Monday, April 17, 2017

EdTech To Teachers: Who Needs You?

If you want to see a fully-refined expression of edtech disdain for actual teachers, check out this article by Dr. Karen Beerer, "Greatest Lesson: Teacher Buy-in Is Overrated."

Beerer is VP of Professional Development for Discovery Education. She's held that job since 2012-- before that she was Asst. Super at Boyertown School District  for seven years, and before that an "educator" at Quakertown Community School District for twenty years (that apparently breaks down to stints as principal and teacher). She was hired by Discovery to handle things like their Common Core Academies. Presumably their mission statement was not "Learn from professional development or don't-- we couldn't care less."

And yet, here she is to explain how implementing ed tech can be done via a big bus that just drives over your professional staff.

The stock photo for the piece is a woman at a desk, eyes closed, hand to forehead. One must assume it's a superintendent thinking, "OMFG those damn teachers." The subhead notes that while collaboration is nice and all, waiting for teacher buy-in can be "paralyzing to innovation." And we are off and running.

Almost immediately, Beerer hedges her bets and adds a "sometimes" because, she says, there is a time and place for it.

She notes that teachers have a right to feel innovation fatigue as fads like Madeline Hunter come and go (but she would like you to know, parenthetically, that she still loves Hunter-- are you getting a picture of Beerer now?). But as she travels the country as a sales rep with a fancy title VP of Learning and Development for Discovery Education, she gets a lot of pushback on the transition from actual books to digital content, from "we're not ready" to "we can't afford it" to "students don't need any more tech in their lives." Apparently she hasn't talked to anyone who says things like "your digital content isn't very good" or "we're already using another product."

Never mind. Here are three reasons that administrators should ignore those pesky teachers when it comes to launching technological innovation.

1. The Real World Isn’t Dependent on Teacher Buy-In

The teachers may have legit concerns, but hey-- teachers don't live in the real world, and the real world is totally digital. So get with it, students. There's no need to get teachers into that "real world"-- just send students on ahead with no guidance at all. What could possibly go wrong?

2. Students Are Ready, Whether or Not Teachers Are Ready

No matter our concerns, we need to recognize that our students are ready—they want to engage with textbooks that are replete with immersive and interactive experiences. 

I wish. As I've noted in the past, I'm a fairly tech forward teacher. As a literature teacher, it's easy for me to assign almost any text simply by pushing out the link to it. And do you know what the majority of my students do first when they get such an assignment? That's right-- they print it out, so they can read it on paper and not on a screen.  

My students are ready to use instagram and snapchat and whatever game is cool this week. Expecting them to be inspired by a screen and software is like expecting students of my generation to be inspired by a pencil. Yes, some are, but mostly they take their tech tools for granted and are no more inspired by them than they are inspired by air.

This is a typical arc of technology. When automobiles first arrived, everyone who owned one was a well-versed mechanic who could work on every part and function. But growing the market requires reducing the amount of tech knowledge required, and now the vast majority of car-owners can't do anything more than change a tire. Fifteen years ago, I always had students around who could code. Today, I have none.

Part of my job is to show them what they can do with the tech, to try to light a spark, to give them a push, even if it''s just toward doing a presentation with slides that aren't totally boring. I don't just have to buy in-- I have to sell, too.

3. Digital will be Used By Students Daily and the Classroom Won’t Change That

Beerer says she hears worries about the impact of technology, and I get that such feelings are out there. I'm more worried about the impact of tech's capacity for data mining and surveillance all the flippin' time, and the great lengths that tech companies go to smother those concerns instead of having serious conversations about them. And-- surprise-- Beerer isn't going to address that here.

But her actual point is not clear. Students are going to get sucked in anyway, so just go ahead and buy in, Gramps?

In fact all three seem a little bit like arguments for why teachers should buy in and not why their buy-in just isn't necessary. But she is now going to outline briefly how to just go ahead and do it anyway.

Enhance the instructional experience by integrating digital strategies and content with “traditional” teaching strategies.

Add a dollop of digital to whatever you're doing. Here's a super example: "ask students to write a five-paragraph essay, and then have them summarize their work Twitter-style in 140 characters or less." Because....? Does this have any value other than incorporating the digital element for the digital element's sake? She says this will be a catalyst for increasing student engagement, but if that's the case, she's already in trouble because my students think that Twitter is for people my age. And although Beerer was an elementary teacher, she doesn't address whether she thinks this is a great strategy for second graders.

