Years ago, while discussing technology in the classroom with a senior colleague of mine, he proclaimed that, “The best and most transformative piece of education technology I have ever seen in all my years teaching, is the overhead projector!” His reasoning for placing the lowly overhead projector at the pinnacle of the EdTech pyramid was pretty solid. It was simple to use, it improved his ability to efficiently relay information and if something went wrong (ie. burnt out light bulb) he could fix it himself.
If we take these three criteria and use it as a lens through which we view educational technology today, much of what we consider “good education technology” would certainly fail to meet his definition. In fact, many school districts employ digital integration specialists to help other teachers implement technology because those three criteria, efficiency, simplicity and fixability are not hallmarks of EdTech today.
I am going into my fifth year as a one of those Digital Integration Specialist (DIS) and whether by prudence or premonition, my DIS partner(s) and I have been keeping track of what kind of technology related assistance the teachers in our school have needed over the years. Recently we hit the 1000th support contact and as mundane as the numbers appear, they tell a tale of teachers’ relationship with technology in the classroom.
For the purpose of this post I have distilled the Digital Support Categories as seen in the chart below. They reflect the kind of help that is asked for on a day-to-day basis. Keep in mind, these numbers are not precise. We did our best to keep track of all our support contacts, but some were not logged. With that said, I believe that the numbers accurately represent our work.
GAFE Average- 25.7%
High: 2015/16 – 34.9%
Low: 2017/18 – 11.6%
Our school district became a GAFE district 4 years ago and as Google Apps For Education evolves so does the needs of our teachers. In the beginning, our time revolved around student logins and classroom setup. Now that the majority of our teachers are comfortable with the basics of GAFE, our time is used for answering “Is it possible…?” questions as it relates to providing students with different ways to demonstrating learning in the GAFE environment.
What is interesting about the stage we are in now, is that some of our teachers have become GAFE “experts” in their own right. They have created their own unique ways of using Google Classroom and for the most part it seems teachers have become comfortably competent with the platform.
Tech Support average 35.1%
High: 2017/18 – 40.1%
Low: 2014/15 – 32.1%
This remains the most significant part of our job. If something isn’t working, we are the go to people to get things up and running. “My projector isn’t working”, “My student can’t log in!”, “YouTube won’t play”, “Someone took my HDMI cable!”… They are all on the fly request for help from teachers who are usually in a panic. The teacher’s lesson is hinging on that piece of technology or media working and if it doesn’t, then people get upset.
This type of support doesn’t seem to be in line with what the Digital Integration Support position is all about, but it is vitally important to the success of any effort to make a school more technologically oriented. If you want teachers to use technology, it had better work and if it doesn’t, you had better have someone around that can make it work before 30 kids walk into that classroom.
Government Data Management System average – 10.4%
High: 2014/15 – 15.7%
Low: 2016/17 – 4%
Back in the day, keeping track of kids seemed to be simpler. Was the kid in attendance, yes or no? Mark it on an attendance sheet. Did they complete their homework, yes or no? Mark it in your grade book. everything went into those red coil planners where the information remained until it was time to share it out three times a year when report cards came out.
Now every last bit of information is managed by a Ministry issued Data Management System that always seems to be a throwback to the previous decade in appearance and functionality. The single biggest issue revolves around the navigation of the interface, especially around report card time. Intuitive is not a word I would use to describe our current DMS, therefore we spend a lot of time walking teachers through the labyrinth that is MyEdBC. With that said however, the current system takes up far less of our time than the previous system, the much maligned BCESIS.
Phone Setup average – 2.7%
High: 2018/19 – 8.9%
Low: 2016/17 – 1.8%
I could have just merged this item into the Tech Support category, but this area of support seems to have a special place in teachers’ expectations. Teachers want their phones to work seamlessly with the school WiFi and email system and god help you if it doesn’t.
Curriculum Support average – 26.1%
High: 2017/18 – 34%
Low: 2018/19 – 19.8%
Last but not least is the Curriculum Support area of support. This area of support revolves around helping teachers re envisioning how they can not only teach using technology, but how students can demonstrate learning using technology. When the position of Digital Integration Specialist was created, it felt that this would be the area most of our time would be spent. Helping teachers with digitizing their teaching has always been the goal, but it hasn’t really turned out that way. I have a couple thoughts as to why this has happened, but that is for another blog post.
Many quick conclusions could be made by looking at these numbers, but what I see is this. The simplicity of the overhead projector is no longer the reality of Educational Technology today. A teacher’s instructional environment is far more complex than ever before and to expect our teachers to be experts with using all this technology is just silly.
We want our teachers to be content experts. We want them to build good relationships with students and be able to accurately assess their learning. We want teaching to be about the teacher student relationship and not the technology they use. As technology becomes more intuitive, perhaps my role will diminish or perhaps it will just evolve, but I am guessing at some point even I will become too old and addle-brained to keep up and a AI will eventually take my place.