School technology not delivering as promised – is it actually more of a distraction than a help?
The difference between promise and delivery for technology in the classroom today is causing teachers to have to span an impossibly wide gap.
Two years ago Superintendents were asked to sign a Future Ready technology pledge which asked them to do everything they could to bring technology into their schools. The vision that pledge created was of students diligently working on some sort of device not only learning core subject material in an exciting and innovative way, but also becoming little technology experts themselves. The mischaracterization of children being technology resistant like their grandparents, or maybe even parents, thus necessitating exposure to technology as soon as possible, was foolish. A brain with no established neural pathway for a particular tool is actually more apt to readily adapt to a new tool than one which must overwrite existing pathways for a similar older tool. We’ve all seen toddlers immediately take to iPhones and tablets with very little resistance or even parental instruction.
But children have no set expectations for technology and are thus not likely to be frustrated by it. Not so for teachers who have been using older tools in their classrooms for many years. Their experience with the glut of technology aimed at making their teaching better and their jobs easier butts up against the difference between promise and delivery. Not only are they faced with the rapid changes in technology, but also the very real need to set up, data loading and troubleshooting that its use requires. That last issue is highlighted in this post. What they are promised the technology can do does not always materialize in their real world.
A teacher wrote the following on a listservice about her experience with technology in her middle school. It should be an eye opening read for parents who feel like they are the only ones frustrated with technology in their child’s school. Note: I have highlighted All the different software and hardware used in orange.
I will give you an update of what it is like to be a teacher in the trenches with things like Google Classroom and other kinds of technology.
We have completed 8 days of school now, and I am exhausted. We have three new kinds of computer programs this year and all are causing issues. We used to use Google Classroom and were required to do so. I used it to post pdf versions of the lessons I presented on my Smart Board on Google Classroom, along with any ancillary worksheets I used. I also posted announcements to my class, such as a change in the date of a scheduled test.
This year we are required to switch to Canvas. Canvas is a similar program, but much less user friendly. The main reason we were given about switching to Canvas is that it “talks” to Power School, which is the web-based program we use for attendance and grading. Power School’s grading program was recently modified to something called “Power Teacher Pro.” It is rather cumbersome compared to the gradebook that used to come with Power School, and I don’t like it. It does not present information as I wish to see it, and the visuals I want are found on a spreadsheet-like ledger that I keep by hand on paper (i.e. and old-fashioned gradebook).
We also have something called FlexiSCHED that we use for scheduling and marking attendance for AFT (Academic Focus Time), which is a roughly 30-minute period that we have four days a week, designed to give struggling students extra help. Our students stay in our 6th period classes during this time, unless they are called by another teacher for AFT time. I could request a student to come to my AFT time also. Such scheduling is done on FlexiSCHED.
We have around 200 9th graders whose names aren’t on FlexiSCHED for some reason, and we haven’t a clue how to deal with this. Many students are not connected to all of their classes on Canvas and teachers have a ten-step process to go through to get them connected, although sometimes it doesn’t work. Our district went one-to-one with Chromebooks, and there are issues with those as well. One of my students had no navigation arrows on her online textbook yesterday and I was not able to help her. I handed her my teacher book and let her use my book to start her homework.
I will not be using Canvas for quizzes, because in my classes (algebra 2 honors and precalculus honors), I need to see their work, not a response to a multiple-choice quiz or an answer that could have been copied from a neighbor. With 34 kids per class, it is very difficult to monitor the use of the Chromebooks. The other thing is they accidentally ordered Chromebooks that have flip-up cameras, leading to a host of potential issues.
I am still the district math curriculum coordinator, so in my 0.4-time position, I must, among a multitude of other duties, manage the mathematics portion of our district’s website. We used to use Edline as a platform for our website, but Edline was bought out by some other company which does not support Edline any more. That means that we have to use their platform now. I had three hours of training in January for this program and it is the most illogical, convoluted thing I’ve ever seen. On Wednesday, I suddenly found myself having to upload 25 documents to the website for use by K-6 math teachers. I hadn’t uploaded anything since April. I started to do this, and quickly came to a screen that I did not recognize, and had no clue how to navigate. I asked a secretary, who said, “Oh yes, I think they updated that program in the summer.” I do not work during summers, so had no way to know this, and I also had no training on how to use the “update.” Our curriculum director graciously agreed to help me, and we stumbled along to a point where we could upload some documents, after making numerous errors and discovering that we couldn’t structure the view of the documents as we wished. As I was uploading, I also learned that the documents, which had been saved and named, had names that were not acceptable to this new platform, so I had to rename about 16 of them.
I cannot tell you how much extra time I have to spend on tasks that should be easy. Textbooks are monitored using a database. People don’t always enter information correctly, so that it is difficult for the person who monitors locations of books around our district to tell when we need to order more books until someone starts howling that there aren’t enough books.
The word “update” strikes terror into the hearts of teachers. When the tech people push out updates once a week, something generally screws up. Either the Smart Board software acts strangely or something else doesn’t work. For math teachers, any Smart Notebook upgrade results in the loss of Smart Math Tools, which is essential for anyone who teachers high enough level math to need algebraic fractions, radicals, integral signs, etc. Then we all have to wait for tech people to reinstall Smart Notebook for us so that we can edit our existing lessons and create new ones.
I am feeling myself starting to burn out because of the nearly constant struggle with tech issues, particularly when I do not see technology as improving anything about my students’ learning. I gave formative assessments in every class this week, and spent a great deal of time working one-one-one with students, each of whom had different reasons for struggling with the content. Multiple choice quizzes online don’t help me identify such struggles.
What is most concerning about this is that of all this time spent troubleshooting, changing procedures, or finding work-arounds for features that don’t work, is time that is no longer dedicated to teaching children. Districts that have invested in the technology, honoring their Future Ready pledge, have often under-invested in personnel to maintain that capital investment. Teachers with little or no training are acting as IT workers while still holding their job as teacher, all the while making sure children are still learning and are not negatively impacted by dysfunctional technology. They are spanning in an impossibly wide gap between promise and delivery, and as you can see above, they are burning out.