Follow Up: Overcoming Obstacles

In my last post, I wrote about some common obstacles that teachers put forward as to why they don’t blog or use technologies in their classrooms.

I discussed lack of time, lack of equipment, lack of keyboarding skills and internet safety along with possible solutions to these issues.

The comments on this post were very insightful and I enjoyed hearing the viewpoints of others.

The comment that stood out for me most was by Jonah Salsich. I’ve summarised what he said here but go back to the previous post to read his full comment.

I think one of the biggest reasons some teachers are hesitant to blog … is the perceived learning curve. They know how to teach the way they always have … and that way works.
Technology integration requires time investment, learning new skills, and troubleshooting … we are asking teachers to act as students.

I’m beginning to think that working with technology might be a specific type of learning modality. We are familiar with the idea that students learn in different ways – spatially, kin-esthetically, linguistically, etc. It’s no different for teachers, we all have different learning strengths.

… we shouldn’t assume that all teachers can pick up blogging the way many of us have. And I don’t think it has much to do with the whole “digital immigrant/digital native” idea. I’m a digital immigrant (never really used the internet until I started teaching 5 years ago) and I can spend hours tinkering with web applications … (teachers) just may struggle with the type of learning involved.

This made me think, perhaps the unfamiliar learning style/modality is the biggest reason some teachers don’t get into blogging or technology integration?

A visual representation: obstacles to integrating technology in the classroom

I came up with this diagram to explain my thoughts.

Obstacles diagram

Of course, it’s not this linear and exact but it is one way of thinking about the issue.

The unfamiliar learning style could be the biggest obstacle people face when thinking about integrating technology into the classroom. For people like me (and probably you) this is no obstacle. We don’t know everything but we’re prepared to learn. We know that learning won’t be overly difficult.

If the learning style is an obstacle for you, you might stop there. If not, then you can look at the issue of time. I put “perceived” lack of time because, to me, it is a perception. I know people with families and lots of commitments actually do have less time than others, however I’m sure we all know some educators who spend a lot of time chatting and “fluffing around” before/after school and during time release. Or, we know teachers who spend a lot of their time on tasks that could be replaced by blogging/technology.

If you think you can’t find time you might stop there. Otherwise, you can look at the issue of support. School support is crucial however, I have see cases where apprehensive administrative teams or parents can be convinced with education. Often it is fear and lack of understanding that creates negative attitudes. Getting parents to be actively involved in blogs is something I have written about before. Find that post here.

Finding support from like-minded teachers really helps. Sometimes your school isn’t the only place to look for this support. I have found creating a professional learning network (PLN) online to be a fabulous way to become a better teacher. I wrote about how I use Twitter to create a PLN here. There is so much support out there, you just have to find it.

If you can’t generate the support you need, you might stop there. Otherwise, you can look at the issue of equipment. Lack of computers is something I’ve already addressed but as Mrs W pointed out in my last post “Living in rural Australia, at home I can only get wireless broadband and at a low signal strength. Internet comes and goes on and off. Many of my parents have similar issues.” This is very frustrating and difficult to overcome, I know because up until early 2010 our school internet was so slow you could almost not use it! Hopefully the National Broadband Network will provide a solution for our rural classrooms.

Sites being blocked is also frustrating although each school in Victoria can control what they want to block so maybe talk to your school technicians if this is an issue for you. Read my Tech Tools for Teachers about filtering in Victorian government schools for more information.

Finally, if you can get past the issue of equipment and bandwidth there are a multitude of other obstacles that could be important and unique to you such as lack of keyboarding skills and student age. Overcoming these obstacles requires the desire to do so, and a positive and creative approach.

What do we do about this?

After pointing out the unfamiliar learning style as being a major obstacle for many teachers, Jonah Salsich went on to say

However, just as the student who struggles with maths (or literacy, communication, etc.) still needs to learn those skills, teachers need to learn the new skills inherent in tech integration.

Or do they?… Are their colleagues telling them they need to? Are their administrators telling them they need to? Are the parents telling them they need to? If not, then they don’t need to learn it. We would like them to because we see the benefits and we enjoy it, but until they need to learn it many of them won’t. If I didn’t demand that my students who struggle with maths learn it, they certainly wouldn’t do it on their own.

I responded

The thing is, yes there are kids that don’t like maths and there are teachers that don’t like maths but can those teachers get away with not teaching maths? No way.

As you said “Are their colleagues telling them they need to? Are their administrators telling them they need to? Are the parents telling them they need to?”
When it comes to maths, reading, writing, history, geography and every other subject the answer is yes. Colleagues, admin and parents all expect the teacher to be teaching these things.

