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How can teachers deal with technology overload?

January 9, 2010

I have just submitted this article to TESOL Arabia Perspectives . It is due to appear in the issue that comes out before the annual TESOL Arabia conference in March, 2010. I was invited to write it as a “reader response” to Allan, J. (2009) Are language teachers suffering from technology overload? TESOL Arabia Perspectives 16,2: 22-23. If you wish to quote from it, cite its appearance in this Ning, and do note that there should be a print version by March, though it is still subject to editing, so wording may vary.

In his recent article in Perspectives, John Allan reported giving staff development sessions on Web 2.0 to colleagues in Qatar where only ten percent attended. Speculating that this might be due in part to technology overload, Allan inventoried the technology competencies that teachers need in order to cope in the modern workplace. These include familiarity with CALL, Office applications, accessibility tools for special needs students, Internet resources, data storage, virtual learning environments, media editors and manipulation tools, learning management systems, security systems, a range of administrative software including gradebooks, virtual private networks (VPNs), software for human resources, and modern AV equipment such as interactive whiteboards and mobile communications devices.

I agree that teachers are challenged by a need to master so many new skills, but these competencies have been needed since the turn of the century, and the skill set has enlarged further in the first decade of the 21st century. Now, in order to do the job even better or possibly even move to another in the future, teachers need in addition to be familiar with some of the following skills and concepts (adapted from Stevens, 2008):
1. Web 2.0 and social networking
2. RSS and feed readers
3. Podcasts (harvesting and producing them)
4. Microblogging (e.g. Twitter, Edmodo)
5. Distributed and personal learning networks
6. Aggregation and tagging
7. Digital storytelling and applications of multimedia to new literacies
8. Communities of practice and connectivism
9. Informal / just-in-time (JIT) learning
10. Synchronous communication tools such as: instant messaging, online presentation venues incorporating interactive whiteboard, voice, and video
11. Asynchronous collaborations tools such as: blogs, wikis, Voicethread, Slideshare, Google docs, etc.

Allan suggests that technology competencies impose a burden, but isn???t learning new technologies a responsibility? Many educators (Warlick, 2007, for example) have made the point that it???s no longer possible to learn in school skills that will sustain knowledge workers throughout their careers, nor to even assume that their profession will exist at the end of the next decade. In listing several college majors that didn???t exist ten years ago, Fisch and McCleod (2007) point out that we are training students now for jobs that haven???t been invented yet.

Prensky (2005) called on teachers to use technology in ways that would engage students, not enrage them and turn them off to learning. Prensky caused a stir when he said recently that teachers should not be allowed to use interactive white boards, whereas their students should (Stevens, 2009). An understanding of why he said that lies at the heart of what teachers need to know about technology.

Prensky???s comments were prompted by his belief that the use of technology by many teachers tends toward the low end of a scale ranging from functional to transformational. In Selber???s (2004) characterization of multiliteracies in the 21st century, functional literacy means basically coping with the technology to meet current demands (and whether you regard technology as being one of those demands or as helping you meet those demands would place you somewhere on an attitudinal curve). The higher skills, critical and rhetorical, refer more to your ability to see where this is taking you and your students, and being able to manage that direction wisely, to understand the issues and then articulate them in discourse with others in your profession or network. Bloom???s taxonomy has been revisited to incorporate digital skills (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001; from Forehand, 2005). Allan???s listed competencies fall midway up that taxonomy (remembering, understanding, applying) whereas reaching the top of the taxonomy requires analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

All professionals suffer from technology overload. This load is not as heavy for teachers as it is in other professions, e.g. medical, engineering, chemistry, physics. Yet, teachers of students going into these professions are responsible for training students how to learn. Students need autonomous learning skills in order to keep on top of their professions when they get out in the real world. Since teachers are expected to model the adaptive skills needed, no teacher can rest on a static skill set (Stevens, 2007).

In our era, knowledge is no longer so much a matter of internalization of facts as it is the ability to locate facts when needed, utilizing a network of peers who can help you access information. The job of a teacher is in some respects to learn along with the students, partly by connecting with other teachers also learning how to use technology to re-learn how to learn.

