The industry swings back and forth between innovation and implementation.
When I first started teaching, I was like many new teachers — full of ideas, energy and the confidence that I could change the world. I remember sharing this enthusiasm with colleagues, mostly veteran teachers who had seen and heard this same passion from countless new teachers before me, and the conversation almost always led to what I call the pendulum story.
“Yeah, we’ve been through every type of curriculum you could imagine, Eric,” they might say. “At first, drill and kill was the best method. After a couple of years, things changed to some iteration of problem- or project-based learning. Then a bond would pass, or we would get a grant, and just when we were getting good at something, the pendulum would swing the other direction, and we’d be back to a slightly tweaked variation of drill and kill.”
Back and forth, over and over, the pendulum swings.
“Don’t worry — you’ll get used to it just like the rest of us,” my colleagues said.
Another good example of the pendulum story in education was written by educator Bill Page: “Educational movements are like pendulum swings, traveling with an irresistible thrust; then, unheralded, a new campaign drives yet another educational cause back the other direction, gaining momentum. Each new crusade, at first invincible, soon succumbs and is superseded by an opposing force just as powerful and relentless as its predecessors, until it too is supplanted with a new fervid impulsion.”
Fast-forward to the era of educational technology, in which we’re beginning to see what I call “Pendulum 2.0.”
I see Pendulum 2.0 as the swing from teachers drowning in an oversaturated ocean of “cool tools,” to the realization that without sound pedagogical practice, technology will have little to no impact in the classroom.
For example, let’s take a teacher who relies solely on conventional didactic instructional strategies. We could give every student in that classroom a $2,000 device, unlimited free access to every app on the planet and have NASA-grade wireless. All it will lead to is more ineffective teaching, even faster.
Some districts are investing millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades, hardware and software without allocating time and resources for something research will tell you is imperative for implementations to be successful: professional development.
In a Pendulum 2.0 world, when I say professional development, I don’t mean training. Unfortunately, training is the only support some districts are providing for teachers these days. Training is a “how to” tutorial or a user manual on Google Apps for Education or Office 365: Click here to do “x,” share a doc by doing “y,” etc.
What teachers need more than anything is professional development. They need to understand why using technology in the classroom is going to make learning more authentic or meaningful for students. William Horton has a brilliant quote I’ve been using a lot lately, “Unless you get instructional design right, technology can only increase the speed and certainty of failure.” Instructional design is learned through pedagogically focused professional development that is job-embedded and ongoing.
This is not to say that teachers don’t need training. We have to know what the tools are and what they’re capable of doing. It’s a big part of the equation, but one that takes a back seat to professional development, because in effective technology integration, pedagogy is the driver and technology the accelerator — or else it will simply end up being the brake.