to the idea above of conversations about tech. I find it very valuable to have times to just share and brainstorm. It gets ideas flowing and for the few teachers who are somewhat reluctant or intimidated - it helps show possibilities. I learn so much from seeing who gets excited by what and then tailoring my plans to what teachers want to do. Sarah