There is a lot of talk about ‘New Literacies’ and ’21st Century Learning’ and about transforming education these days. As I approach my 5th year ‘blogiversary’ I have come to some simple, but I think important, realizations about how educational technology (edtech) has and will continue to transform what it means to be an educator today. I believe that together, these three realizations are key to sharing and advocating for technology integration.

1. Teaching today is different.

In Thailand there is a saying, “Same-same, but different” which epitomizes what we often see with edtech… a powerpoint that could as well have been a poster, or a blog homework assignment with 30 kids answering the same question that requires information seeking rather than inquiry and analysis, etc. Technology is added but value isn’t added to what could actually have been done without technology: Same teaching strategies, same assignments, but different tool.

Technology today permits not a new way of teaching, but rather an underutilized way of teaching. It provides greater opportunities for a more decentralized learning environment, where students are better empowered to share their learning and their learning journeys with the rest of their class and with the rest of the world. A learning environment where students become the lead-learners on their own learning path, not one that is dictated by the pace of peers.

See Chris Kennedy’s TedxUBC Talk to get a sense for how things can be different and also to introduce my second realization:

“It was hard! As a teacher, I think we sometimes say that technology is going to make things easier, it’s not, it’s going to make things different. It looked very different from what I was used to…  It was the most difficult and tiring experience of my life” Chris Kennedy

2. Teaching today is harder.

It’s easier to mark multiple choice questions than open-ended questions. It’s easier to tell students information than it is for them to discover it for themselves. It’s easier to standardize than to individualize.

Sugata Mitra says, in his ‘The Future of Learning’ lecture,

“Education is a self organizing system, where learning is the emergent phenomenon.”

Are our classrooms places where learning is the emergent phenomenon? Should they be? Is this easier are harder to accomplish than the way learning is traditionally ‘delivered’?

Sugata Mitra also says, (during the question and answer period shortly after the first hour of the video):

“The teaching job is to make the right question… it’s a much harder job… than what [teachers] had to do earlier.”  “…We need to convert the curriculum to questions that are meaningful and relevant for children. So if you say, in the curriculum, ‘the water cycle’, that’s not very exciting, but you might say, why does it rain?’ That to an eight year old is good. And if you make these questions really good… the nine year old or the ten year old can go far beyond what’s in our curriculum. We need to turn the curriculum upside down and start with the great unknowns.”

“…make a hard interesting question, let the children go as far as they can, fill in the gaps, and then take a look at how much learning has been achieved. Report it with other teachers so that they can build other questions to support the structures which are forming. Slowly the learning will emerge.”

There is no doubt in my mind that what we are endeavoring to do is challenging. There is a fundamental difference between delivering a curriculum and encouraging students to go ‘far beyond what is in our curriculum’. It is different, and it is harder than what we traditionally define as teaching… which brings us to an essential question… if it’s harder, then why bother?

3. Teaching today is rewarding.

It is extremely rewarding to guide eager learners on a path that they themselves are creating or co-creating with you. This is what I was trying to explain in my Brave New World Wide Web video. After 7 years as a teacher, I suddenly found myself revitalized as I watched my students take over the learning in my classroom (and more specifically online, as much of what they did to engage in the learning happened outside of class on their own time).  It’s also what Josh Stumpenhorst, Justin Tarte, Chris Kennedy and Sugata Mitra all try to explain in the links I provided above: there is real value in shifting the learning from teacher centered to student centered… Chris Kennedy said later in his TedxUBC Talk,

“It was the greatest teaching experience of my life. I saw what I wanted for my kids, what I wanted for all kids: Real world learning supported by technology but it was not about the technology at all. The technology was just supporting what was going on. It was the world we often talk about of the ‘what could be’ or ‘what should be’ or maybe in the future ‘what might be’, actually can be, and it can be right now.”

Teaching is different than it used to be. It’s harder, but much more rewarding.

This to me is what the edtech ‘message’ needs to be. Instead of

‘Look how cool (and easy to use) this tool is’,

we need to say,

‘Check out what my students did (on their own time)’,


‘It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done as a teacher’,


‘I’m a better teacher now because…’

These realizations are not profound, and in fact, they are probably underwhelming to most. Yet to me, when I put them together I see an important and relevant message to the edtech evangelists and to district and teacher leaders who help teachers integrate technology into their practice. These are three important parts to the personal stories that you share:

  • Show teachers how technology can make teaching fundamentally different.
  • Admit to teachers that this is hard (to do well), and
  • Help teachers see just how rewarding technology integration can be.

Our students, our children, deserve the latent potential of ‘what’s possible now’ to be something pervasive rather than something occurring in isolated pockets. Your leadership will help the potential be realized… if your message is told in a way that reaches teachers. Hopefully these simple realizations will help.

