8 Teacher Truths in the Digital Era

During the recent London workshop of the Open Education Europa Tour, we identified 8 ideas for how to increase teacher adoption of good tech in the classroom.

Learning aims, not tech dreams

Teachers care about student learning. Best practices always start with a student learning aim in mind. So we should first ask, what do we want the students to learn? And then, how can tech support that? We should not start with a technology and then ask how it can be applied to learning. All good uses of technology in education adhere to this rule.

Create conditions for risk-taking

It’s not only that teachers are reluctant to adopt new tech practices. They’re often reluctant to try new things at all. Pressures are placed on teachers from all sides – to ensure kids do well in exams, to give them a broad curriculum, to provide pastoral support. This can lead them to stick to with the practices that they know, rather than trying new ones.

Effect a change in teacher attitudes

Humans don’t like to change. We see ourselves as competent, capable individuals. Teachers are humans too. This is not an issue limited to the adoption of tech in the classroom. However, we must take into account how hard it is to change yourself. The question that needs to be solved is: what does it really take to change someone’s daily behaviour?

Ensure the tech works flawlessly

A teacher might have 45 minutes for a class with 30. They can’t afford 5 minutes for computers to load. They won’t accept the wifi going down and preventing the class learning. Paper, pencils and books are quick, failsafe technologies, which is why they are so enduring. New hardware – laptops, tablets, devices have to be just as reliable.

Save teachers time

Anything that can save a teacher time will be welcomed in the classroom. However, technologies often make teachers lose time. Or they save teachers time only if the teacher invests a lot of energy in learning the new technology. Teachers never have enough time. If changing attitudes seems to hard, then quick wins are key. Buzzfeed, not the Bible.

Find new ways to share knowledge

Let me share a hard truth with researchers and innovators: 99% of teachers have probably never heard of the latest idea. They probably have heard of tablets and Khan Academy. They may have an idea about flipped classrooms. But that’s it. There is a knowledge dissemination challenge that needs to be solved. Teachers don’t spend their free-time looking for online courses.

Meet teachers and use influencers

Teachers will adopt a practice if they see that it works for someone they respect. Very few will adopt practices based on reading about them. That’s not how people tend to learn. To get a practice off the ground there are two choices. Either it is so easy to use and so obviously effective that it goes viral, or you have to do the rounds like a door to door salesman.

Create spaces for experimentation

This is hard. We know that teachers have no time. We know that they don’t like to take risks. We know that they are already experts. The best approaches help teachers to experiment over longer periods of time, take the pressure off them for achieving results, and asks them to collaborate in co-created learning as experts.

Lastly, we should not underestimate the role of students. They are the digital natives, not the teachers. Some of the best outcomes seem to come when students become digital teachers, and the teachers become digital learners.

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