A few ways to motivate teachers to use tech by Larry Ferlazzo

Many years ago, I helped operate a soup kitchen on San Jose's (CA) Skid Row. We were well-meaning, but not the most responsible neighbors. One day, I was sweeping around the passed-out men and women on our front porch when a police car drove-up. An officer got out and started yelling at me, saying that we couldn't control things and they received many complaints about us. As the officer continued, one of the men on the porch pulled himself up on the railing and yelled out, "Officer, Larry tries. He tries hard. We just don't listen to him!"

I've often thought about that incident during my nineteen-year career as a community organizer and six years as a public school teacher. I've framed the lesson I learned that day as a question, "Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be effective?" The issue of educational technology is, I believe, no different. Judgmental, frustrated, and angry comments can often be found in the education "blogosphere" as people share their often unsuccessful efforts at integrating ed tech into the learning and teaching culture of their schools.

In my community organizing career, I learned that a key to engaging people to move beyond their comfort zone is to first build a relationship -- a reciprocal one. A relationship entails eliciting from others their hopes and dreams, along with sharing your own. It involves finding learning the frustrations and challenges that people are experiencing. It involves looking for ways to help the other person realize those hopes and dreams and get beyond those challenges. And, if educational technology can genuinely help in those ways, then building a relationship means framing the invitation to try it in a way that speaks to what the other person wants, which may not be the way you would prefer to frame it. It is the difference between "being right" and "being effective." Based on the conversations I've had with many teachers, here are some of the simple ways I've introduced using educational technology as tool reluctant colleagues might want to consider -- after I've developed or deepened relationships with them. I've framed the invitations based on what they've said they wanted, which might or might not be similar to what you learn. Even if they are different, these "A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology" might provide a useful template for you to develop others. When talking about using ed tech, I've found it important to stress two points -- how it helps meet the immediate and direct self-interest of the individual teacher by making things easy and simple, and how it provides added value to the students' learning experience. I'll discuss each of these "Few Ways" in that context.

1) Using a Computer Projector. One simple benefit for teachers is being able to easily show video clips without having to deal a VCR/DVD Projector, or the small size of a TV screen. It vastly increases the number of easily accessible video clips for all subject areas, even if you eliminate YouTube because it's blocked by most school content filters. Yes, there are ways to access even those, but this post is about the easiest ways to introduce people to tech who might not be comfortable with it.

2) Using a Document Camera. Eliminating the need to make transparencies is every teachers' dream if they've been using an overhead projector, and a document camera does the trick. Being able to have students bring their work up to easily show the class models is a great teaching tool.

3) Easily Creating A More Authentic Audience For Student Work. Students can be much more engaged in, and committed to, what they're writing/creating for class if they know the audience is for more than just one person -- the teacher.

Here are some easy ways to make this happen: To Make It Easily Viewable By Other Classmates: Any document, including one in Microsoft Word, can be quickly uploaded to the Internet with File2.ws. All you do is click on your file and seconds letter you're given an url address for it.

Once you have that, though, what do you do with it to make it accessible? There are two options, I think, that make it most feasible to a "reluctant" colleague. One is by simply creating a free blog from Edublogs (since that is the blog host that is least likely to be blocked by school content filters) and having students past the url addresses of their own creations to the blog as a comment. Other students can leave comments in the same area making observations about their classmate's posts. Or they can just write them on a piece of paper to share.

Another way is by having each student email their creation's url address to the teacher. The teacher can then easily copy and paste them to something like Dinky Page, a super-easy website creation tool that doesn't even require registration. Another option is using sites like Posterous or Moomeo, which both allow you to email what you want to appear on your website without even having to go set it up. To Make It Easily Viewable By Others Beyond The Classroom: There are plenty of places where students can easily copy and paste what they've created for class so that others throughout the world can read it. They can also get the url addresses of what they create and post it in one of the ways just mentioned so that classmates, and the teacher, can easily see it. Students can be pretty excited at the possibility, and their level of commitment can increase.

Potential places for students to place what they write (with no added work required from the teacher) include: Timelines is a neat tool that lets users contribute towards making “timelines” of historical events with text, photos, and videos. People can then vote on which ones they like best, though everyone’s contributions appear to remain displayed. It’s extremely easy to contribute — much, much easier than to something like Wikipedia. Google's Knol is also another easy place to use for the same purpose. Students can write book reviews at Shelfari, Library Thing, and Book Army. They can decide a question they want to learn the answer to, post it (or have another classmate post it) on one of numerous question/answer sites) and reearch and write the answer. Good sites for this activity include Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and Wikianswers (yes, the last two are indeed different sites). They can create their own online books at Tikatok or Tar Heel Reader. There are numerous other options, but these are the best ones. Readers can find more at The Best Places Where Students Can Create Online Learning/Teaching Objects For An “Authentic Audience” and at The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience." Yes, these are all small steps. In fact, community organizers call these kinds of things "fixed-fights."

These are the small actions that have an extremely high probability of success that serve as confidence boosters to people trying something new. The next time you're feeling frustrated at a colleague who might be resistant to some educational technology you're trying to introduce him/her to, why not try some relationship-building and simple confidence-boosters instead?

Larry Ferlazzo teaches English Language Learners and mainstream students at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He writes a popular resource-sharing blog at http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/