Why Some Teachers Are Against Technology In Education

flickeringbrad-some-teachers-are-against-education-technologyWhy Some Teachers Are Against Technology In Education

by Terry Heick

Some educators are upset.

Recently I’ve noticed an increasing number of ed folks enthusiastically question education technology—and do so with enough sarcasm and bitterness and choice language to embarrass their mothers. If you’re not making some people angry, you’re probably not trying hard enough, but being “for” or “against” technology is a crude sentiment.

I’ve been trying to understand it–and note, this isn’t even about whether or not #edtech is good or bad. This is more about all that hostility. It makes sense to be skeptical of change, especially in an industry with such a mixed history of evolving itself. Every few years someone in education has a bright idea that, for whatever reason, doesn’t light things up the way it might’ve.

This has a few net negative effects, among them a kind of permanent momentum where change comes and change goes. We get used to failure.

Failure is the change.

Some observant educators have noticed this trend, and so preach patience and fidelity when integrating critically necessary new thinking—even when, like scripted curriculum or test-based accountability, that thinking is flawed. This gives us an interesting ecosystem of both pursuing and resisting new ideas.

The Problem With The #edtech Conversation

At first the #edtech skepticism seemed to be formed around the utility and effectiveness of these new learning tools, the same way we might question a new assessment form or academic standards. It seemed to be more singular—this learning tool or that learning tool. Now “technology” seems all lumped together, the iPads with YouTube with social media with mobile learning.

This is a big part of the problem.

Further complicating matters is the difficulty of effectively integrating technology in the classroom. This is hard for some educators (who do it well) to appreciate. You have to understand content, teaching, and technology on nearly equal terms, and when you don’t it all has an awkward way of illuminating the holes in a teacher’s expertise. That doesn’t mean that teachers that question edtech do so simply because they’re not good at it, but rarely do you hear people complain about things they do well.

In truth, however, this is much more than merely bellyaching. There are a lot of very bright educators–who see the same apps and go to the same trainings and read the same blogs and books that you do– that have a real problem with technology in schools.

Where some see a revelation, others see expense, distraction, and a lot of rhetoric.

Technology Is Designed To Stir Emotions. So Here We Are, Stirred.

Education technology is costly. It takes practice and a lot of trial-and-error, and just when you start to find your rhythm, it all changes again. It also naturally disrupts most schools and systems in general, at which point it becomes, whether teachers can see it or not, about pride. An identity thing.

Though new academic standards make technology in learning a matter of both policy and law, policy and law doesn’t inspire anyone. Technology is in your face, flashy, and awkwardly personal—it seeks out our imagination in everything from user interfaces to app design and social integration. A smartphone or a tablet isn’t technology so much as it is a portal to a new way of thinking. Apple designed the iPad so you’d feel an emotional response to it. It is this deep stirring of people that is partially to blame for the anger as well.

Compelling mobile technology is inherently manipulative to both people and the systems those people make up. That means the current system of education is, at best, aging and rickety. And some teachers are ready to burn it all down, and have been for years; for them, technology is transformational.

Others–I think–believe in the simple interaction between learner and content that technology can obscure. For them–maybe–technology is making a lot of noise in a room where they’re trying to get important work done, like a rock band in a library.

And this is where things get stressful. Technology doesn’t make teaching better or worse, simpler or more complex–it changes it all entirely. The frameworks. The models. The training. The instructional design. Curriculum. Lesson design. Assessment. Learning feedback. Classroom management. School design. All of it.

And in a way I’m not even sure edtech proponents are ready for, much less the teachers that have been worried all along.

Honoring The Complexity Of Teaching & Learning

Every educator needs to fully understand what they’re “for” and “against.” If we can summarize our thinking by being “pro” this or “anti” that, we’ve likely under-thought things.

The scuffle around #edtech has distracted us from other far more crucial conversations, including the new learning models like blended learning, self-directed learning, flipped classrooms, mobile learning, and sync teaching that technology enables.

The way forward, then, might just be a more nuanced discussion about how people learn, and what role technology can play in that process. When we can shift the question from “Should we teach with technology?” to “How do people learn best, and how should we design learning experiences in light of prevailing local technology?”, our collective energy and angst may just be consumed by comprehensive matters of clean-sheet learning design and execution.

And fewer of us will have time to be upset.

