Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Right of Refusal, Change, and Teacher Technology Adoption

I really enjoy reading Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog. His insight and thought provoking topics are always appreciated and are great source of perspective for me. There's no doubt why he's so highly regarded. But...

In his Right of Refusal post, he compares teachers adoption of technology to that of grocery clerks, stock brokers, and architects. For me, this is where his comparison doesn't quite cut the mustard. Here's an excerpt:
For example, a grocery store checker doesn't get to say 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use a register.' A stockbroker doesn't get to say, 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use a computer.' An architect doesn't get to say, 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use AutoCAD.' But in education, we plead and implore and incentivize but we never seem to require.
It's an apples to orange comparison. First, the above mentioned folks (for as hard as they work and their respective technologies are complex) don't have to teach using these tools or teach other to use these tools. Secondly, their use is typically highly scripted and regimented. If something goes awry, a manager can be called, the IT person, or self-troubleshooting can commence. There isn't 23 faces peering at them getting fidgety (ok, maybe adults in line watching their ice cream getting soft but try having technology fail with 2nd graders in class...I'd take the melting ice cream). Having been on both sides, it's different...completely different.

I've written my last couple of posts about the value of culture in comparison to policy. A school's culture can be a powerful force in teacher technology adoption since it becomes part of the underlying fabric. This is where I believe teachers are technology consumers. Much of my thinking about this came from Pip Coburn's The Change Function.

Coburn makes the case about use technology adoption ultimately coming down to 2 areas: current pain (need/crisis) and Total Perceived Pain of Adoption (TPPA). He maintains that technologies that have done well in the consumer market have a low TPPA. Those technologies that have a high TPPA have done historically poorly. He states his case about technology adoption and change much more eloquently than I.

Connecting this back to teacher technology adoption, teachers have a choice. Also, the TPPA (which can many things, I believe) has to be low enough for adoption in classroom practice. If a teacher's TPPA is perceived as being high and the current pain is low, technology adoption, from my perspective and experience) won't occur.

So, do teachers have the Right of Refusal when it comes to technology adoption? Yes. Is it best choice? Probably not, especially with growing body of knowledge about the economic, career, vocation, and democratic implications in the 21st century of not using technology as a learning and teaching tool. But I don't think we can boil this down to a simple issue of requiring it or not. Leadership can help but policy may not be the most sustainable way. That's not to say I think it should be a overly complex situation - it's not. But there's multiple dynamics and forces at work beyond a simple Right of Refusal.


Scott McLeod said...

Thanks, Edwin, for the kind words about Dangerously Irrelevant. In regard to my Right of Refusal post (and its follow-up, Conditions of Employment), here's what I said as a comment on Pete Reilly's blog:

'It’s not that the expectation is sufficient in and of itself. It’s whether the expectation is necessary as a prerequisite. And I think it is.'

Douglas Reeves, among others, has noted that action drives belief, not the other way around. In other words, doing something tends to change one's feelings about it. I have seen this regarding data-driven schooling, for example: teachers that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing progress monitoring of students later will fight you to the death if you try to take their data away.

The way union contracts are in many districts, I believe that defining technology usage and other desired educator changes in terms of the underlying contract is essential. Otherwise teachers have the legal right of refusal and, of course, some will refuse. We can’t keep relying solely on incentivizing and cajoling. We also need to put some teeth into our expectations. As I say to districts that cling to current practices, “How’s it working for you?” If it’s working well, great! If not, it’s your fault that you keep doing it and bemoan the results.

I encourage you and your readers to read the dialogue at Pete’s post:

There is some great conversation there (and at my original posts).

You have a great blog. Keep it up!

Edwin Wargo said...

Dr. McLeod, I greatly appreciate your comments. This does truly show the power of collaborative technologies.

Expectations can go a long way as a starting point. I have seen teachers see a technology tool through an in-service (prerequisite expectation) only to really come to love it. There may have been some hesitation initially but the outcome was positive.

Pete's post and the ensuing conversation is quite thought provoking. I appreciate you pointing me over there. Interestingly, the same major resonating theme as I heard quite a bit at EduCon 2.0 was discussed : it's really about the learning and students. Technology is one of many tools great teachers use and make available for student learning.

More often than not, unfortunately, we spend collectively thousands, if not, tens of thousands of training hours with very little sustained adoption. The development-to adoption-ratio doesn't seem overly successful. That's not say there aren't hard working, bright, and dedicated educators in every facet of the process...there are! But that leads me to what I've recently blogged about regarding culture driving sustainability.

One of the many great things I saw this past weekend at EduCon 2.0, was how Chris Lehmann, his faculty, students, and other stakeholders have developed and sustain an amazing culture of project-based student-centric learning. A part of the culture is a vision that is so eloquently communicated by everyone, including students! This vision, from my observations, serves as markers for decision-making. If technology is the right-tool for successful learning, it'll be used. If not, an equally compelling tool will be used. Overall, it's the culture that keeps it alive.

Again, I appreciate your response.