Why is technology still optional? Such a big issue! There is not only the issue that experienced teachers need to be encouraged, expected and supported to make that change but new teachers training at university need to have technology made a priority. From my experience with unis and student teachers, this is not usually the case.

Another issue is, teachers need to realise that their students are really missing out if they feel they cannot or will not integrate technology into their classrooms. It’s really doing their students a disservice. Maybe they don’t realise or maybe they choose not to think about this?

Sarah Leakey added

The fact that teachers might find it difficult and it may not come easily to them makes it all the more important for it to be taken up by them. What a great message to be sending kids: I find this tough and challenging but I believe it’s important so I’m going to give it a go and try and do the best that I possibly can. That’s the message a lot of us try and pass onto our kids everyday so why not show them that we practice what we preach.

Thank you to everyone else who took the time to comment on the post. I found all the comments incredible insightful and I encourage others to take a look!

I’ve come to realise that I am lucky that technology is a learning modality that I’m comfortable with (if it was music, physics, woodwork or something, I’d struggle to say the least!) I want to help other teachers become more comfortable with this way of learning.

I think it is important that this issue is discussed and personal teacher obstacles acknowledged. I believe the dialogue about solutions needs to be ongoing and support for all teachers to join us “where the grass is oh so green” is crucial.

What do you think about all this?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Overcoming Obstacles

A few days ago I was honoured to be invited on the The Virtual Staffroom podcast. Chris Betcher interviewed Linda Yollis
and me about our classroom blogging and collaboration. Click here to find the podcast or look up “The Virtual Staffroom” in iTunes.

Virtual Staffroom

One of the topics that arose on the podcast was around getting more teachers involved in classroom blogging. In my last post, I highlighted some of the benefits my students and I have gained from having a class blog. If the advantages are clear, why aren’t more teachers using blogs?

Linda Yollis and I are both passionate about encouraging others to get involved in blogging. Often the problem doesn’t lie with starting the blog but maintaining it. I would love to know the percentage of blogs that become dormant within months of starting.

There are many issues that teachers have voiced as obstacles to starting or maintaining a blog, or using technologies in their classroom. I’d like to address a few “obstacles” here with an alternative viewpoint. Please comment with any other obstacles or solutions you’ve come across.

“I already do so much, I don’t have time for something extra.”

There is no denying that blogging (or integrating technologies) takes time. It is a different way of working for many teachers who have been using the same approach for years. If you want to make blogging a part of your classroom, you need to prioritise it. That may mean sacrificing things that were priorities in the past. For Linda, that was making attractive bulletin board displays or creating “paper based” projects for students.

While you will experience a steep learning curve at the beginning, it is worth sticking with it. When you get the hang of blogging or technology integration it is not an add on, it is a seamless way of working more effectively.

“I don’t have enough computers in my classroom.”

I have five (far from new) computers in my classroom and Linda has only two computers in her classroom. It is clear that we didn’t need a 1:1 laptop program or a computer lab to make blogging work for us.

You need to be creative and find out what works for you and your class. Perhaps you could use a projector or IWB to do whole class/small group work, or partner students up and have times when they can rotate their use of the computer.

Use what you’ve got to the best of your ability and you’re off to a great start!

“I want to blog with my class but my young students can’t type.”

The way I like to think of this is, are students going to get any better at typing by not blogging? I have found blogging is a great way to authentically teach keyboarding skills and is an avenue for regular practice.

Last year I was amazed at the progress many students made with their typing through incidental lessons, drill games and regular practice.

Some students are going to take longer than others to develop their keyboarding skills but even if they produce a one sentence comment, that’s a good start. Alternatively, I sometimes get the “better typists” help other students type their thoughts if we’re short on time.

“I’m concerned about internet safety. I don’t want to compromise my students’ safety.”

Internet safety is undoubtedly an important issue. There are many ways to teach about internet safety and in my own experience, blogging has been the ideal avenue to teach my young students about this topic and appropriate online behaviours. Click here to read about how I set up rules and guidelines for my class blog. These guidelines ensure safety is a priority.

Through blogging, all my students know not to publish their surnames or reveal other personal information about themselves including passwords. They know that what they publish on the internet is forever and cannot be taken back. My students are also becoming aware of correct netiquette.

Internet safety has to be taught and I have found it is best to approach the topic when students are young. It is important that we give our students experience using online technologies in a supervised environment. Technology is not going away. Internet safety will always be an issue. We need to address it.

In summary, it is clear that if you really want to  do something you will do it. Apparent obstacles will turn into opportunities for creativity and problem solving.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Can you think of any other obstacles that prevent teachers from blogging and using technologies in their classroom?

What other solutions can you come up with?