Let the content support differentiation.

Digital resources make it easy to differentiate, like assigning reading by lexile levels (if you think lexiles aren't junk which-- spoiler alert-- I do). She says digital resources can help "scale" our "good instructional practices" somehow. Digital magic?

Use technology to teach students how to learn.

Because there's like Siri and virtual reality and new apps and those new apps might help them learn, somehow.  So, you know, explore that.

Hey, wait a minute

Yeah, those are not actual ways to implement digital resources so much as they are the broad outlines of pitches that a sales rep would use to push digital products out to the superintendents and business managers and IT directors who will never actually use them.

And here's how she brings it home.

The key is for all teachers who have not yet begun making the digital transition to get started on making that shift today.


Even if you don’t fully buy-in, as one of my colleagues says, at least “be” in.

In other words, district leaders, buy this stuff, stick it in the classroom and tell your teachers, "Use the damn stuff. I don't care if you have any use for it-- use it anyway. Explore and let the digital inspiration sweep you away because, God help me, I let that woman from the company convince me to drop a couple hundred thou on this stuff and now it's up to you to find a way to make it work."

I like tech, and some of her thinking mirrors some of the reasons I use it. But the utter disregard for teachers here is staggering. The notion that teachers don't need to be active or willing participants in the programs used in their classrooms is the same sort of teacher contempt that got us winning ideas like Common Core. It is one more version of the corporate sales mindset that gives us "teacher proof" programs in a box with a promise that it doesn't matter who you hire-- just hand them this and students will do super great.

Part of our function is as gatekeepers, charged with making sure that our students aren't bombarded with a lot of damn fool nonsense. Our gatekeeping capabilities have been sorely tested for the past decade and, sadly, many colleges and pretend teacher programs are cranking out grads who have been deliberately led to believe that gatekeeping is not their job at all, that there are somewhere wiser minds who will take care of that.

This is one of the great drivers of teacher de-professionalization. The desire for sales and the desire to circumvent teacher professional judgment. Never mind what they think. What do they know? Their buy-in and cooperation and professional agreement that this program or tool has value-- completely unnecessary. Ignore them and buy today!


  1. I wish I could be as eloquent as you when speaking to family members and friends who just don't understand why education "reform" upsets me so much. This is a nice summary for many of the wrongs that are occurring and driving people from the field.

  2. Their paychecks depend on technology, so I'm sure they are willing to throw teachers under the bus.

  3. However, there's no need to discount her experience as a teacher/principal, is there?

  4. If you want to see the lunacy that is personalized learning in Oakland, look no further. A friend of mine has been tasked to tutor high school students in Algebra. These students have failed Algebra, and the district thought it was a great idea to simply buy a software package, park the student in front of a computer, and in 8 short weeks the student will magically (magically!) absorb all the math they need to pass an entire semester of Algebra, no teacher required. This is edtech's model of "tutoring." Unbelievable...

  5. I have to confess I can, in fact, see value in asking students to reduce an essay to 140 characters. Oh, not as a part of their grade, but as an exercise in being able to analyze their work to determine its underlying theme. And, no, I don't think it's appropriate for second-graders.

    As a book editor and publisher, I work daily with people who are talented and skilled writers who nevertheless can't for their life tell me what the theme of their novel is. It isn't just that they don't know, it's that they can't express it without writing six paragraphs.

    In the book biz, authors are supposed to be able to do an "elevator pitch." That is, they're supposed to be able to describe their book in a few seconds in such a way as to interest a jaded editor who's heard it all before. Granted, that isn't 140 characters, but can you see my point?

    Ironically, it seems education is now the target for the same people who discovered ebooks when the Kindle launched. Never mind that people had been reading them since 1996 and earlier, and were perfectly happy to have text-on-screen. Nope, that wasn't good enough. They had to be interactive, and there should be links to open an audio file if the protagonist was listening to a song on the radio, and when there was a vista described there should be a link to open a slide show of the place.

    Sound familiar?

    The problem with the tech industry is that those who work in it and those who make gobs of money from it all think the entire world really wants the same things they do, and the rest of the population just hasn't experienced it or is too stupid or old-fashioned to appreciate all those lovely virtual bells and whistles. And like all cultists, nothing anyone says is going to change their minds.