People entering the workplace now are deluding themselves if they think they can stay current in their field based on what they learned in college. Fortunately, teachers tend to constantly improve their skill sets through attendance at conferences and workshops and participation in online communities of practice, and administrators should be encouraging this through reduced teaching loads and allocation of other resources.

Teachers might wish to avoid workshops when they sense that their participation is directed top-down, as prescribed by administrators who may not fully understand staff needs with regard to professional development. One solution is to offer workshops bottom-up, as something staff organize themselves. Ideally there are staff who feel themselves as part of a community of practice and who engage other members of the community in activities and discourse which would improve the practice of all participants. Wenger???s studies (see Wenger, 2004, for an overview) suggest that it is not possible for employers to jumpstart communities of practice, rather they must create an environment encouraging their growth.

Cofino (2008) lists conditions for getting an institution to make “the shift to a 21st century learning environment.” While recognizing the importance of management providing ???official acknowledgment of the vision and philosophy and clear expectations that change will happen,??? Cofino sees the need for officially designated change agents ensuring that infrastructure is in place, making clear why change is needed, helping formulate a framework for change, and seeing that models for change are translated into curriculum.

Once an institution grasps the need for a paradigm shift, then those farthest along in making that shift can help others transition to the other side. Because it is a paradigm shift, the old ways of managing this transition may not be the most effective. Part of the shift is encouraging networking through the use of ???social media???, thus enabling individuals to collectively take responsibility for their own learning in ways that management might upset if operating in more traditional top-down ways. In other words, rather than set up a series of professional development workshops taking place at times that might not suit everyone???s schedule, teachers might be encouraged to organize training sessions themselves that would utilize synchronous and non-synchronous social media tools (perhaps not called ???training??? sessions outright). There are many models that might seed development through communities of practice: use of Nings, for example, or spontaneous un-conferences. Bar camps, LAN parties, and speed-geeking are all formats that focus spontaneity, informal learning, and class-roots energy into positive learning outcomes for those who participate (see http://classroots.org/; the other concepts are all covered in Wikipedia).

Such initiatives reverse the directionality of the impetus to learn. Rather than the onus being on teachers to learn prescribed technologies, such events encourage teachers to scaffold one another as they might ideally interact with students, and when they do this using social media, they learn about the next generation of educational technologies while working together. In other words, rather than considering technology a burden, teachers should use it in ways seen to be effective with anyone assuming the role of student. But in order for this to happen, teachers need to be encouraged through sufficient time relieved from teaching and marking to develop productive professional networks and interact with them.

References

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition. New York : Longman.

Cofino, K. (2008). Making the shift happen. Always Learning. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://mscofino.edublogs.org/2008/02/24/making-the-shift-happen/.

Fisch, K. & McCleod, S. (2007). Did you know 2.0. YouTube. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: .

Forehand, M. (2005). Bloom’s taxonomy: Original and revised.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Bloom%27s_Taxonom….

Prensky, M. (2005). “Engage me or enrage me” What today’s learners demand. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0553.pdf.

Selber, S. (2004). Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Stevens, V. (2009). Prensky on interactive whiteboards, should teachers be ‘allowed’ to use them? AdVancEducation. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://advanceducation.blogspot.com/2009/04/prensky-on-interactive-….

Stevens, V. (2008). New millenium professional development. AdVancEducation. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://advanceducation.blogspot.com/2008/03/ive-been-asked-to-propo….

Stevens, Vance. (2007). The Multiliterate Autonomous Learner: Teacher Attitudes and the Inculcation of Strategies for Lifelong Learning. Independence, Winter 2007 (Issue 42) pp 27-29. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://www.learnerautonomy.org/VanceStevens.pdf.

Warlick, D. (2007). Inventing the new boundaries. K12 Online Conference 2007. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=144.

Wenger, E. (2004). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm.

