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Technology is NOT an Add-On: Revisited

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It was one year ago that I wrote this post, and I had to return to it, reflecting on my own thoughts, finding them still incredibly relevant today. As devices in our schools have increased, it is imperative we remained focused on WHY those devices are there. It is not about the device. It IS about building skills of creativity, collaboration, and thinking, along with being good digital citizens, using many different tools. The tools are constantly changing. And so, it is the instruction that matters. It is the pedagogy that matters. It is the skill-building that matters.  

My return to this post continues to clarify what I do and WHY I continue to strive to grow & learn to better meet the needs of my students and staff. 

Technology is NOT an add-on. Technology IS a means by which we attain 21st century instruction and skills in our schools.


Recently, I've been reading Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger and attended a keynote address delivered by him as well.  His insight on essential skills instruction and technology integration is spot-on! I am continually reflecting on what I read, on the words from the educators I follow.  Often times, it stirs with me for a while, coming into focus to drive me, refuel my passion and vision.  My recent reading has brought this to the forefront for me.  We have been approaching technology as tools and devices instead of working on shifting our pedagogy.  


We have been driven by adding tools and devices to our schools, instead of REALLY thinking about WHY we use these tools and devices.  Too often, we buy the devices, train teachers on the tools, but fail to determine and establish the vision behind it all - the development of 21st century essential skills and instruction, thus changing our instructional techniques for the students we have in our classrooms today.  “Technology is not just a shiny tool that can increase engagement, but a conduit to endless possibilities that can enhance every facet of what we do in education” (Sheninger, 2013).  Too often we create and attend professional development opportunities focused on particular devices and cool Web 2.0 tools to use in the classroom, but never give the WHY we use it in our instruction.


Let me give an example.  


During this past year, I have worked to shift from a Twitter lurker to a Twitter user.  This propelled me to share this technology tool with my staff.  I created a PD Roundtable for my staff, invited them to fill out a Google Form to give insight on their comfort level with Twitter, and then sat around a table and showed them how I use Twitter to develop professionally and learn from other great educators around the globe.  Pretty standard delivery.  I told staff about a cool tech tool I use to grow.  



Now think of this.  What if I had posed in that Google Form this question?

What are some ways we can learn and grow from others in education?  How do you collaborate and share?  Come to the PD Roundtable to share!


Then, Twitter is just ONE way, not the only way.  Then, it is not about the tool, it is about the purpose and outcome of the many possible tools.  


Maybe our shifts in education are happening slowly because we are approaching the tools and devices instead of the pedagogy behind it all.  We are buying the devices, showing teachers the cool tools out there and how they work, instead of first thinking about WHY we use technology in the classroom.  It is not about the devices and tools, it is WHAT we do with it to build skills with our students and how we communicate with those in our school community.  Maybe we need to shift HOW we change education so it is NOT about the technology, but about the 21st century pedagogical shifts and communication.  No more technology conferences.  We need more 21st century essential skills conferences with technology as a way to reach the outcomes we want for our students and our schools.


Let's ask this:


What do we want our students to know and be able to do? This is our ultimate question. This is why we do what we do every day.



Here is my answer to that question.

  • I want my students to be able to collaborate and learn from others.

  • I want my students to be able to create with the skills they have learned, not just recreate, but really create something new.

  • I want my students to know how to find information and then do something with it.

  • I want my students to be able to think about problems and find new solutions.

  • I want my students to ask questions and then find the answers to those questions.

  • I want my students to love learning, reading, writing, art, music, anything that interests them.

  • I want my students to be responsible citizens, capable of contributing to a community in their own productive way.


Never once did I say I want students to know how to use a particular device.

Never once did I say I want students to learn a particular tech tool.


Our infusement of technology into our instruction needs to be secondary to the shift that needs to happen in our actual instruction.  We need to start approaching our instructional models, creating environments where questions, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving are the norm. Think about the outcomes we want for our students.  Integrating technology has made these outcomes easier and more readily available, but it is not the device or tool that makes 21st century skills instruction possible, it is the framework for 21st century learning established before even introducing the device or tool that creates success for our students.  It is not the device or the tool, because those will constantly be changing.  What we keep constant is our continual efforts to build 21st century essential skills within our students so they can apply those skills to anything they choose to do.


My mantra is this: technology is not an add-on. These devices and tools are just a means by which we attain the student outcomes we wish to see in our children.  We need to change HOW we think about technology in schools and how we professionally develop educators.  We need to focus on the instructional techniques.  


My next conference: I will attend the sessions where we talk about instructional techniques, 21st century essential skills in schools, and the philosophy shifts that must take place for our students to be successful. Tech tools are always cool to learn and are necessary to achieve these skills.  But, if we approach our professional development in this regard, I know we will begin to make the massive paradigm shifts in instruction that need to occur so our children are successful entrepreneurs of the future.  


This has become my focus and my vision in our schools. Shift our instruction. Model its use and share this vision with others so that it becomes so embedded into the culture that there is no other way to reach kids than with the technology.  “As a leader, this is the type of teaching and learning culture that we should want to foster and cultivate, one where creativity flourishes, students find relevancy and meaning in their learning, and teachers are given the support and autonomy to be innovative.” (Sheninger, 2013) Then the technological integration will happen, not be the add-on it seems to be in so many schools and classrooms now.




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Amy Heavin is the principal at Ryan Park Elementary School, MSD of Steuben County in Angola, IN. She has been a school administrator since 2010, and taught middle school English for 8 years prior. Passionate about curriculum and instruction, she pursues learning opportunities to blend 21st century essential skills instruction with best practices. As a moderator for the #INeLearn Twitter chat and contributor for EDWords and Fractus Learning, she promotes integration of strong pedagogy with technology in the classroom. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyHeavin

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