Advances in Technology are Outpacing Teachers’ Ability to Learn

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Microsoft launched a slick new laptop today, and they’ve also recently dropped some “mixed reality” tech that some people are raving about. This news has a similar feel to Google’s release of the Chromebook, which folks quickly realized could be a game-changer not just in the consumer space but also in fields like education.

I get it…technology will continue to shape education. Education will look different in five, 10, and 20 years. I’m not debating that at all.

The point I do want to make is that advances in technology are happening more and more frequently. We get more options every day. Competitors are constantly matching and one-upping each other.

As someone who has spent the last 10 years working at the intersection of education and technology, even I’m starting to get exhausted by the constant chase for the latest thing that will revolutionize teaching and learning. It’s hard to keep technology in classrooms for five years now because after year two or three you’ve already heard about the next big thing that some other school started using and you start to feel like your existing hardware and software have already been made obsolete.

For sure, this is a big reason why schools have started to lease technology. If you bought all those iPads, or Chromebooks, or whatever, you’ve got to hang onto them for at least five years (maybe more) in order to get a solid ROI. If you lease, at least you can go to your vendor after year two or three and ask for pricing on the latest thing.

But now look past the hardware/software rat race and think about the people who are affected by this.

You could probably stick anything with a screen in front of elementary students and within a couple days they’ll have a pretty good idea about how they can use it to accomplish basic functions. By middle school, kids are starting to develop more specialized needs…but it still doesn’t take them very long to get up to speed. You get to high schoolers and the demands have gone way up. They might need some serious training on digital citizenship and in-depth how-to’s to help them use the wide variety of applications they’ll need to get through the year. Your worst-case scenario is that the early adopters and students who already have the latest tech at home become your go-to gurus, and maybe you open up a “genius bar” where kids can show other kids how to use the new tech.

What about teachers?

The kids may be able to jump from device to device every few years and not bat an eye, and the new hires may be adept enough to keep up for a while, but – and I don’t mean this in a derogatory fashion – your seasoned veterans who are still figuring out how to use Google, or how to use their smart phone, or what the difference between a tweet and a snap are…they’re going to struggle. They’re great teachers – there’s a reason they’ve been teaching for 10, 20, 30, even 40 years. But as you chase the latest tech trends and switch devices and jump from Microsoft to LibreOffice to Google and back to Microsoft again, you’re leaving them farther and farther behind.

A balance must be kept – the balance between making sure you’ve got the best technology in your students’ hands while making sure that all of your teachers can model good digital citizenship and employ best practices using these new solutions. If the kids are learning with this new tech, teachers have to be teaching with it.

So we have a Catch-22. Districts are being pushed toward the 1:1 model and are focusing their efforts on keeping up with the tech trends, but after a few more advances in tech there won’t be enough people in our schools who can actually use the technology we’re giving to the students.

Do I have a solution for this? Nope.

But it’s a reality that we need to confront head-on.

If there is a solution, part of it lies in strategic planning and putting the decision-making in the hands of people who really understand how technology can be effectively used to transform the teaching and learning process, not just act as an expensive substitute for paper and pencils.

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