The Revolving Door of Technology in Education


Let’s keep this relatively short and simple shall we? I’ve spent just a month shy of 10 years in education, and I feel as though some days I know just about as much as I did on day one in the teaching field. I’m not going to call it an industry, because that term would only serve to acknowledge the increasingly perverse ways that educational institutions are being transmogrified (or at least attempted) into for-profit institutions that no longer server the public, only public shareholders. No, let’s not tap that keg of dynamite….yet.

Instead, let’s take a few moments to lament that the more things change, the more they stay the same, including technology. It would seem that the more creative, collaborative, and integral technological tools become to education, the quicker people are to turn these new tools into nothing more than digital pencils. Desktops and laptops quickly become “electronic typewriters” despite their ability to edit movies, produce music, manipulate imagery, and reach out to the web. iPads and other mobile devices become “portable televisions” despite their feature set begging these devices to be mobile digital video production units and windows capable of capturing small glimpses into the educational progress of learners.

We’re given Google Docs, and we find new ways for students to share writing and comments with JUST their teacher. We ignore the precipice of unabridged transformational writing that real-time collaborative and revisioning tools like Google Docs offer. We’re given iPads, and we find new ways for students to play rote math and emergent literacy games. We ignore the sublime valley of digital storytelling and learner narration of the world around them through video, audio, and text. We’re given electronic interactive surfaces covering our walls, and we find new ways to present slideshows. We don’t even risk allowing learners to build their own simulations and interactives to share with the rest of the class, demonstrating how they perceive the world.

Before you fire up some flaming hot comments below, especially if you work with me currently, please understand these are not the realities of every classroom that I observe. But they are the reality in many more classrooms than should be the norm. Even as we profess our desires for every student to have access to a device for learning and growing numbers of educators clamor for professional development “our way, meeting our needs”, far too many of us are too slow on transforming our own learning environments and realities. When we get access to the technology, we find ways to replace or substitute analog learning quite rapidly, many of us even going so far as to adapt and transform activities and units in subtle and slight ways. Then we start to slip. Instead of trying to push forward to some sort of true transformational experience, the “shininess” wears off. The grind, or the test, or the standards, or some other mass of excuses stunts our growth. We find ourselves slowly sliding backward, unable to make the final leap to some new level of deeper understanding of how the small rectangular pieces of plastic and metal on our desks will truly help our students in new ways. We go back to waiting for the next push; the next new thing.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re still moving forward, we’re still growing, we’re still discovering new instructional realities in ever so incremental steps. It’s just that some days it feels like we’re only retreading a path we’ve already pushed forward down once before, and will likely retrace yet again. Our RSS readers and inboxes are full of links from “the best” educational technology resource sharing blogs, many of which seem now to merely present rehashed tools, websites, and apps that only re-arrange our sandboxes for learning, rather than create new ones. The tools, social networks, and silver bullets of yesteryear become the digital dust beneath our feet as we trod along the weary paths.

Perhaps I’m being too melancholy, or reacting poorly after a small string of failures. I can’t help but ask though if I’m not too far off the mark, or if there truly is some large upswell of transformative teaching and learning through technology that I’m missing. Perhaps one more trip around will tell.


  1. My experience is similar to yours, many schools are using the technology in ways that mimic traditional classroom practice. I’ve also been to some classrooms where teachers are using an inquiry model to find those transformative experiences you write about. One factor I see being important to that type of risk taking is the support of school leaders (administrators and central office). When teachers are supported with inquiry teaching and learning, amazing creativity and innovation is happening in classrooms.

    1. My experience mirrors your own. If administrators support their teachers to take risks, and push themselves independently of test scores, then the level of learning tends to be much deeper. I have seen though that often it’s the administrators that need some sort of support by a curriculum level individual to feel confident allowing their teachers to flourish in this environment.

  2. Great points. We will have to keep pushing our peers to consider the power in these devices, and how engaging and useful they are when used in creation mode. Sure, there may be times when we need them to be used as digital pencil and paper, and also some educators may find that an easy transition to using technology. We can help them (and each other) add a little something more creative as they progress in their comfort level.

    When we had an tech meeting with a Google tech some time ago, which was very fun, he showed us a diagram (that I Googled but could not find…ha!) about a teacher’s progression through tech teaching and just becoming aware helped me reflect and focus on deepening my practice.

    When I was looking around I found this edudemic article: So in my short experience, I think awareness is key. I’m sure that there are many different paths, but is it possible that teachers get interested in using tech, start using it in some way, but then later reflect on the effectiveness of how they are using it, and then go deeper? Are some teachers who use digital pencils aware of the next steps?

    1. I would venture a guess that the Google person showed you the SAMR model, developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura. It’s a brilliantly simple path of instructional development that follows along the lines of Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and then Redefinition of instructional activities. Of course, it could also be something else, but the SAMR model seems to the be the “flavor of the month” for describing good instructional development.

      Thanks for the link to the Edudemic article. As an online instructor for Michigan State’s Educational Technology Master’s program, I’m very familiar with, and a champion of, the TPACK model for getting teachers used to the idea that we’ve been in a new paradigm of learning for quite some time now.

  3. Thank you for writing this piece. I am in a masters Program for Educational Technology and some of the professors still push the cookie cutter approach that has failed our students for years instead of embracing totally new approaches with the tools of technology. Karen

    1. The hardest thing to do in any profession, although perhaps more so in ours since we’re also trying to change a classroom of learners as well, is to make that second order change. It’s easy to jump from one piece of technology to another, from one web app to another. But it’s hard to move past that and focus on improving students’ ability to narrate their learning, to better curate the journey they’re on, and share the successes made in a meaningful way beyond the “fluff” of the latest and greatest mobile video app.

      Thanks for the kind words!

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