Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are Technology Trainers No Longer a Need in Education? - Part II

Last month when I first posted on this topic, I stated I would share my own thoughts in the comments or possibly in a follow-up post after giving readers a chance to comment. (Reader comments were wonderful for adding to my perspective; thank you!) I did share some thoughts in the comments, but I'm not done, so here I am with a follow-up post as well. You may want to go read the original post to gather some context for what you are about to read below.

Cutting to the chase, I believe technology trainers are still needed in education. Of course technology training is part of my day job, so I am obviously not unbiased. But I think some insider bias is ok in this case, because it is my investment and experience in my work that gives me insight into this question. Read on for my reasons that tech trainers are still important in education.

Facebook Fallacy


In my previous post, I related a story about a CTO who implied that the fact most of us learned to use Facebook without ever having taken a training class on it is a perfect example of why teachers don't need technology trainers. In his example, teachers have proven by independently learning about Facebook that they can train themselves. 

I'll grant you that teachers (really, most members of Facebook) have learned the basics on their own. Filling out your profile, making posts, and adding friends are pretty easy to figure out independently. But without any formal training, how many people are using Facebook well? Consider these points:
  • How many of your friends have ever dug deeply into their privacy settings and/or frequently check their privacy settings? Several of my Facebook friends do this only occasionally, usually when I or another one of their connections takes time to post something to Facebook about privacy concerns or changes.
  • How many educators have lost their jobs because they shared unprofessionally on Facebook?
  • How many of your Facebook friends have created strong passwords to keep their information, and ultimately your information, safe? (Corollary question: How many of your Facebook friends have ever had their accounts hacked or clicked on links that started sending spam out from their accounts?)
  • With credit to Ann Witherspoon's comment on my previous blog post, how many of your Facebook friends "have created groups, fan pages, or events within Facebook"? In other words, how many of them have used Facebook at a deeper level?
These questions regarding self-taught users of Facebook, who have not received or sought further training resources to help them understand safety measures or dig deeper into the platform, can be asked of any program or platform an educator uses for productivity or instruction. The answers to those questions when applied to educational applications are far more critical. How many people dig beyond the surface of technology tools on their own? How many of them are ultimately encouraged to do so because they receive some basic level of training?

Learning Styles

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In the education field, we recognize that our students are individuals and that each of them has strengths and weaknesses, or at the very least preferences, in the way they learn. Likewise, adults in all areas of education from the classroom to the administration office have different learning styles. If we ignore all we know about learning theory for the sake of expediency or because providing in-person training is more expensive, we begin to ignore the heart of our mission - to reach people where they are and facilitate them moving to the next level in their learning, regardless of whether they are a student or an educator. Whenever possible, we should offer online or print materials on using technology tools for those who are able to learn in this way, but we should also offer in-person training on technology resources as well.

Some people learn better in in-person settings. They need to be able to watch someone else or have a chance to ask questions on the spot as they experiment with a new program or tool. The face-to-face training can give them the start they need to explore a technology tool further on their own.

I know people who feel intimated or even "stupid" when they are reading a manual or watching an online demonstration, but in a show-and-do Q & A session with an experienced trainer, they pick up everything they need to gain a little confidence and get started. When the trainer has more experience in the tool being taught, they can also save the teacher the hassle of getting stuck on tricky parts because they can steer the teachers around those spots. And there are always going to be people who won't make an independent effort to learn something on their own because it is not in their area of interest; requiring a face-to-face training is the only way to ensure they will be properly exposed to the material.

Support the Mission

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In educational technology departments, there is usually a mixture of staff whose background is on the education side of things with teaching experience as well as staff whose background is more technical without teaching training or experience. The "educator vs. technical" background is not a distinction I like to play up much, because in my mind no matter what your background, we're all on the same team with the same mission - to support educators and students in teaching and learning. If there is something technical I need to understand to help with the mission, then I rely on the technical people on the team to help me understand it. And I hope that if the technical people need to understand an educational purpose or practice behind something we are doing they will rely on me and my teaching background as well.

Teacher training is an area where I hope CTOs will rely on the experience of the educators on their team. When I hear of statements like "It's just part of their job to know how to use the tools" without the follow-up statement "So let's design the training to teach them," I become concerned that the lack of teaching/training  experience in some members of the technology team is impacting the quality with which a new program or tool is rolled out and implemented. If your school or district acquires or upgrades technology for the purpose of positively impacting student learning, then I believe it is the responsibility of the school or district to provide appropriate training in meaningful use of the technology.

Students Deserve the Best

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Yes, this post is about teacher professional development, but ultimately, it's about impacting learning. Just as you and I expect our peace officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and lawyers to be "up to date" on all of the latest techniques and information for performing their duties to the best of their ability, and therefore impacting our lives for the better, we should expect teachers to be well informed on the latest instructional practices so they may provide the best educational experiences possible for the students in their charge. In today's classroom, being well informed includes being versed in the use and integration of technology.

I think this quote from an Edutopia article sums it up best:
It is critical for veteran teachers to have ongoing and regular opportunities to learn from each other. Ongoing professional development keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools for the classroom, new curriculum resources, and more. The best professional development is ongoing, experiential, collaborative, and connected to and derived from working with students and understanding their culture.
"Learning from each other" includes learning from dedicated specialists in instructional technology. It is a given in our personal and professional lives that technology evolves constantly and rapidly. For the sake of keeping student learning relevant and having our pedagogical practices benefit from the latest technology infused approaches, I believe it is critical that schools and districts place an emphasis on technology training for teachers, and that part of the training menu includes opportunities for face-to-face staff development experiences.

Face-to-face is how the majority of educators still teach. It is not unreasonable for educators to continue to expect similar opportunities for their own learning, with a healthy dose of online learning experiences thrown in. Keeping instructional technologists on staff is a valuable investment in bringing multiple opportunities and styles of learning to today's teachers, which is ultimately in the best interest of today's students.
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