And as always, you can help me be contributing your thoughts and comments… that’s where so much of my learning happens. You see, this blog embodies my point. Blogging is fundamentally different than a journal in that it has a global audience and it is interactive. Blogging is hard! I’m a slow blogger and this took much longer to write than my word count would suggest. But blogging has been extremely rewarding! It has been nothing less than the best professional development that I’ve ever done. This is the kind of learning I want for all of our students.

4 comments on “3 Edtech Realizations

  1. Education degree programs are not (as far as I can tell) showing newer teachers how to craft lessons that focus not on the technology, but use the technology as a medium through which collaboration and discovery can take place. What is the state of Educational technology now?

    So many of us were “schooled” in the 19th century model of instruction. Where do we learn how to do integrate our lessons into technology (sic)? Great trial is involved, surely, but do we proceed only through trial and error? How do you create a lesson that that achieves these goals? I’m willing to put the sweat in. I’m especially willing to evangelize other teachers. But because of habit and convention, don’t have a model for how to proceed. Any thoughts?

    I constantly see new and inviting tools; and hear many teachers who, like me, see the value in full-technological immersion in the classroom. What I don’t see as much of is guidance in crafting a “unified field theory” of educational technology integration that correlates with much of the structure established in the old fashioned schools in which we teach. Are there such models, and where can i find them?

  2. Dave, your realizations around transforming education with technology appear obvious and evident at first glance. There is no doubt that to most teachers today, teaching is different, harder and rewarding. However, is this because we are now attempting to integrate technology to empower, extend and personalize learning or is it because we are holding onto old paradigms of teaching and learning as we try to transform it with technology? Even if we blog, are we trying to assess each post on a Ministry rubric? Grade Power Points on neatness? Focus on a summative product, rather than an open ended learning experience?
    What I am suggesting here is a human challenge and not a technology, teaching or learning one. I believe that our anxiety and exhaustion comes from subconsciously melding present practice with tech in attempts to meet the needs of 21st century learners.
    In order to authentically shift our practice for the “Net Generation” we need imagine and create practice that “we know that we don’t know”. Not only think outside the box, but beyond the box and even re-think what the box is! Truly let go of our power and ego and humbly open up to new paradigms involving student ownership, empowerment and leadership with their learning.
    I know this sounds a bit out there, but like the fact that most jobs that will exist in 10 years have not been invented yet, neither have new forms of teaching and learning.
    Early learning curriculum is focused on play-based learning and self regulation. Why? – because the powers that be have recognized that we have taken all of our children’s freedom away, we have regulated their learning and taken the mystery, wonder and spontaneity of the learning process away. I am in no way suggesting that I have the answer, just more questions: how can we provide more play-based, self directed and self-regulated learning experiences? How do we get out of the way of student learning, but still guide on the side? I do see that technology is part of the solution and an excellent means at that, but where do we fit in? I believe that the answer to that is still to come.
    Yes, our use of technology in attempting to transform learning has been different, hard and rewarding but has it been enough for our 21st century learners? My suggestion is, like our early learners in an outdoor learning space, to take students out into the landscape, let them go, observe what they find, how they interact, and how they learn and then we will have something to base our practice on.

  3. Bryan Lee,

    I think Dave Sands did a good job of answering your questions…

    “…like the fact that most jobs that will exist in 10 years have not been invented yet, neither have new forms of teaching and learning.”

    …and continued along the line of your questions to…

    “…how can we provide more play-based, self directed and self-regulated learning experiences? How do we get out of the way of student learning, but still guide on the side? I do see that technology is part of the solution and an excellent means at that, but where do we fit in? I believe that the answer to that is still to come.”

    The reality is that there is a mismatch between what we have done, what we are capable of doing, and what we are moving towards. Still, some people are doing amazing things with their students!

    I watched Jan Smith transform young students into thoughtful bloggers.Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay created a global collaboration mould which has now inspired a conference, (that I’m currently in Beijing to attend). Kim Cofino is also presenting at the conference and I’m following along as she shapes the digital footprint of her new school, with a focus not on the tech, but on the learning.

    You may not see much “…guidance in crafting a “unified field theory” but I think educational leaders are crafting it as we speak! (So are, or at least will, students as they decide to choose alternative ways to learn besides classes of separated subjects that are constrained into limited units of time -aka schools.) Different, hard and as the links above suggest, rewarding!

    Dave Sands,

    Thanks for the comment my friend (and mentor)! Time and again you prove that you have amazing things to share… you are an educational blogger that just hasn’t figured that out yet. You tell me the domain name you want and I’ll set up your first year… on me!

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