No matter their ages, teachers and students need support to capitalize on digital tools in the classroom.
Nichole Dobo of the Hechinger Report was covering the 2015 conference of the International Society for Technology in Education in early July when she met Lauren Midgette, a 25-year-old teacher from Hartford, Connecticut.
“I’m the youngest one in our group,” Midgette told her, “and I am the least tech savvy.”
As Dobo described it, Midgette’s situation might not be especially unusual. A survey from the Software and Information Industry Association found that older teachers were more likely to say they felt ready to use data from digital learning tools while younger teachers rated themselves as less ready. But across the board, teachers reported feeling “inadequately prepared” to use technology to enhance teaching and learning.
The survey measured how teachers described themselves, not how often or how well they integrated technology or data. It did not tease out causes for the age gaps, and similar research finds mixed results.
But the survey reinforces a key point about meaningful technology integration in classrooms: it’s not just knowing how devices and apps work. If it was, younger teachers might have a leg up on those less familiar with smartphones and tablets. Rather, powerful technology integration comes from a pedagogical foundation that supports hands-on, interest-driven learning—something that takes backing, education, and resources for teachers from all age groups and experience levels.
Powerful technology integration comes from a pedagogical foundation that supports hands-on, interest-driven learning.
A recent EdWeek story found that this kind of integration remains rare in American classrooms. Another story reported that although 43 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards going back five years, a lack of core-aligned material poses an added challenge for teachers trying to adapt to the standards while also incorporating digital tools.
The lack of material has fueled the “open education resources” movement, in which teachers around the world share lessons and curricula online, often for free.
Here in Pittsburgh, teachers helped BirdBrain Technologies build a library of lesson plans involving Hummingbird robotics kits that address specific Common Core standards. From dancing dog robots to robotic theater, the lessons give step-by-step instructions for guiding students through their creations.
Although both EdWeek stories highlight the obstacles teachers face, educators in Pittsburgh and elsewhere are tackling the challenges one by one to integrate technology in more powerful ways.
In a recent interview, Derek Long, an English teacher at Pittsburgh Perry High School, described how his school uses technology to help students reach core standards that require collaboration.
“I think [we are] being more focused and intentional about why we are using the technology,” he said. “We are focused on not just using [iPads] to watch videos and read text on the screen but actually using the apps and websites to create, which aligns to Common Core and allows the kids to collaborate.”
This deliberate approach to technology, which does not simply take analog activities and transfer them to screens, is a goal of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s TransformED space. With professional development workshops and unstructured “play time,” the space lets teachers explore how technology can spur deeper learning. Through the summer and fall, TransformEd is hosting “Tech Up Your Teaching K-12” events, where teachers can practice redefining traditional lesson plans to bring in digital tools “with pedagogical insight.”
The phrase “digital native” cropped up a few years ago to describe kids who never knew a nondigital world. But the term is used less often now as educators realize that knowing how to work the technology does not mean students have an innate ability to turn it into something more powerful.
The same applies to younger teachers, who also need help to transform technology into powerful learning tools.