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

You Don’t Have To Like It

I just read a post on a mailing list where the topic touched on teachers that struggle with technology.  The phrase that really got me going was something about making allowances for teachers who don’t like or understand technology (whether they are new grads or close to retirement) and how this is all a bit hard for them. This is something I feel really passionate about so I have to say it…

Technology in schools is NOT a new thing.

I just cannot accept excuses about technology being optional, whether it’s from someone who is new to teaching or others who are close to retirement. There are children in those classrooms every day who deserve the best education we can offer them, and it is completely unfair if that education is less than it should be because someone wants to pick and choose which aspects of their job they feel are important.  No child should have to put up with out of date learning experience just because their close-to-retirement teacher is “taxiing to the hangar”.

Computers started appearing in classrooms back when I was still at teachers college more than 25 years ago. There has been an expectation from EVERY school, school system and government policy that I’ve worked under in the past 20 years to embed and integrate technology into the education process.  Using technology in the learning process, and having some understanding of it and what it enables our students to do, is NOT something that was dreamed up in the last few months, or that appeared suddenly with the DER/BER/<insert acronomyn here>.

I’m so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it’s “too hard”. As educators – actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living – we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it’s relevant to the learning process.  It is, it’s part of the job and if people don’t think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

Your government, your state, your diocese, your school system, your school, have all been mandating this technology integration requirement for at least 20 years that I’m aware of. Every school I’ve ever worked for has dedicated many hours and dollars to providing professional development, training, resources and equipment to make it happen.  The fact that we are STILL having this conversation about teaching professionals who are not up to speed with this stuff after all this time is downright embarrassing to the profession.

It makes me crazy when I hear people talking about using technology in the classroom as  being “hard”, as though it’s also optional.  Every job has hard bits, but if they are part of the job, you just learn to do them.

You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

This is Not Amazing

Amazing (adjective) astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, breathtaking; awesome, awe-inspiring, sensational, remarkable, spectacular, stupendous, phenomenal, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable; informal mind-blowing, jaw-dropping

Sometimes I find myself dealing with people in circumstances that are completely unconnected, but which seem to have some kind of bizarre synchronicity that causes them to mirror each other.

The other day, I found myself in one of these situations…

Firstly, I was asked by a colleague to help edit some video footage from a recent school trip.  I don’t mind helping with such requests because I quite enjoy the process of video editing, so I attached the camera to my MacBook Pro, sucked the footage onto the hard drive and began dragging clips together in iMovie. My colleague looked on as I dragged clips around the timeline, clearly never having seen non-linear video editing before, and, with a little gasp of wonder in her voice, she remarked “That’s amazing the way you can do that with video!”

Later that day, I got a call from another colleague who needed help with a mail merge of some spreadsheet data into a letter she was writing.  She was aware that such mail merges were possible, but wasn’t sure exactly how to do it.  So I dropped by her office to lend a hand, and in the process of trying to sort it out I noticed that some of the data formatting in the spreadsheet was a little inconsistent. One of the columns had data with stray spaces in the text… no problem, I hit ctrl-F to call up the Search and Replace command, typed a few characters into the search field, replaced them with the characters I needed to fix the problem, clicked OK, and the changes rippled through the sheet fixing the problem in less than a second. As my colleague looked on, she remarked “That’s amazing the way you can do that with a spreadsheet!”

The last example was from yet another colleague who wanted to assemble a short end-of-year slideshow of her students to send home to their parents.  She was envisioning a PowerPoint full of pictures set to music.  Because I know how much work that can be to create, I suggested a better solution. I asked her to give me all the photos she wanted to include and I uploaded them to, selected a piece of royalty-free music from their online collection and pressed the Make Video button.  A few minutes later I downloaded the finished video, an impressive little piece that took me about three clicks and near-zero talent to actually produce.  Her response to the final slideshow was, you guessed it… “That’s amazing the way you can do that with digital photos!”

Can we get something straight here?  NONE of these things were “amazing”.

Having these three events happen back to back like that made me stop and think about how often I hear the “that’s amazing the way you can do XYZ!” comment.  (And just to be clear, it wasn’t that they thought it was amazing because I was the one doing it, they thought it was amazing simply because it could be done). They were amazed at what computers make possible…  editing video, fixing numbers, manipulating sound and pictures, etc… these things are still amazing to many people and I got to thinking about how often I hear the “That’s amazing!” line from people who observe technology doing things they didn’t know were possible.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that it’s good to be completely blasé about the things that technology can do.  There are plenty of totally amazing things that technology enables these days.  Separating conjoined twins at the brain with complete success is amazing. Ditching a passenger jet in the Hudson and getting all the passengers off safely is amazing.  Crashing a rocket into the moon to stir up dust and rocks to discover water there is amazing. And the fact that the law allows a Japanese man to marry an Anime cartoon character is, well, kind of freaky, but I guess still amazing.

The point is that, yes, there are plenty of amazing things that happen in our world, and its important to retain our sense of wonder and amazement at them.  No question about that.

But seriously people… editing video, fixing some numbers in a spreadsheet, or making a slideshow from some photos is NOT “amazing”. We, and by we I am particularly talking about the teaching profession in general, need to stop being so “amazed” at things that really are quite mundane. We need to stop seeing the most trivial, mundane tasks as being “amazing” simply because they were done on a computer. Being amazed that a spreadsheet can work with numbers just makes you look a bit silly.  Worse than that, being clueless about what technology can really do just sets the bar of expectation ridiculously low for students, letting them believe that they can produce any old rubbish and yet still impress their teacher, who thinks that the PowerPoint their student made is simply “amazing”.  I haven’t even seen that kid’s PowerPoint, but trust me, it’s probably not amazing.

The reason this irks me so much is that personal computers have been around for over 30 years now, and have been a significant part of most schools now for over 20 years.  Most schools and school systems have been trying to provide some level of professional development, training and support for teachers for most of these 20 years.  Even if a teacher resisted technology back in the early days of the PC, there’s absolutely no excuse for not having embedded the use of a personal computer into their daily work over the past 10 years.

It’s time to stop being so “amazed” at things that are just part of the technological and cultural landscape of life in the 21st century.  It’s not “amazing” that computers can edit video, manage numbers or manipulate digital images. It’s not “amazing” that mobile phones can stream live video or GPS your current position.  It’s not “amazing” that you can make phone calls to the other side of the planet at no cost. None of these things are really “amazing” any more… they just “are”. To be “amazed” at this sort of stuff is to fail to recognise the invisible role that technology plays in all our lives these days. To anyone working in education, working with young people, you need to realise that simple tasks performed with technology are not something to be “amazed” at, marveled at and gushed over.  For our students, the use of technology as the enabler for such tasks seems as natural as breathing air.

I was in another meeting with some students and a teacher the other day, and the teacher was trying to show the kids about a Ning they’d had set up for a class project.  The teacher was all effusive, gushed about the Ning’s “amazing” features and wanting to show the students all the “amazing” things it could do… “Look! You can use it to leave messages for each other!”, she said excitedly.  One of the students confided to me later “I can’t believe how worked up she was getting about that Ning… it’s just a blog. It’s like Facebook. Of course we know how to use it.”  It reminded me of that wonderful line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, where the people of Earth were considered a bit of a joke for being “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

Don’t get me wrong, technology provides as with some incredibly useful tools. The rise of Web 2.0 and the read/write web has changed the world forever. Mobile technologies just keep getting more and more impressive.  But let’s keep things in perspective.

Save the “amazement” for things that truly ARE amazing, and realise that technology is not some kind of unexplainable black magic voodoo… it just “is”.

Image: ‘iPhone Glee
iPhone Glee