Dear Technology Coordinators:

Scott’s bold-faced question is: “Why aren’t our school organizations expecting more of their employees?” By “more” he means “tech use,” which he illustrates by comparing teachers to architects, stockbrokers, and grocery checkers:

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.

The difference, without sharpening my point too finely, is that the effect of technology on instruction is highly variable, while its effect on those other jobs is not.

Consider the vast, comical difference between a) an architect who uses computer-assisted drafting software and one who drafts by hand, b) a checker who uses a register and one who tracks purchases with a pencil, and c) a broker who relies on Bloomberg’s stock monitoring software and one who uses a ticker tape machine.

Then consider the difference between a teacher who uses blogs, wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, VoiceThread, Operator11, SlideShare, TeacherTube, Flickr, Animoto, and one who doesn’t. The difference between the two is less obvious neither is it necessarily positive. When used improperly and uncreatively, these tools do more harm than goodcf. One high profile flop; 99% of PowerPoint presentations..

If the difference between the converted and unwashed teachers were that obvious, that is, if these tools maximized student engagement while minimizing time wasted right out of the boxcf. Important Ratio #1. (as they do for architects, stockbrokers, and checkers) I’d find Scott’s question a little more pressing and a little less riddled by assumption.

But schools employ technology coordinators (a position unlike any that exist in architecture, stock brokerage, or grocery) to validate those assumptions, to prove and re-prove the opportunities which exist when teachers use these tools well.

If technology coordinators believe that salesmanship is beneath their job description, if they presume that teachers should leap hungrily at their technology before they’ll step in and set up a wiki, then they will doubtlessly find their philosophy reflected back at them in the cynicism and disinterest of their facultyNot that I’m expecting a show of hands, but I’m curious how many tech coordinators approach their job with this pocketful of presumptions. I’m at a disadvantage here as the only tech coordinators I read (Kim, Patrick, and Ken, plus Scott with his sporadic tech evangelism scripts) seem tireless in their pursuit of their colleagues..

Selling tech to the teacher is the tech coordinator’s job just like selling learning to the student is the teacher’s. Anyone who thinks he’s in a seller’s market here deludes himself. Anyone who thinks that punitive measures for the buyer will solve his market crisis (cf. John Gross’ comment at Scott’s) is even more deluded.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Ding, ding, ding, ding….hold your calls we have a winner! Bang on my friend, excellent observation.

    I think it is our job to sell. Our technique and marketing skills aren’t all that great. My focus has changed quite a bit over the past several years. I think the selling job lies in providing buyers will more compelling examples they can relate to. Why do products sell? Because the buyer perceives a need or can picture themselves using it. In order to have buyers picture themselves using technology, we need to show them teachers like themselves, perhaps ones they know who use it well and can demonstrate why it works. Your work, for example will appeal to some, not all Math teachers, but simply reading your blog isn’t enough.

    They need to see it more clearly. I’ve said for a while, we need more tangible, visual examples. I’m thinking mostly videos. A documentary that showcases the life of Dan Meyer or whoever, working day to day, using technology not simply for glitz but for creating well designed, engaging learning. Take that video of Dan and 3 or 4 other Math teachers and go from there.

    That’s not necessarily the end of the story but currently many teachers who don’t use any technology or use it badly don’t have a great model or vision. We as tech coordinators try to offer all kinds of ways to show them how to use it but spend little them showing them why. Too much how and not enough why.

    Okay I’m done but I hope you get the idea.

  2. I think you have it right. Many of my favorite teacher role models use no technology at all and yet I aspire to be as good a teacher as them.

    We’re also still in a stage where research is still lacking to prove that we must use technology in schools. So it does follow that we do need to be evangelists for its use if we believe that it’s in students’ best interests.

    Also there ARE many demands on teachers in my district in terms of what you teach, when you teach it, how you teach it, and so to say that the same demands that are made on other professions are not made on teachers would be incorrect. And to demand that teachers do use technology would lead to a lot of dissension and mediocre lessons.

