So what is Technology Integration?


I was asked by a colleague in another school the other day if I could give her a snapshot into what I actually do, and what the role of an ICT Integrator actually looks like (from my perspective anyway). Apparently she wants to talk to her school leaders about having an integrator on their staff and was trying to get an idea of what the role would entail from someone who does it.

Whenever people I meet ask me what I do, they have often never heard the term “ICT Integrator”. It’s another one of those jobs that didn’t exist when most of us were in school. We say all the time that we should be preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, and this role is a good example of that.

I have a couple of  simple “elevator pitch” descriptions that I often use to tell people what my job involves…

  • “I look at the stuff kids are supposed to learn in school and help teachers figure out where technology can help make that learning richer and more meaningful.”
  • ” I look at technology and curriculum and try to mash them together so that learning becomes more relevant and interesting.”
  • “I help combine technology that changes all the time, with schools that don’t.”

Basically, the role of a tech integrator is all about finding ways that technology can assist learning, and helping teachers and students make the most of it. To do that we try to think about things like the SAMR Model, the TPACK Model, Blooms Taxonomy, Multiple Intelligences, Visible Thinking, Dweck’s Mindsets, etc, etc, and figure out how technology can assist to make them work even better. We need to be able to identify opportunities in the curriculum where technology can help make it richer, and I think we also need to be wise enough to recognise when technology is not the right answer too.

To be a tech integrator requires a lot of dealing with people, both big people and little people. We work with kids of all ages and adults who sometimes act like kids of all ages. We have to be able to push people out of their comfort zone enough that they will take risks and try new things, but not so hard that they get their back up and refuse to play. We have to deal with the natural human tendency to resist change, while helping schools redefine themselves as they adapt to new ways of learning and teaching. We have to be teachers, learners, psychologists, trainers, guides. We need to be techie enough to understand how technology works and what we might do with it, but we need to play it down so that we don’t appear to be too geeky and nerdy. (Even if we secretly wear our nerdiness like  badge of honour)

We need to understand that 95% of the teachers we work with will never even think about changing the default settings on their computers, while 95% of the students we work with will refuse to leave the default settings alone.

We need to understand new technologies and be able to see the potential they offer for learning. We need to understand not only what’s new and hot, but also what’s solid and fundamental. We know about iPad and Apps and Chromebooks and Tablets, and we don’t just know what terms like Web 2.0 and the “Internet of Things” mean, we also know about Flipped Learning and the Jigsaw Classroom. We need to be as comfortable with new operating systems as we are with the new curriculum, and we need to know how to deal with both of them.

If you’re only a technician, you probably won’t make a good ICT Integrator. If you love devices and gadgets more than you love kids and learning, this job is not for you.

As an ICT Integrator you create an important interface between the teaching staff and the technical staff in a school. Each of these groups seems to think the others are obstructionists who just don’t understand what truly matters, so you need to be able to straddle both worlds and act as the interface between them. Integrators need to be able to talk tech and mean it. Although the people who speak all the technical mumbo jumbo are critically important in a school,  for god’s sake don’t let them make curriculum decisions! Too often in schools the technology decisions are  based on what’s convenient for the technical team, not what’s best for the learning of the kids. That happens way too often, in too many place, so don’t fall in to that trap. Schools are about learning. Let’s keep it that way.

As an integrator, you need to be flexible, creative and know a little about a lot. Good general knowledge really helps. You need to stay current with technological trends as well as educational shifts. You often work across grades and faculties, so you get to see the big picture across the school. But because you’re so close to the action in the classroom you also see the real picture. Your school might spin good PR, but as an ICT Integrator you get to cut through the crap and see what actually happens in classrooms. Sometimes it’s awe inspiring, and sometimes it ain’t pretty.

You understand that technology changes things in a classroom.  As Seymour Papert observed long ago, something very special happens when you put kids and computers together. It changes student motivation and enhances student engagement. The learning changes. The nature of the teaching changes. Or at least it should. When you put technology in the hands of kids, suddenly having them sit in rows and work at the same rate on the same problems doesn’t seem to make as much sense. Some teachers are not prepared for that shift, and that’s what the integrator is there to help with. To reassure them that learning can come from chaos and that they really don’t all need to be doing the same exercise in the same way at the same time.

It’s a pretty unique role.

Photo by Chris Betcher CC BY-SA

11 Things that make a Difference

I did post a version of this about a year ago, but my mate Bryn Jones from Perth recently revamped the “10 Things that make a Difference” list.  He recently added an 11th thing, and it’s a pretty good list, so I thought I’d repost it here for your consideration.

So, for what it’s worth, here are 11 Things that seem to make a difference in helping teachers get up to speed with using ICT.

