In all the excitement around what technology can do for education, the frustrations of the teachers faced with using it often get drowned out. Even educators who embrace the idea of using more technology with their students have found that it brings its share of challenges. And many of them feel powerless to address those challenges on their own.
The most common complaints teachers have about bringing more tech into the classroom can be boiled down to the five categories below. To fix them, teachers and administrators will have to work together. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but we’ve got a few ideas to help.
Teachers don’t wake up one day knowing how to use the new technology they’re expected to work with. Many of the tech tools schools invest in require training. Teachers are busy already and are understandably wary of adding one more thing to their very full plates — especially if they must do so without the in-depth support they really require.
Bring mobile devices into the classroom and on the one hand you get a lot of creative educational uses. On the other, allowing your students to bring these devices into the classroom is essentially adding a tool for constant distraction. Some of the technology meant to help teachers becomes disruptive when put into the hands of mischievous students. This gives teachers who just want to teach one more thing to police.
Let’s say a teacher is 100% on board with a new web-based technology and bases her entire lesson plan one day around it. But then the internet doesn’t work – nothing but buffering for the whole period. If schools are quicker to buy new products than they are to invest in support staff and infrastructure, they’re setting educators up for trouble.
The money for tech has to come from somewhere and if it’s being pulled from services that teachers value more, they aren’t going to be excited about it. Worse, for teachers at some schools tech presents a bigger problem: their students are left out of the fold. Assignments that require tech that students don’t have access to puts them at a clear disadvantage.
Teachers are used to doing things a certain way that works for them. Being told that they should instead do things this other way (that involves learning a new product) is a hard sell. If they aren’t convinced the tech adds value for them and their students, why bother taking the time to deal with it? And even if they do see the value a new piece of tech can add, if it’s simply reinventing a strategy that already works, they may not feel its worth the effort.
Teachers are typically problem solvers, ready to tackle whatever issue comes their way. But some challenges they face can’t be fixed without help and collaboration.
As is the case in so many situations, proper communication is key to collaborating with your administration to solve your school’s tech challenges. It may take a little bit of extra work and organization on the teachers’ part, but if you can find a successful middle ground, it will pay off.
Some administrators may fall victim to “shiny object syndrome,” a malady known to afflict people in all sorts of professions and walks of life. When they hear a great pitch from a salesperson, the excitement of what seems possible with a new tech product may trump taking the time to understand if it’s something teachers and students really need.
Make a case to your administration that the school’s funds won’t be spent in the most useful way unless teachers are consulted in the decision-making process. You’re the ones on the ground seeing the challenges students face every day, which makes you perfectly situated to properly identify the solution. Where possible tie your argument back to ROI and cost savings, so you’re speaking their language.
A complaint here and there may be something administrators hear and care about, but to turn that feedback into action it helps to bring it up in the right way, at the right time.
Have a meeting with the other teachers to discuss your concerns. If it’s too hard to get everyone together outside of business hours, try meeting virtually in a forum or start an email thread instead. Whatever the format, communicating with each other gives you the chance to identify the main difficulties you all have in common.
Collect those most common complaints and discuss some possible solutions to propose for them. Then carefully construct a letter or proposal to the administration that makes a persuasive case for your suggestions. The language you use here is important, and being able to show it comes from many of you rather than just one or two should help increase its priority level.
Many of the teachers struggling to learn new technology aren’t resistant to the idea of it; they just don’t have the time. And even if they could make the time, they at least need acknowledgement from higher up that their time is valuable, and that squeezing in one more thing is a big ask.
To get teachers on board, the school should offer some kind of incentive. Maybe it could be in the form of money, maybe some extra vacation time. In a cash-strapped school, the administration may have to get creative (it might help if teachers offer administrators ideas). The point is to make sure teachers know their time is appreciated.
In addition to being involved during the purchasing process, teachers should regularly have the chance to weigh in on any issues they encounter. If a bad internet connection keeps slowing down lessons, administrators should know.
A teacher-led tech committee can weigh in on whether or not more support staff is needed or if a certain type of technology isn’t working out after all. They can bring to light challenges the administration won’t see on its own to ensure they have a better chance of being addressed.
This is one you don’t actually need the administration for at all. Some shared Google Drive files can be turned into an idea bank for providing each other with inspiration. One teacher that’s having a hard time figuring out what they could possibly use that new tech product for can benefit from another teacher’s notes on something cool they did with it.
An idea bank can help inspire creativity amongst the teachers and make it possible to build off each other’s ideas to create even better ones. Knowing how the technology has benefitted other teachers can go a long way toward getting a hesitant instructor to give something new a try.
Obviously neither of these lists is entirely comprehensive. And as technology evolves and new shiny objects get attention in the education space, new challenges will inevitably arise. Most of those challenges will be much easier to overcome if teachers and administrators work out a system now to communicate and collaborate better over time.