DAILY INSIGHT: It's time to adopt a more serious approach to tech

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

A recent Education Week article spoke about teaching as a wired profession and teachers being more tech savvy than previous teachers.According to the survey results, only 16% of teachers are using technology to track effort student progress and only 38% are using technology to provide feedback on student work or performance. Here is a link to the article, called "Teaching: A Wired Profession."

Only 58% of teachers say they are using technology to support homework and practice. Although almost two-thirds of teachers are using technology in some way or another, what are we doing about that last third? Assuming that the teachers have access to the necessary technology, how are those teachers embracing the use of technology in the instructional process? Or aren’t they? If not, why not?

If not, what can be done to help more along those teachers who aren’t using technology at least jump into the shallow end of the technology swimming pool?Historically, technology innovation in education hasn’t made much more of an impact than the myriad of other types of “fad” innovations—from open classrooms, programmed instruction, etc. In 1926, Thomas Edison (by most accounts, a pretty sharp guy), stated that “the radio will supplant the teacher. .. …The moving picture will visualize what the radio fails to get across. Teachers will be relegated to the backwoods.” However, the technology of the 1920s and 1930s was replaced by televisions and then microcomputers (to use a wonderfully archaic term). Now we are moving towards a myriad of smaller and more mobile devices. The promise of x (insert new technology here) is always lauded as the vehicle to transform education.That seems to continue to some extent today. One hears technology directors and principals discuss that this new version, device, etc., will be the game changer. We have now figured out that the teacher needs to remain part of the solution, but we haven’t moved forward much more than that beyond 1925.

At what point will we realize that there is no silver bullet or magic device? We need to make sure that administrative expectations about technology use are clear and direct. If two-thirds of teachers are using technology, are most of them truly embracing it or simply playing at the edge of the swimming pool? How can you showcase the real innovators in the classroom without turning off the majority of teachers or setting those pioneering staff members up for ridicule by the Luddites on the staff?

One effective way, assuming that the teacher-evaluation process allows for it, is to insist that one of the lessons your principals observe for all 2nd- or 3rd-year teachers involves the use of technology in the instructional setting. If your evaluation process doesn’t allow for this, it is time to change the evaluation process.As a novice superintendent, my curriculum director and I set similar standards for reading comprehension strategies to be observed during at least one of each 2nd-year teacher’s observations. The teacher was able to set which one of the observations would include the reading strategies, but it was clearly articulated that it had to be observed during the course of the year. This helped to reinforce the professional development provided on those strategies during the year. We made a clear statement that the district believed that use of these strategies was essential across all grade levels and disciplines. It gave first-year teachers motivation to incorporate the strategies so when it was time for their 2nd-year evaluations, they would be used to using them. More senior teachers also received the message and many of those teachers also volunteered lessons to be observed that included those strategies.Reading scores went up significantly. Among special education students, test scores shot up by more than 500%. Working with reading specialists and other teachers, the curriculum director and her team identified five simple strategies that were research proven and the principals and the superintendent reinforced the need to seriously adopt those strategies in every classroom.Change happened for the benefit of students.

If we are to expect teachers to take technology integration seriously, it is time for leadership teams to adopt a more serious approach to the use of instructional technology. We can no longer take the Field of Dreams approach (build it and they will come), but must insist that technology be used in all classrooms for the benefit of all students. Start small, with some simple concise and easily supported methods, but ensure that after staff-development sessions, those methods are observed in the classroom in a systemic way and not allowed to be a hit-or-miss thing depending upon the whim of the teacher. We have tried that method for nearly 100 years; it doesn’t work. It is time to be more direct.

Steven M. Baule is currently superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.