“Web Cam on a stick”: talking with teachers about technology

I spent a few sessions this week at a technology showcase for a BSF programme. These are events where the IT partner brings in various manufacturers of technology and allows the teachers and management of the school to learn more about them. The end of the process should be where the teachers choose which technology they get for their new school, but that is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

One of the interesting things about these events is the way the representatives from the manufacturers talk to the teachers about the technology. I’ve been doing this (from the manufacturer side) for 4 years now, and still find it hard to decide where to pitch my spiel.  Setting off at breakneck pace with a list of all the brilliant features of the gizmo is definitely not the way to go, I have at least learned that.  I start a conversation or presentation now by asking the teacher(s) what kinds of technology they have in their classroom and how they use it. This question acts as a quick diagnostic tool, particularly when dealing with teachers who already use technology effectively, as they find it easy to answer because they are describing an aspect of their practice which has become part of the routine. However it is rare to get an answer which is much more than ‘I have an interactive whiteboard and I use it to show PowerPoints’.  Of course there are teachers out there doing wonderful creative things with the technology in their classroom, but many, for reasons which will have to wait for future postings, simply don’t use the technology they already have to anything like its full potential.

Faced with teachers who may be seeing technology such as an interactive whiteboard used to its full potential, or a classroom response system, or a visualiser, many representatives fall back on some rather clumsy explanations for what these weird and wonderful artefacts are.  Here are some highlights

web cam on a stick translation: visualiser
who wants to be a millionaire translation: classroom response system
giant iPad translation: interactive whiteboard or touch panel

These clumsy approximations of the technology mask a greater problem that manufacturers have in talking about their products to teachers. Namely that they just have to start the conversation with the product. Better conversations can be achieved if you outline an issue and see if the teacher has this particular issue. So if I am talking about a web cam on a stick (sorry Visualiser), I now ask the teacher, ‘when teaching do you get frustrated because you want to the students to see things close up’. This is still probably a leading question, but at least it sets a context where teaching and pedagogy are somewhere in the mix.  The teacher is more likely to respond with questions about what the technology can do and how it can be integrated into their classroom practice if the initial conversation is framed in these terms.

Ultimately matching the right technology to teachers should be a two way process, the manufacturers need to listen more and be less eager to foist technical details and patronising metaphors on the audience, and the teachers need to be more critical, more engaged and more ready to question the pedagogical benefits of what is being showcased.

One thought on ““Web Cam on a stick”: talking with teachers about technology

  1. Thanks for this Matt,nit makes me feel so much better.

    I often follow (have often followed) those very chaps you allude to, some time after they’ve left. I’m told – ‘he just showed us how it worked and then left’. So all sorts of expensive equipment lies around, or hangs on walls unused, unloved and unnecessary.

    I work from a similar point as you and where given an opportunity, ask ‘what is it you want?’ (or words to that effect). How else can we encourage busy, stressed and often untrained in the arts of ‘e’ teachers to begin recognising the benefits which technology can bring to learners.

    Having said all that – I do wonder sometimes if the right people ARE involved in the purchase of ‘stuff’. Visualisers were a particular point in question this week. Why spend £2k if no one will use it?

    🙂

    David

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