Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Technologically Illiterate

I ran across this post today by Terry Freedman over on the Tech Learning blog where he talks about whether it’s acceptable for teachers to be technologically illiterate and lays out a set of proposed “standards” for teachers.

Before I give my list, I should like to say this. The first step in establishing a standard is to state what that standard is, and/or what it is not. Just because you may not know how to go about achieving it is certainly no reason not to state it. For example, in my classes I always had expectations in terms of acceptable behavior. It would sometimes take me three months to achieve them, despite teaching them every single day, but that's besides the point.

Here is my list:

1. All educators must achieve a basic level of technological capability.

2. People who do not meet the criterion of #1 should be embarrassed, not proud, to say so in public.

3. We should finally drop the myth of digital natives and digital immigrants.

"I'm sorry, but I don't go for all this digital natives and immigrants stuff when it comes to this: I don't know anything about the internal combustion engine, but I know it's pretty dangerous to wander about on the road, so I've learned to handle myself safely when I need to get from one side of the road to the other."

The phrase may have been useful to start with, but it's been over-used for a long time now. In any case, after immigrants have been in a country for a while, they become natives. We've had personal computers for 30 years, how long does it take for someone to wake up to the fact that technology is part of life, not an add-on?

4. Principals who have staff who are technologically-illiterate should be held to account.

5. Schools, Universities and Teacher training courses who turn out students who are technologically illiterate should have their right to a licence and/or funding questioned.

6. We should stop being so nice. After all, we've got our qualifications and jobs, and we don't have the moral right to sit placidly on the sidelines while some educators are potentially jeopardising the chances of our youngsters.

Some of the tech questions I answer from staff members are really rather depressing. But it's the bigger picture I'm more concerned with. I think there's a general feeling among teachers (certainly not all teachers, but many) that it's okay to be technologically illiterate. It reminds me of when I was a 4th grade teacher. In about 80% of the parent conferences I had with students who were struggling, at least one of the parents would say "I was never any good at math either." While I don't doubt the truth of the statement, it was the fact that they said it and almost seemed proud of it that bothered me (and of course the message it sent to their student). I can't imagine a parent saying "Oh, yeah, I never learned how to read" and being proud of it. It seemed like there was a different standard for math - not knowing math was socially acceptable, not knowing how to read was very unacceptable.

I sort of get the same feeling today about technology. It's acceptable to say "I don't really get computers" - and many people appear to be rather proud of their technological ignorance. And let me be clear, I'm not saying that technology is the end all and be all of education. As I think I've always tried to say, it's just a tool to help us teach and learn and grow - but an indispensable tool. Technology is the underpinning of just about everything we do today - and especially so in relation to how we communicate with each other. And isn't communication one of the essential ideas that runs through all of our disciplines? The fact that a large percentage of our staff is not only fairly comfortable in their ignorance, but apparently unwilling to make any effort to learn new things (I'm talking instructionally - and even personally), is really worrisome to me. So let me make a rather extreme statement for you to comment on.

If a teacher today is not technologically literate - and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more - it's equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn't know how to read and write.

Extreme? Maybe. Your thoughts?


  1. Ouch! That hit home! But when you're right, you're right! Thanks for putting it into perspective for me.

  2. You are so right! I never really thought of it this way. I always get so frustrated when parents say they weren't good at math. Now I don't have any excuses but to increase my knowledge.

  3. Nancy in the Jefferson County Public SchoolsJanuary 22, 2010 at 7:14 AM

    What a great post! I love that you are passionate about your field, and I'm sure that passion has had more than a little to do with your achieving technological literacy for yourself. Unfortunately, people and institutions always resist change.

  4. Rick (Jefferson COunty Public Schools)January 22, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    I wanted to thank you for what you had to say, it was very eye opening. One interesting thing that happened to me this week was that I had a conversation with a friend related to this post. She is involved in a class for her Masters of Library and Information Science. She is very much the kind of person you describe: "Digital Immigrant", very proud to not be fully technologically literate.

    It was interesting because it gave me an idea of how many teachers are out there who are disinterested in gaining any insight into technology. As a reference librarian in training she should also be required to be technologically literate, but is almost insulted by the idea. how many teachers out there feel the same way?

  5. I am a student in Dr. Higdon's EDU 220 class and was assigned to read you blog. I enjoyed reading your blog and thought that you made many valid statements and points. I do not believe teachers who are unwilling to learn can reach their full potential as teachers because they are unwilling to learn. How do they expect their students to learn if they themselves do not do the same? To me, they simply cannot expect them to. Teachers should want to learn and if you are not interested in learning then why be a teacher?! Thank you for sharing your blog!

  6. I am in Dr. Higdon's edu 220 class and I have read your post as a requirement for my course. I think your post is very interesting and should be read by many other teachers. It has a very important analogy to go along with it.

  7. I am a college student who hopes some day to be a great teacher. I know that being able to get the students engaged in the learning is a huge challenge. Technology can be such a great way to do this. Thanks for challenging the thinking of all of us!