Each week at FCIT, we interact with a wide range of schools and districts in a number of different countries. Many have enviable levels of the latest technology available to their students and teachers. Others struggle to provide even outdated, shared digital devices to students and faculty. Sometimes, schools with older, limited technology despair of reaching higher levels of technology integration. Recognizing that the pedagogically-sound use of technology is more important than having the latest and greatest devices and apps, I present the following tongue-in-cheek list of times when old tech is better than new.
1. Well-implemented old tech is better than new tech sitting unopened in storage closets.
Yep, that’s a thing. Makes me want to scream.
2. Well-implemented old tech is better than new tech that teachers are afraid to use.
OK, so maybe “afraid to use” is a bit strong, but many teachers are reluctant to use new tech that they haven’t received appropriate professional development on. The fear of looking technically incompetent in front of students is very real for many teachers. Any new tech initiative must include adequate PD. Time and time again, I’ve seen tech initiatives fail because PD was insufficiently budgeted or poorly conducted. Or poorly timed — the PD needs to come well before dropping thousands of devices on student populations.
3. Well-implemented old tech is better than new tech that teachers are hesitant to allow students the freedom to use to the fullest.
One of the underlying currents in the Technology Integration Matrix is student-ownership of learning. Are students empowered to make choices about how and when to use technology rather than following lock-step directions from the teacher? The latest tech is of limited value if students aren’t given the freedom to use it.
4. Well-implemented old tech is better than new tech locked down to the point of unusability.
Fortunately, this is something I’m seeing less and less of, but it wasn’t too many years ago that one could find a segment of MIS directors who prided themselves in making sure that student (and often teacher) devices couldn’t be used for much more than writing a term paper.
5. Well-implemented old tech is better than new tech that does not have administrative support.
This is one area that is often overlooked. Consistent support from the academic leadership team is essential for long-term, effective technology use in a school. Administrative support alone isn’t enough to ensure successful technology integration, but without it no technology initiative will be sustained for long. The leadership team must make it clear that they value tech integration and support teacher efforts to that end.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of visiting/observing/videotaping hundreds of classrooms in public districts, charters, and private schools. I don’t actually walk in with a checklist, but if I did have one, it might run something like this:
✔︎ 1. Are the students using technology themselves or just watching the teacher use technology?
✔︎ 2. Is the technology use supporting the focus of the lesson rather than being the focus of the lesson?
✔︎ 3. Can the students make decisions about how and when to use available technology?
✔︎ 4. Are there opportunities for students to collaborate in their learning?
✔︎ 5. Do the students seem confident as they use various technologies?
✔︎ 6. Do the students appear to understand how the classroom activity relates to the real world? (Nothing kills student engagement faster than what they consider to be “busy work” unrelated to anything they’ll ever care about in the real world.)
✔︎ 7. Do the students have the freedom to explore, innovate, and use the available technology in unconventional ways to accomplish instructional goals?
✔︎ 8. Are students not only using the available technology to accomplish their work, but also using the tech to plan, monitor, and evaluate that work?
✔︎ 9. Do the students value the available technology? (In my experience, if classroom technology is used well — and often — students value it and take good care of it. If it’s not used well or consistently, there’s often a lot of abused, broken tech sitting around.)
✔︎ 10. Is the classroom technology the latest and greatest?
Naturally, students and teachers would rather be using new, updated technology rather than old, outdated tech. In general, newer tech increases possibilities for instructional use and is to be valued. But the age of the tech is far less a concern for me than how it is being used. Keep the Technology Integration Matrix handy. Use whatever is available in pedagogically-sound ways. No matter how much you are struggling with low levels of technology integration, the TIM will point the way to the next level. And, of course, take advantage of opportunities to upgrade tech when possible — especially when the upgrade allows for higher-level use to support teaching and learning. You may well find that those opportunities to upgrade technology will come faster when students, parents, and the community see that a school’s current technology — whatever its age — is being used as effectively as possible.
Roy Winkelman is a 40+ year veteran teacher of students from every level kindergarten through graduate school. As the former Director of FCIT, he began the Center's focus on providing students with rich content collections from which to build their understanding. When not glued to his keyboard, Dr. Winkelman can usually be found puttering around his tomato garden in Pittsburgh.