Why Some Teachers Are Against Technology In Education; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad


  • I think about “technology” and pedagogy in terms of mediation: anything digital that mediates my student’s encounter with literary texts. Definitely guilty of the lumping you notice in the edtech conversation. Which categories would you propose to help us focus on the specificity of learning technologies?

  • I’d recommend you change your opening line to “ticked off” instead of “p***** off.” I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t accept that as an opening sentence in a student essay, so it’s probably not a good idea to use for an educator audience.

    I disagree with your assertion, “Technology doesn’t make teaching better or worse, simpler or more complex–it changes it all entirely.” I agree that tech generally is value neutral, and serves more as an amplifier rather than an improver or a detractor. But I definitely think this is an over-generalization. As the SAMR model highlights, along with ACOT and other frameworks, most teachers start using technology in ways which substitute or accomodate previous ways of doing things non-digitally. It’s possible to work towards transformative uses of tech, and I personally think this should be a goal of technology integration initiatives, but that process is neither natural nor inevitable for most teachers. Educational technology certainly has tremendous potential to be used in transformative ways for learning, but by itself it does not “change everything entirely” in classrooms or in schools. We’ve had computers in schools for over 20 years and in many classrooms, not much has changed. I do think mobile devices and BYOD have more potential to disruptively change education than desktop computers on teachers’ desks or in a computer lab, but I continue to see many schools which are NOT changing their modus operandi and “normal operating procedures” even though tech in various forms is present in both teacher and student hands. To be used as tools for instructional change, technology must be embraced within a pedagogy which is very different than the traditional, content-delivery model of school. Technology by itself doesn’t do this.

    • If you’re thinking of it in terms of a framework or instructional design, you’re correct. I’m thinking of in less analytical and more “emotional” terms. The elephant in the room in education (or one of them anyway) seems to be technology.

      While the SAMR model, for example, may provide an acronym that predicts and labels a kind of hierarchy of edtech use, that is an example of thinking education-out–i.e., education–>classroom–>technology in a pattern that starts in a classroom. If we think of the “real world” first (where tech is born and students live and think and connect and use knowledge), or world–>tech–>classroom, we can see substantive change is coming to classrooms that, because of their limited field of vision, they may not see coming. It’d be like using a model to frame how electricity was changing industry in the early 1900s.

      Put another way, tech (IMHO) will eventually disrupt the “classroom” entirely, above and beyond the limits of most current models. Take the “R” for example–“Redefinition. Allow for new tasks not previously available or conceivable.” That last word is key. We are still (more or less) able to design all the “pieces” of education in the absence of technology. What is and is not “conceivable” is fluid. Right now, a teacher can design a lesson and think “How can I use tech to make it more engaging?” or “How can I use tech to get data faster?” But, as I see it anyway, those days are numbered.

      The days of “lessons” are probably numbered as well. That’s what I mean by “changes everything.” If we assume education as a form stays the same, models like SAMR do indeed work to advise and inform how tech can be used. If we assume that ed itself will change, the SAMR model becomes blind quickly.

      In reality, digital technology already touches almost every single thing we do on a daily basis. We’ve had tech for years, but we haven’t been as obsessively or seamlessly social or connected. That’s a powerful “second wave” of technology that is in many ways the result of mobile-first thinking. Schools are way, way behind here.

      As far as the word choice, that was intentional to reflect a different kind of tone, but it offended lots of folks, so it’s gone. Thanks, as always, for the feedback. Great thinking!

      • I agree there are changes afoot and coming which we can’t imagine or conceive of today… and the disruption definitely IS fundamental. It gets to the basics of “roles” and “identities” of teachers and students in the classroom.

        Eventually we will almost certainly see technology integrated as a seamless and expected part of almost every aspect of learning inside and outside the classroom. I agree that’s our trajectory. Your post seemed to suggest that tech by itself would do this, however, and my point was that it can’t and won’t without substantial change in the ways adults think about learning and interactions focused on encouraging learning.

        I’m not a huge fanboy of SAMR or other frameworks specifically, but I think in general they are helpful for thinking about the “menu” of options which technologies and different instructional strategies offer. I think it’s easy to get overly excited about and focused on the technology, and not focus on some of the other key pieces that are needed to bring about instructional and learning change… esp the transformative types you’re mentioning.

