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7 answers to teachers intimidated by tech

April 17, 2013

Photo on 2013-04-12 at 4.28 PM #4“Finally!”, some teachers let out; “OK”, most acknowledged; “This is wrong! No way!”, the most vocal, yet frightened, of the group shouted out…

Sound familiar?

It’s the typical reaction to any change to the culture of a school… We’ve all witnessed it. (Have you ever noticed how, when you speak to a teacher, they always say “My school”‘ as if they owned it? No wonder change can be so difficult even if it is, sometimes, for the better!) We can all identify with at least one of the three groups above. Odds are that, if you are reading these words, you have at least started to question the way we are preparing, or not, our students for their future. But we can’t expect everyone to agree with our point of view, regardless of which one we adopt.

My high school has recently begun a transition to a full ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policy. Starting next September, iPods, cell phones, tablets and laptops will not only be tolerated, but students will be encouraged to bring them to class and connect them to the Internet. Teachers will also be encouraged to consider, when they prep, the access to knowledge that these devices allow as well as take advantage of the newly available collaborative and creative possibilities that they offer for both their students and themselves.

And, as expected: “Finally!”, some teachers let out; “OK”, most acknowledged; “This is wrong! No way!”, the most vocal, yet frightened, of the group shouted out… Yet most, if not all of the apprehensive group are great teachers! They know their stuff and have been role models for younger teachers for years. But the only thing they have ever heard about Twitter is the 140 character limit (How could anyone thoroughly express an opinion, with all its subtleties, in such little space?), they associate Facebook with teenage bullying because it makes the local news headlines, they hate taking attendance online and reading email because their classroom computer hasn’t been working well for 3 years and nobody has come in to fix it, they know that most of the kids that fall asleep in class were on a computer playing video games all night (even if this is parenting issue, not a tech issue) and besides, if students aren’t doing as well as they used to, it has to be because this new generation has changed, because ‘I, the teacher, haven’t changed and students used to do fine in my classes’.

And you know what? They’re right. This generation of students has changed. That’s the point. It may be for the better or it may be for the worst, but either way, it’s here. We have to adapt.

So how do we alleviate some of the fear that these teachers feel when thinking about letting tech into their classroom and having to change how they teach?

It all starts with a conversation, and then another:

When people question a change, they are demonstrating an interest in the business and their role in it. They may not understand the reason for the change and the benefits it will provide, or may have a different perspective based on facts and experiences that are unknown to the leader. Either way, resistance is the beginning of a conversation about what is best (…)” — Phil Buckley, author of Change with confidence: Answers to the 50 biggest questions that keep change leaders up at night  (

Here are a few tips and answers of my own to the 7 most common concerns that have come to my attention lately:

1 – students will continually be distracted by their phones

It is true that cell phones or any other device connected to the Internet can become a source of interest outside of what you had planned. Paula Naugle (‏@plnaugle) recently ‘tweeted’: “A philosophy in my classroom: phones and tablets on TOP of a desk are tool.  Under the desk are a distraction.” And it works! Just like other class rules, be it chewing gum or writing on the desk, make your expectations clear, tell your students why the rule is important to you and what the consequences will be if they transgress it. It isn’t more complicated than that.

This being said, students are human. Well, most of them anyway. Even we, teachers, can be distracted (Ever watch to see who is really paying attention in staff meetings?). But most of the time it’s because we and what we are asking them to do are boring. I’m not saying that we all have to become full time entertainers but, if you’re going to address a group of people, you should at least think of how you’re going to get their attention before you worry about not keeping it. (For further thoughts on this, please refer to my previous article: Hoping to motivate students with tech?

2 – I don’t know how any of these devices work!

I don’t think anyone today with a teaching degree is young enough to have been born a ‘digital native’ (Thanks again, Mr. Prensky!). Teachers do not need to have mastered technology to allow it in their classrooms. Let students experiment! Simply start by providing situations when they can use it! You’re assigning a project? Instead of having them hand in the information you requested as an essay, give them the option to hand it in differently. I’ve had students hand in videos, radio podcasts, make a model and present it to the class and, also, essays. As long as all the information is there, why not? You might be surprised of how motivated your students may become!

3 – I don’t want to have to change everything I do. I’ve been working on my lesson plans for years!

You don’t have to! Start with little things like, when a student asks a question for which you don’t have an answer, ask a student to look it up! Isn’t that what we would do in real life?

4 – What do I do if the tech stops working in the middle of a lesson?

Any tool can break. And although the technological devices we have today are having a much greater impact on society then a simple tool would, they can still stop functioning at the most frustrating times. But this was also the case when our backlight projector bulbs burned out or when our erasable markers went dry.  Whenever possible, you need a plan B. If not, a second lesson plan.

5 – students don’t know how to write anymore

It is true that some of the strengths and weakness of this generation are different than the ones we had. But it would be a mistake to conclude that their reading and writing levels are below what ours were. Most may not be as good at writing essays, but their understanding of the subtleties of ‘texting’ language is far superior to our own! Also, teens actually spend more time reading then we did, but the device supporting the words have gone from mostly books, newspapers and magazines to electronic displays. And, as with every new wave of teenagers since the 1950’s, the language they use is cryptic and constantly changing. Do they always use proper spelling and grammar? Of course not. But neither did we when we were either ‘passing notes’ in class or speaking with a friend on the phone ‘till way too late at night. Take a minute to browse a student written online blog; you may be impressed by what you read!

I’m not sure how it is elsewhere, but teachers in Quebec like to complain by comparing present day test results to the ones of before the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s. But they forget that, back then, only a select few went to school long enough to be tested! Today, school is mandatory for everyone, regardless of how academically inclined you are.

6 – What about cheating? 

Students were cheating well before recent tech was invented. Cheaters try to cheat! But if you tell the kids to leave their electronics at the front or the back of the classroom in a designated place, the risk is minimal (They put their textbooks away, don’t they?). Will you once in a while catch a kid reading notes off his/her phone when they thought you weren’t looking? Of course. You probably already have, even if the tech is NOT allowed in your classroom yet.

7 – We didn’t use the Internet in class when we grew up; and we did just fine!

Our teachers prepared us well for the industrial age. But weather we like it or not, the way we inform ourselves, create, collaborate and share has changed.

Don’t our students deserve to be prepared for their future instead of ours?


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One Comment
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