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4 Comments
  1. Rita Abdelnour permalink

    Thank you Vance for sharing your article. It is sometimes a vicious circle between instititions and staff with each listing a number of insurmountable obstacles to the shift you’ve referred to. Administrations claim that teachers need time to collaborate in department meetings concerning assessment, methodology, remedial work, etc. before they embark in experimenting in technology. It is as if technology is a dimension of its own, and not a need that can affect these tasks. Teachers, on the other hand, struggle to meet the deadlines and as you mentioned are overloaded with teaching and grading. It is definitely a matter of attitude, initiative, and vision. Then there is the issue of collaboration. One teacher can make very little difference. His/her effort & enthusiasm alone will not create the task force needed to create the shift.

  2. Kaija Tuomainen permalink

    I couldn’t agree more Vance, thanks for sharing this article and many useful sources.<br>How do teachers deal with technology overload when the administration imposes continuously new demands and VLEs changing every two years etc etc? If they are wise they <b>ignore</b> it to be able to deal with their core function: teaching, and many teachers still rightfully feel their main task is to teach. If they are enthusiastic they do it for their own professional development and for involving the students in the learning process. Then you can only accept that you are learning, too, and you are not ahead of your students most of the time as far as technology is concerned. It has to be admitted that learning the technology and learning how to use it in a sensible way takes a lot of time. Sufficient resources are important, but as said in the article it’s about a major shift in attitudes. Our students may be digital native and multitasking but they need guidance in learning to learn individually and together, anyway.

  3. Jim Buckingham permalink

    Vance.. I can see where both Allan and you are coming from.<br><br>My read of Allan’s comment?<br>Allan is wondering how an educator can make sense of all of this push to integrating technology when the "bottom line" for most teachers is "are the students learning what they need to learn?" and if so, why do they need this other "stuff"? It’s been my experience that it’s not the tech itself that’s the problem, it’s the problems of integrating it and the demands on time and energy required to realize its integration when the bottom line is still "get the job done". When time and energy resources are already scarce, it can seem hard to justify. In short, it’s been my experience that today’s teachers need to be very very pragmatic and mercenary in how they work to "get the job done".<br><br>My read of your position?<br>You rightly mention that knowledge is no longer about internalizing facts but instead more and more about how to find them when you need them. You rightly make the point that such skills are required of students if they’re ever going to "make it" in the world of tomorrow (which actually seems to be where we are already). You rightly mention the need for educators to take control of their own professional development . that they shouldn’t wait for administrators to direct them on it.<br><br>Yet.. the system is in many ways still no where near to being set up to encourage educators<br>a) to realize what the future needs for students are and how to "educate" students to get there<br>b) to parse already scarce time and energy to incorporate what for many is a major commitment to self directed professional development and a type of pd that can work against what educational management may still be promoting – the old paradigm.(i.e. promotions are often still not founded so innovation)<br>c) to invest already scarce time and energy with a lot of unknowns about what their "return on investment" will be<br><br>It may be on this last angle that we need to explore. How can technology help instructors "get the job done"<br>what is the "job"?<br>how can technology work to enhance my job with "my" students?<br>how can it demonstrate tangible benefits for "my" students?<br><br>There’s a bit of a dichotomy here. How to make transparent the benefits of using technology in education in general.. and yet support the reality that the use of technology needs to be adapted to meet the needs of our students in a specific context. I’d want to argue that there lies the professional challenge for educators .. and the real root of the problem here in using technology in education. There lies the chance for teachers to break from the expectation that management often has of them as "technicians" encouraging them to look for and use quick fix, off the shelf answers to problems, to instead define themselves as "professionals" – people who can judiciously adapt the myriad of tech solutions to design instruction that meets the needs of their students in their specific context.

  4. Nina Liakos permalink

    Thanks to Vance for sharing this article and to Jim, Kaija and Rita for their thoughtful comments. I don’t see my institution giving teachers release time to learn about applying new technologies, however, They would like us to do it on our own, or somehow schedule it into already-busy days. This year, even "old-fashioned" PD (the TESOL Convention) is not being supported with funds (not a night in a hotel, not a dollar toward the registration fee) because of our precarious financial position (understandable but frustrating). Most of our faculty are pretty tech-savvy and interested in exploring new tools, but it’s all on our own time/dime.

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