  3. “When used improperly and uncreatively, these tools do more harm than good” – that pretty much sums up the problem, technology or no. The question that underlies your post is: does the classroom, in its current condition, do more harm than good? I believe that it’s the hope of many people that technology will resolve this issue. It won’t. Not until we start to question the fundamental nature of the classroom will the technology matter. If we get side tracked on the technology it won’t matter either.

  4. Well for the first time since I began reading your blog I have to disagree with the sentiments you express.

    I am a Technology Coordinator’Integrator, call it what you will, and its got to be one of the most frustrating jobs in a school. Of cause we model, create, show, sell etc …thats if we can get the teachers to turn up. I’m afraid this is not an example of “If we build it, they will come”.

    I don’t know what its like in the US, but here in Australia most schools are paying lipservice to technology, and see it as a necessary evil, something which has to be there but which can be avoided if at all possible. I work in a school that has invested heavily in Tablet PCs and network infrastructure, and with that level of investment I expect a degree of buy in by the teachers. Not just because they can, but because they should.

    Is it not true that it is the students who need the exposure to a variety of technology because it suffuses the world they will later work in? In many schools because of teacher laissez faire, the only exposure they get, is in their own time, outside of school. This is not about the teachers, its about the kids, and I don’t consider it good enough for the teachers to simply pretend it doesn’y exist. Despite being shown how to use various tools to add value in the classroom, teachers are still prone to turn up their noses, and carry on as before. I have never once asked teachers to use a tool for its own sake, and have always given examples of the benefits for learning. It is about learning isn’t it …..not technology.

    Technology does not make good teachers but teachers who learn to use technology appropriately, will take the place of those who don’t……….and the sooner the better.

    Now, I’m not sure if the worth of a technology coordinator can be measured by the uptake by teachers of the tools that are presented to them. If that is the case, there are an awful lot of passionate, hard working coordinators out there who should go and get a proper job ……. me amongst them!

  5. @Glenn: Will technology resolve the issues in today’s classrooms? Well, keep saying ‘it won’t’ and by gosh, you’ll prove yourself right a thousand times over.

    @Graham: If the worth of a tech coordinator isn’t measured by the number of teachers integrating the tools, then the real measure of the tech coordinator would be, as Dan already notes, quite hard to measure in obvious terms. When a tech coordinator is really succeeding, s/he has taken the classroom teacher to a new, elevated level of instruction where words like ‘synthesis’ and ‘analysis’ take the place of ‘content’ and ‘facts’.

    @Dan: Can I, a tech coordinator, agree with you? Is that Kosher? You see, forcing integration, collaboration, or anything on the ‘buyer’ is, at least in educational settings where my littel frame has navigated, a bad idea.

    Think about times when your district has forced that new ‘something’. Grumbles and ‘ha-rumpfs’ follow and more teachers tend to avoid than comply.

    And for what it’s worth, I’m quite tired with all the ‘hey, using tech doesn’t do a damn thing.’ And why?

    Because that’s a no-brainer statement. Quality teaching and meaningful learning experiences have nothing to do with a wiki or a blog, and everything to do with skilled teachers able to do whatever it takes to engage, inspire and lead their students down the path of success.

    Wow! Technology doesn’t solve the problem?! I never would have thought of that.

    Normally, I’m not this bitter. Obviously, bitterness doesn’t behoove a tech coordinator…or an architect.

  6. Using technology might not make a “good” teacher (how do you define that?), but it’s really about the world we live in. Dan, you point out that it would be comical for an architect to draft by hand instead of a computer program, but architects used to draft by hand as part of the job. The world changed, and the profession expected their architects to keep pace. The world has changed, but the teaching profession doesn’t expect their teachers to keep pace. If students will be using all kinds of technology when they have jobs, the real question in why aren’t teachers using it to teach? No, it’s not a quality of ‘good” teaching; it’s a quality of school system that reflects the society of today, not fifty years ago.

  7. Disclaimer – I am a major computer geek and I think that technology has immense potential to revolutionize the educational process. Nevertheless…

    Talking about a student’s future need to use technology in the workplace is a red herring. Yes, kids need to know how to use computers, but that fact is not material to the discussion at hand. Besides, is it the Math/English/History teacher’s responsibility to teach computer skills? What specific skills should they be teaching? What skills can they safely ignore? Do they then have to coordinate with each other and develop a comprehensive curriculum towards that end? Isn’t that why we have computer classes (yes, I know that not all kids can/want to take them, which is a different can of worms)? In any case, you’d be hard pressed to convince me that a student really needs to learn more (as a baseline) than how to use a word processor and how to perform basic tasks on the internet.