        Thanks for changing your opening verbiage, I think it makes your post more persuasive to a wider audience. 🙂

  • Technology for technology’s sake is my issue–and I’m a technologist.
    I remember hearing (many times) that the new SBAC tests would be better BECAUSE they are on computer. That’s hogwash on its face; technology by itself doesn’t make tasks better, but can open up doors. The SAMR model discusses this well.
    It’s also true that there isn’t enough time to get it right. Teachers are rarely given enough training to implement well; when Outlook was deployed at my school we had zero training; later on teachers were chastised for not knowing how to do group calendars. The same has been true of interactive whiteboards and a whole plethora of other technology releases. Heck, I got more training (45 minutes) on the new copiers than I did on the new attendance system I have to use every day (5 minutes, shared with info about purchase orders).
    Don’t accuse teachers of not wanting to change, or being against EdTech. Instead, give them the training they need to use technology to make a difference in instruction, and they’ll come around.

  • Excellent post. There are another group of teachers that I’ve become aware of recently who know how to use technology effectively; they see how it changes a student’s relationship to learning. And they don’t oppose it. They just don’t like how it changes things. They don’t see that the new way is worth the investment. They don’t believe the gains are worth all the significant extra effort. So they quit teaching and get another job. They are not angry. They lament that some valuable skills and ways of learning and relating are being lost and figure they’re better off changing careers.

  • Fascinating. I wonder how much of this hostility also results from:
    * Any PD encouraging use of tech but w/ horrible examples – “Just imagine how much more interactive it would be if instead of shouting out the answers, kids could run up and hit a $5000 screen.” Jeopardy on a Smart Board isn’t fundamentally different – just more expensive.
    * Bad experiences when pushed to incorporate tech that is then filled with blocks and limits by district I.T., never available in sufficient quantity for students to use, doesn’t work when needed, etc. Chalk never needs a critical update. I was in a district years in which the laptop lab was only fully up and running once a year when the board was touring sites. Even then, teachers with really small classes were told to use it for something that day so there’d be enough. In other words, maybe the problem isn’t always the tech itself.
    * General perception among teachers that the message is “you’re doing it wrong” or “you’re not progressive enough.” We’re a rather martyred bunch sometimes, and even when we’re not, there’s a fine line between “this might be good for kids” and “here’s one more example of how you’re just never going to reach them and it’s your fault.”
    * Mostly, though, I think you nailed it with the ‘for/against’ part. Too often, hostility and resentment become substitutes for convictions. Writing something off allows us to feel passionate about the field without having to deal with huge chunks of relevant scholarship or discussion. Once we ’embrace’ or ‘despise’ #edtech, TFA, Common Core, flipped models, alternative scheduling, charter models, etc., we have the validation of strong feelings but don’t have to deal with the complexities.
    Great piece.

  • My problem comes when I have multiple trainings on new ways I should be using technology in my class, yet half of my students still have flip phones and dial up.

    • This seems to me to be the biggest issue, and I’m shocked that no one else has mentioned it. Using technology in schools, however transformative you think it can be, only works if you have the technology to use. BYOD works for kids who have devices. Period. At that level, it doesn’t even matter what you’re doing with it–what matters is that we’re talking about how important technology is, but there’s been little concerted effort to make sure that ALL students and schools have equal access to it. And if it’s so important, so transformational, then why aren’t we making sure the neediest learners have it? If we’re not doing that, I think it’s just another way of disenfranchising kids who don’t have enough, and telling them that their success doesn’t matter. And that is not transformational. That’s what schools in the US have been doing for years. We don’t need expensive technology to help us do that.

  • There is bound to be educators strongly against the use of so much technology in the class room and it’s these teachers that need extra time and training to adjust. Get over it and train them! If teachers are to be successful in an ever changing technological world then they need to be given the chance to adapt to this change. Simplify things for them and provide a school/district wide platform that teachers will be able to easily navigate and customize to their needs. Sorry tech, but get on the bus or you will be left behind without a job. @techersurvival #techersurvival

    • All good stuff – SO the key is designing software and technology that works easily, intuitively and breaks down the cynicism. My wife (not a negative woman) was struggling with refinding a photo on my iPhone and mumbling (the sorts of things echoed above) when my 28 month old grand daughter took the phone – sorted the photo and handed it back – WITHOUT A PAUSE in her speech. The look on my wife’s face was amazing. I am busy in the second year of a software launch and we are really trying to emulate that simplicity. It is working and folks love our software, “It’s brilliant” said one user…”It makes evaluating and planning (almost) enjoyable” we’re getting there….by the time my grandaughter is my age it will all be a lot simpler…

  • I noted that this blog post focused on teacher use of technology not learners representing what they know through creating products with technology. It’s a subtle difference missed by many but I digress. As a teacher at any level, you are never done with learning how to be a better teacher and since we learn best through our mistakes, should we not be modeling that to our students instead of getting huffy about technology messing the old status quo up or perhaps looking bad in front of your students. I really do think its about what Carol Dweck has stated about those who believe their intelligence is fixed vs those who believe theirs is malleable. Give me a teacher with malleable insight every time.