1. Emotional Support
If you look at how teachers are using technology in schools, it ought to be pretty clear that some really “click” with it and some don’t. In fact, if you look at statistics, about 75% are just doing it because they feel they have to, and about 16% are downright obstinate about not doing it. It’s incredibly threatening to these people if they feel they are being forced to adopt technologies and work practices they really don’t understand. I found it fascinating that the number one things that teachers need in order to integrate ICT is emotional support. Sometimes, they just need to know that other folk understand how they’re feeling and will “be there for them”.

For schools, this means they really need to ensure these teachers have support and backup to ease them into this new world. This is where mailing lists, online resources and personal learning networks can be so great – they can offer constant support and a place to turn. It’s important that schools set up internal structures to support their staff.

2. A Shared Pedagogical Understanding
Having some understanding of pedagogy – the science of teaching – is an incredibly important part of being a good teacher, and really has nothing to do with technology, not directly anyway. But when we start talking about integrating technology it’s crucial to do it from a pedagogical perspective. You may have heard the saying that technology in a classroom can be used to do old things in new ways. If that’s all you use it for, you’re missing the real benefit. Technology lets you do entirely new things. Things that could not be done previously. Bunging a whole lot of computers into a school and using them to do the same sorts of things you’ve always done is a bit like strapping a jet engine onto a horse and cart. At the end of the day, it’s still a horse and cart. Having a good understanding of pedagogy lets you make informed decisions about where technology works and where it doesn’t. And when an entire school staff has the same shared vision… that’s when magic happens!

3. A Constructivist Philosophy
Constructivism, in a nutshell, says that if you create the right learning environment then students will build (or construct) knowledge and learning for themselves. Constructivism takes the focus off “teaching” and places it on “learning”. It sometimes means teachers have to take their hands off the controls, let go a little, and realise that the best kind of learning happens when students work things out for themselves and not always when they get “taught”. You may have heard the phrase, “I taught them, but they just didn’t learn!”
Computers and communication technologies are amazing tools for moving the centre of power in a classroom over to the students, and this is a really hard thing for many teachers to get to grips with. As teachers, we are used to “controlling the class”, having “good discipline”, and calling the shots.
In many ways, constructivism turns all of that on its head. When you introduce technology into a classroom, you suddenly invite your students to learn at different rates, about different ideas, catering to different interests and abilities. These are good things, but it certainly changes the balance of power in the classroom.

If you understand something about Constructivism, you realise this can be a great thing, but if you don’t, it’s pretty scary. That’s why adding computers to schools without developing teachers’ ability to change the things they do simply doesn’t work.

4. At Least Four Computers per Classroom
(Or more generally – proximity of computers to learning areas) Not two. Not three. According to research, you need at least 4 computers in a learning area before you start to see a change in the way technology affects learning. This is probably more applicable to Primary classrooms than Secondary, but I found it an interesting statistic.

The bottom line is that unless you can get access to technology, it’s obviously not going to have an effect. It’s all about ubiquity of technology within a school – kids (and teachers) need to be able to get their hands on it if it’s going to have any impact.

5. Help to Access Appropriate Material
The keyword here is “help”. Sure, teachers need to be able to get their hands on the right resources. But if they don’t know how to do it for themselves, they’ll always need help. You can give them a fish, or you can teach them to fish. I know what I’d prefer.

6. Just-in-Time Technical and Skills Support
Related to Point 1, this is not just about emotional support but real, hands-on support. Having someone to turn to when you need ideas and answers. Having someone to actually come and give you a hand, show you what to do, tell you what button you need to press, whatever it takes to give you what you need.

7. Reliable Infrastructure
If you want to kill off whatever enthusiasm exists in your school for using ICT, just rev up a teacher with grand stories of what technology can do in their lessons, about how it can enthuse the kids and lead to whole new paradigms of education, and send them into a classroom where the Internet connection drops out at the crucial moment. Or the mice don’t work.  Or the machines freeze regularly. Guarantee they won’t back to try again in a hurry.

Schools really have to ensure that everything works, all the time. Not most of the time; all of the time. Everywhere, for everyone. Until you have that, it’s an awful hard slog to build excitement about the joys of technology.

8. Access to Professional Development, but not necessarily participating in it
It’s the last bit of that which intrigues me. Research found that if you want teachers to get on the technology bandwagon they had to have access to PD, which makes sense. But they don’t want to be forced to participate in it. Sort of like a safety net. I know when we run PD for teachers, they like to be able to focus on the things they need, and not get bogged down in the things they don’t need. Break PD into a smorgasbord of pick-and-choose modules, so people can pick the bits they need, and feel empowered by the bits they already know.

9. Links to School from Home
If you can think of a better way to do this other than through the use of the Internet and ICT, let us know. It’s all part of the move to gain anyplace, anytime learning. Why should the school day stop at 3:30? (well, maybe for teachers that’s a good thing, but why for kids?) The school and the home, and in fact the whole community, why shouldn’t there be a blurring of the boundaries between these. There isn’t much point working with ICT on projects at school if you can’t continue with them from home.

