Listening to the User: Teachers Should Lead

[Edit Note: we were contacted by the author of the original article. He points out that the product they provide was developed by a team of teachers. We believe the article itself provides a good starting point for this discussion, however.]

Not to pick on this guy, but…

This article is titled “10 Ways to Get Teachers Using Tech,” and it’s on the blog of a technology company. The post is typical of the approach being taken: “we are developing technology that would make teaching better. You [apparently the school board or administrators] have to push the teachers into using it.”

In a way, it’s good to see the thought laid out openly like this. His 10 ways include:

  • Ban alternatives for a week
  • Preserve existing routines (at first)

The other steps are pretty standard for introducing technology into a workspace. And it is true that many workspaces greatly improve when the workforce embraces change. More commonly, the technology fails because it turns out not to match the reals needs of the users.

The interesting thing about the Gates Survey that we have been discussing is that it makes it pretty clear that teachers already do understand the need for using technology in the classroom. They have identified six areas in which student-facing digital tools could greatly improve the classroom experience.

These are:

  • Delivering instruction directly to students
  • Diagnosing student learning needs
  • Varying the delivery method of instruction
  • Tailoring the learning experience to meet individual student needs
  • Supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences
  • Fostering independent practice of specific skills

The study did not identify any lack of interest or ability on the part of teachers. Instead, it says:

Teachers have a nuanced understanding of college- and career-ready standards and can identify specific standards for which they have instructional resources and those for which they do not.

We have no doubt that the author of the “10 Ways to Get Teachers Using Tech” is well-intentioned. He is, of course, representing a company that is selling products. But that connection is fully disclosed. Like many technology people we know, he probably genuinely believes teachers would be better off if thy just embraced the technology they are being provided. Sometimes he’s probably right.

But here’s what the Gates Foundation survey suggest about that interaction between digital tools and teacher adoption:

Teachers are just as likely to find effective the free products they use as they are those purchased for them by their school or district.

Teachers don’t get to choose many of the products their students use, but when they are given the opportunity to select them, they are more likely to report that products were effective.

Teachers said they find out about products primarily by word of mouth from other teachers and administrators, at professional meetings, and online via search engines and social media.

What this tells us is that teachers are looking for effective tools. Often, the districts purchase tools that the teachers find not to be effective. If teachers have more input into selection, and presumably into the initial design of tools, we are more likely to fill those gaps in which technology could be doing a lot more to help than it currently is.

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