The Transition to #edtech

As a student, I attended a high school that had four computers available for students (my classmates’ recollections confirm my memories). I was thoroughly unimpressed with the devices. I had fun playing the game in which I tried to hit my opponent’s castle with projectiles. Ostensibly, the game was played to reinforce the lessons taught in math class. It didn’t. I found little connection between what I was to study in college and computers.

Early in my studies to be a biology teacher, I found computers occasionally useful and halfway through my undergraduate studies it became obvious that computers were in my future as a teacher. As a result, I bought a computer (an Apple IIc) and enrolled in the “Computers in the Classroom” course offered in the college of education I attended. I used the Apple computer until I graduated and as I started my career teaching middle school science. Several years later, I came to a harsh realization. While I had been filling up big floppy disks with word processing and spreadsheet files and playing chess and occasionally running simulations for my students, a computer revolution had occurred, and I didn’t even know what I didn’t know about computers.

After I found a job teaching high school science, a physics-teacher colleague and I spent a summer revising our lab curricula so all of the data in our laboratory exercises could be collected using probes connected to IBM personal computers. Along with our students, we were able to focus on the trends in data as they were graphed in real-time; previously our laboratory activity had focused on the minutiae of gathering data so trends did not focus our attention until later, often too late. Convinced computers could transform every teacher’s classroom as it did our high school science classrooms, my colleague and I co-chaired the committee that wrote the school’s first technology integration plan.

I came to computers relatively late in life. It was not until I realized that computers would serve me and my students well that I began an active computing life; since then information and computer technology has found its way deep into my personal and my professional life. Still, I confess, a real disdain for computers. They can be unreliable and break when most-needed, and troubleshooting computers is a real hassle. I can usually resolve technical issues quickly and I design well-functioning systems, but it requires one attend to details that I find mundane. Still, I use technology for more and more. Still, also, I work regularly with adults and youngsters so they become competent and confident users of technology as we apply computers and information technology to understand and solve authentic problems.

When interviewing for a position teaching middle school math at a different school, I volunteered to chair the committee the principal was convening to develop a plan to replace the computers in his building (which were comparable to the computers I had first used as an undergraduate student more than 10 years earlier). He offered me the job and the chair of the committee. I have been an educational technologist ever since. I have held several jobs in the intervening years, and in each I have assumed some level of responsibility for teaching with computers; coaching teachers on the use of technology in classrooms; and planning, installing, and maintaining computers and networks in schools.

I also became a graduate student. As a master’s degree student at the local state college, I studied under the tutelage of professors who introduced me to qualitative research. I gathered data about my colleagues’ experiences with technology and I studied the technology planning decisions made by school leaders in the counties around rural Vermont where I live. For doctoral studies, online learning was the only option as my family relied on my paycheck and the nearest in-person program was a three-hour drive away. I completed my doctoral coursework and research with a widely dispersed and diverse faculty, and all of our interaction occurred over the Internet (except for several telephone conversations with my committee chairperson).

As a distance learner, I did miss the opportunity to sit face-to-face with fellow graduate students, but I found my own cohort of technology-using educators in the New England League of Middle Schools. Until the demands of finishing my research caused me to resign, my time as an online graduate student coincided with my time serving and leading the NELMS Technology Committee, a dynamic group of professionals with whom I explored and shared and learned about the challenges of using computers in schools.

For my dissertation research, I sought to understand how leaders and technologists in fields other than K-12 education had responded to the emergence of computers. I found that some educators appeared to have independently discovered what was known by professionals in other fields and that some educators had begun to transform their teaching in ways that reflected what was happening in other fields. I discovered also, those educators appeared to be working in systems that were inhibiting rather than sustaining their efforts to transform education with technology. I am motivated to understand why systems inhibit rather than sustain those efforts and to remove any obstacles to those efforts.