Why your tech PD might be all wrong

By Tom Daccord
September 21st, 2015

Tech training should be about more than the device; it should have purpose

PD-techIt’s early September as I write this piece and I’ve led some 40 EdTechTeacher workshops since June 1.

As I look back on the summer, one of the things that strikes me is how often my workshop followed a “technology training” at a school. In other words, faculty had already received tech training on the particular platform, device or tool I was asked to address. Sometimes this training had been administered in-house, but often it had been delivered by a technology company who came in and explained how their product works. Often, the school administrator would explain the reason for my workshop like this: “Well, the company came in and showed us the product, but the teachers don’t understand how and why to teach with it.”

As I see again and again, the real challenge for teachers is not learning technology. It’s developing a pedagogical vision of what’s possible and then a willingness to make it happen.  A defining trait of effective technology programs is a well-defined, actionable, and motivating vision of technology-aided teaching and learning. If teachers understand, accept, and embrace an educational goal, it can become a focal point for a change in practice.

To try and stimulate such an environment, I began most of my summer workshops by asking teachers a fundamental question: “What’s your most important learning goal?” More specifically, I ask them to identify their most important learning goal for their first few classes. Consistently, teachers from all over the country told me that getting to know their students is their most important learning goal at the start of the school year. (It starts with getting to know their names and then who they are.) Teachers know that building relationships with students is the foundation of impactful teaching, so getting to know their students is a crucial element.

When a learning goal is clear, relevant, and important to teachers, they are more likely to consider a new path to achieving it. So, I direct them to a Padlet wall where they easily add their name, a picture of themselves, and respond to a prompt to get to know them. Next, they respond to Socrative quick questions in order to collect more useful information about them. (Sometimes I also have them fill out a brief Google Form poll or survey to collect even more information.) The teachers see that in minutes I’ve collected much useful information about them — my “new students.” They also understand that if I had interviewed them individually to collect the same information, there would be little class time left for actual instruction. So, they understand that if I, the teacher, can collect useful and relevant information about them quickly, I am in a much better position to get to know my students.

Too often, technology training begins with an introduction of a tool and how it works. The tool is introduced without a meaningful pedagogical framework and teachers immediately see it as something different, separate, and distinct from what they’ve always done. To them, it’s an add-on.

But teachers truly want to get to know their students. They always have. So, they’re willing to consider a new approach if it helps them achieve their goal. The trick, if you will, is that I am not asking them to change. I am telling them to hang on to what’s really important to them. What I’m doing is showing them is a great new pathway to achieve what they already believe in.  And therein lies a stepping stone to change.

Tom Daccord is director of EdTechTeacher, a professional learning organization.