10. Leadership
You must have known this one was coming eventually. Putting ICT to work in a school requires leadership and vision. It takes someone to stand out the front and say “We’re going this way! Follow me!” Without that shared vision, it always comes down to a couple of keen individuals who push the technology barrow, but for a systematic change to sweep through a school it takes leadership. Lots of it.

11. Flexible Learning Spaces
Since this article was written a few years ago, Flexible Learning Spaces has emerged as another critical factor. Are there areas for large groups, small groups, noisy groups, quiet groups? Can students find somewhere to rehearse presentations, make films? Can a large piece of work such as a claymation or time lapse photography project or science experiment be left in place over several periods without disturbance.

So, what do you think…  does this list of factors (which were originally shared way back in 2002) still hold up five years later?  Has anything really changed?  What else, if anything, are the other factors that make a difference to teachers with regard to ICT

Enough Excuses

UK blogger Terry Freedman wrote a great post on the TechLearning blog called “Oh Sir, you are too kind“. He actually wrote it a while ago now (Sept 07) but I only just stumbled across it… I guess that’s one of the great things about blogs, the way they can capture someone’s thoughts at a particular point in time and make them available to anyone, even people who stumble across them much later.

Terry’s basic premise is to ask why we keep putting up with teachers who can’t or won’t get to grips with ICT in their teaching. He seems to think that it’s time to tell teachers that ICT is an important component of being a teacher and that if you can’t, won’t or don’t get yourself up to speed with technology and how it should be used to integrate with student learning then it may be time to find another job. And he suggests that we are being way too nice about accepting this sort of thing, and allowing the laggards to get away with it.

He’s absolutely right of course. The laggards ARE still lagging, and schools don’t seem to be willing to draw the line in the sand and start demanding some ROI on the millions of dollars they’ve spent in professional development over the years. Terry says we are too nice. OK Terry, here goes…

For many years now I have been in the position of someone who works with teachers to assist them learn about, and then embed, technology into their teaching. Some get excited about the possibilities it offers, and some have actually told me that they have no intention of doing anything about it. Some say that they are too old, some say they are close enough to retirement that they aren’t going to worry about it, and most tell me that are just too busy with all the other stuff they need to do. It ticks me off to hear the excuses that teachers come up with about why they can’t integrate technology into their teaching… “I don’t have enough time, I’m so busy” is the commonest one.

Poppycock. We all have 24 hours in a day. We’re all busy, we all have too much to do and not enough time to do it… so how come some people are able to learn and apply what they need to learn and apply, and others cannot? If we all have the same amount of time in our day, then it’s clearly NOT a matter of finding time, no matter how much people use that as an excuse. Are they suggesting that the people who do learn this stuff have more time on their hands? Do I not have enough things to do, so I’ll just get good at using technology in all my spare time? If they don’t want to learn what they ought to know, then just come out and say so, but don’t insult me with the “I don’t have time” excuse, because trust me, I don’t have time either.

Is it intelligence? Maybe some people are just too stupid to use a computer. Maybe some people really are incapable of learning this stuff? Aptitude has something to do with I’m sure, but that only explains why some people might pick technology skills up quicker than others… it doesn’t explain why some don’t seem to be able to pick it up at all. Especially when you see the basic, basic stuff that seems to confuse some people… I mean jeez, how hard is it to make a frickin’ folder and save something in it? Trained monkeys could do that. If people are too stupid to learn basic, low level operational skills, then maybe they are too stupid to teach.

But we all know that time and intelligence have nothing to do with it. There is only one factor in this that really matters, and that’s the motivation to learn these things. After 30 years of the personal computer being in our schools, ongoing opportunities for professional learning, and the continual development of better, simpler and more intuitive technologies, there are no valid excuses that teachers could possibly dream up to justify why they could not or should not be actively embedding information and communication technologies into their classrooms. We manage to do all the other stuff that teaching entails – write reports, do playground duty, turn up to class on time – but for some reason when it comes to adopting the use of ICTs in our work too many people still feel they have the right to treat that as optional. It’s not. It’s part of the job of being a 21st century educator. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

I think Terry’s right… it’s time for those teachers who have not accepted ICTs to shit or get off the pot. I’m tired of accepting excuses. Technology is, and will continue to be, an absolutely integral part of the lives our students will lead. The work we are doing in our classrooms to prepare them for this future must contain a significant amount of access to, and understanding of, this technology or we are failing them as teachers. To be a technologically illiterate teacher in the 21st century is unacceptable, unethical and unprofessional. To hold students back from using the tools that they need to be literate for the 21st century is, quite frankly, immoral.

Seriously, if becoming technologically literate is too hard, or you don’t think it’s “your cup of tea”, then get out now. Quit. Let someone else take over and do the incredibly important work of educating our young people using the tools they deserve.

Thanks for getting me fired up Terry.

Image: ‘Car Problems