    • Thanks for your response. As I see it, students demonstrating what they know is a part of teaching. It’s inherent in the above–just didn’t make a clear distinction.

  • “Content, teaching, and technology are nearly equal parts.” I never thought of technology as equal to the other two components of education, but I think at this point it’s true. I also agree with the point in the article that with people talk about technology in education they are lumping social media and frivolous topics into the mix and minimizing the importance of tech in the world of education.
    From what I have observed, and experienced to some degree, I think fear of change and fear of failure are two other reasons why some teachers are “against” of technology. I would have like to see this addressed in the article.

  • The issue is that those developing the technologies and those doing the teaching are very different groups. Quite often those making the technology take short cuts due to low funding which make the products useless. For example, their are oodles of programs out there designed to adapt to individualized students in order to teach math and other curriculum at one level. They tend to be terrible because they hire someone at rock bottom prices off of Craigslist to write the questions. There is so much bad programs out there, its hard to sift through to find the good ones. Ultimately good lessons are expensive, or self created and adding technology to the mix doesn’t change that fact. Ultimately lesson plans evolve but in a way that technology doesn’t understand. Ultimately the newest in ideas about what to teach needs to merge with how to teach it and that’s whats not happening. Science is probably the only area where the two merge in a decent way. The fact that science modeling cannot improve without improved technology means that teachers are using it in the classroom. Often times technology in the classroom is an idea looking for a problem rather than a need leading to a solution.

  • Seems that everyone fears the unknown, and certainly technology gives us much of that. I am tired of so many educators unwilling to flex from their same old way of doing things. Thank goodness that other industries are not following those examples. I would not want a doctor who would not look at x rays or use the equipment that makes their job more precise and accurate, so why do we settle for teachers who do? Can teachers not self-train? Are they not able to learn on their own? I mean seriously I did not master my i-phone until some time just having and using it…and NO ONE ever came and provided me with training!

  • The ‘rock band in the library’ metaphor expresses my gut reaction very well. I am not allergic to tech, but negating the personal impact in favor of shiny toys feels disrespectful.
    Replacing teachers who do not contribute a personal touch in their classrooms with podcasts, YouTube, etc., available 24/7, may actually represent a step up for some kids. Sadly in some (hopefully few) cases you are simply replacing a Tool with a tool. I’d like to think in most cases you’re adding a layer between the student and the teacher that inhibits thinking interactions rather than encouraging them.

  • I would like to challenge the idea that technology by itself doesn’t make tasks better. Cars, trains, ships, and airplanes have made travel better. Computers have made accessing and managing vast amounts of information better. Electricity and related appliances have made living better. Any article on computerized assessments will provide the uninitiated half a dozen ways in which electronic tests can make assessments better. That doesn’t mean that current computer tests are better right now but it is easy to see how they will be in the near future.

  • Technology is the future of education, but unless we, as a nation, are willing to pay to give our youth the tools needed to compete in a changed world, we’re doomed. Flipped classrooms are great, but unless every kid has access to the online content provided, some will always fall behind. We used to have the most educated workforce in the world because – again, as a nation – we committed to it.

  • Great article Terry! Technology infrastructure means nothing without the human infrastructure to support it, which is what, I think teachers (perhaps some administrators) are figuring out. Device in hand is just the start–the same expectations we have of technology > we should also place on our teachers, on our school culture and our school leaders.

  • Hi there. I am a student at Northcliff High School. Technology has totally changed the way that I learn. I developed my own technique and system of using my iPad during class. I was able to manage my time so profficiently as to play two first team sports, come up top of my grade academically, have weekends for family/friend time and a “life” as most teenagers would call it. I realised that most of my peers were keen to use iPads to improve their time-management or academic marks and thus I noticed a gap in the market. I wrote “Teen Guide to School iPad Use” which is now available on the ZA Books Store for R50. I would like to raise the awareness of using iPads effectively in class time and hope to speak at various schools integrating technology into their classes. If you would like to have me speak at your school, I would be honoured. You can contact me via my website: http://www.tanyameyer.co.za

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