    Defining “good teaching” is a nebulous proposition. Why should a teacher be mandated to use blogs and wikis and podcasts, when his students are obviously mastering the material at an above average rate without them? Might he be doing even better? What little evidence we have to support that possibility is unclear at best. Surely, there are tools of technology that have become/will become necessities in the modern classroom vis a vis cash registers or AutoCAD, but I defy you to definitively name them as of right now.

    I do think that Dan has been unfair to the large number of technology coordinators I believe are out there trying their best to negotiate rather than mandate a technological shift, but his point remains valid. Technology can be a valuable weapon in a teacher’s arsenal, but it’s dangerous to assume that pushing technology for it’s own sake will reap positive rewards.

  8. Hi there, nice post, great discussion. Just a quick note that may or may not change perceptions… an architect still draws by hand, a lot. The software is used to extend, enhance and finish off the concepts and data captured “by hand”. I’m not sure that is similar for a teacher however.. do they still teach by hand with the technology used to extend, enhance and finish off? Maybe, … maybe not…

    I’m an educational developer in New Zealand. I think that is similar to your technology coordinators. If selling is what we are measured on.. we’re not doing to well. If researching and trialing is what we are measured on, we are doing ok.

    What I try to do is build a sense of participatory culture in the organisation. The technology (once adopted) certainly helps with that. But the current bureaucracy and hierarchy (which has been under development for a great many years) still needs to make room for the experimentation, research and trail and error that we need people to do in order to feel as though they are participating..

    Last obscure point I won’t to make. At the moment we are focusing on these technologies as tools to improve a teacher’s learning long before we ask that they be used in a classroom.

  9. Just read the following tonight. Seemed delightfully tied into this conversation thread. It reads (in part):

    Rather than simply asking our students to combine video technology with their foreign language, we need to be asking them to use both their foreign language and video technology to express an idea. Asking students to reach beyond the requirements is where the real gold lies: it is when we really start to see how well students can use the tools given to them.


    “Students 2.0” blog post:

    Written by a high school student in Missouri. Also the author of the “Two Penguins and a Typewriter” blog:

    Obviously a passionate voice for integrating technology more and more into the classroom experience by a someone of the emerging generation all of us are talking about ‘from a distance’. And yet, he’s measured. Even mentions Dan’s design work as being an inspiration in the same post.

    For what it’s worth.

  10. Yeah, caught a trackback from there, Christian, and left a thought-drunken comment there tonight.

    I appreciate the comments, esp. the disagreements, which had me reconsidering a lot as I wrote an updated post this evening.

  11. We seem to have a split decision here. My original comment, above, expresses a degree of dissatisfaction and frustration that I feel when services, presentations, PD courses etc are offered and refused by many teachers who feel they have a right to do it their way.

    Well I suppose they do, but schools that invest a fortune in technology (for all of the right reasons) also have a right to employ people who will get onboard with the collective vision rather than fight against it.

    Now I would be the first to agree that sometimes the collective vision is not well expressed nor explained. And that needs to be rectified by the administrators first and by the technology coordinators second. I think its up to the coordinators to put the pedagogical spin on it, and this is why its important that the coordinators are experienced teachers. The showcasing process is part of what I presume Dan means by salesmanship. However, when there is no overt back-up from the top, coordinators are somewhat out on a limb…..and are treated as such.

    If there is one approach I can take this year (to be more vigorous) it is to badger the administration into showing their support and expressing an expectation that the teachers will assist in moving the process forwards.

  12. I do not think you incorporate technology for technology’s sake, but I do think teacher’s have a responsibility to reflect the outside world or else risk being thought of as “old-fashioned” and “out-of-it” by the students. Why is this important? Because without relevance, students don’t care. If students are using technology on a regular basis outside the classroom (and Neal is right that students probably know more than the teacher), then teachers should find ways to let students use it in the classroom. I once gave an assignment for students to create a webpage using FrontPage. Several students wanted to write html. If I had forced them to do it my way (or worse, the assignment had been to turn in a poster board with the same information) then I would have lost their interest. All methods of instruction should be used, including technology.

  13. Dan,

    I agree that we need to be more pro-active and attentive in our “selling” of technology, but I also have an expectation of the teachers:

    I expect that classroom teachers know their standards/curriculum outcomes well enough to help me help them.

    One of the things I find most frustrating as a technology coordinator (which isn’t technically my role, but it works for this comment) is when teachers don’t know what their curricular goals are, but they want me to help them with a “technology” project.

    Considering that my goal is always to help support the core curricular goals (not to specifically know all subject area outcomes myself), it scares me when teachers don’t know where they’re headed themselves.

    And that’s my tech coordinator’s dilemma… Got any ideas?

  14. Hmmm, I really have to disagree here, too. Often the negative reaction that people, students and teachers alike, have to technology is driven by FEAR, nothing rational, but purely irrational fear. Helping people to get over their fear is a complicated process, and sometimes the best way to do that is by COMPELLING them to confront their fear and realize that the fear was groundless.

    So, with my students, they are often afraid to blog, afraid to publish a webpage instead of printing a term paper, etc. It is often the highest achieving students who are most afraid of something new; it might hurt their grade, oh no! But since I am the teacher, I simply REQUIRE them to start blogging and to start publishing webpages and, lo and behold, they discover not only is it far easier than they ever expected, it is cool, fun, exciting, productive, filled with all kinds of possibilities they never had using traditional methods.

    My colleagues, on the other hand, have made little visible progress in technology in the 10 years that I have been in this business. Why? Because they are not required to do so. They are allowed to opt out – to their own detriment, and the detriment of their students.

    I have helped closed to one thousand students start publishing webpages and blogging, etc. since I started teaching fully online courses in 2002.. while success amongst my colleagues is limited to three, count ’em, THREE individuals, despite the dozens and dozens of workshops I have led, the one-on-one sessions, and so on about blogging, wikis, webpages, etc.

    So, I don’t do workshops anymore, and I don’t try to help my colleagues with technology unless they come to me with specific questions (they hardly ever do). I just focus on my students instead.

    My conclusion: Working with students on technology is super-productive, working with teachers on technology (at least at the university level) is a losing game… it’s their loss, of course, but with a cost that unfortunately the students must bear.

    P.S. I used to be the equivalent of a technology coordinator, spending two years working for the IT department at my school as a “faculty liaison” – but I quit that job; I accomplished next to nothing, although I certainly learned many wonderful things that I am now able to share with my STUDENTS as an online instructor. :-)

  15. Whoa #17 has got me…not need new tools? Excuse me, but don’t ask me to analyze my students’ test scores, provide lesson plans, and communicate with my parents on a semi-regular basis (all things that I have been required to do for my job), and not give me a computer to do it. I was never asked to compile quarterly reports on my home pc as I have had to do in my job as a teacher.

  16. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately since my curriculum resource teacher was trying to explain how teachers are using smartboards in the primary classroom. She could only come up with several games teachers play with one or two students at a time.

    I’d be interested in teaching my third graders using more technology if someone would show me how smartboards or internet sites helped them to memorize multiplication tables or learn comprehension skills faster and better than more traditional methods. Unfortunately, I see lots of technology used as fun instead of for productivity in the primary grades.

    I think a computer specials class would be a more appropriate introduction to using technology for the younger set. I can see showing kids things using the internet or smartboard, but honestly I’d rather focus on the my kids mastering basic skills that are better taught with direct instruction methods or with hands-on manipulatives. Technology should assist in teaching where needed, not just replace good teaching altogether.

  17. Actually, I would like to see more cashiers with the ability to count back change, as opposed to giving you what the number on the register says. Using a register should not make that skill obsolete.

    In as far as technology in the classroom, what gives one the impression that admins. know any more than the faculty re: technology? Many admins. are far more ignorant than the teachers. In fact, in many instances, it is the teachers that are leading with respect to technology.

    Lastly, being a techno geek doesn’t equate with being an effective: READ skillful – teacher.