“If the computer does all that, what are we supposed to do?”

For the inaugural Blended Learners blog post, I decided to revisit a conversation that summed up for me both the opportunity and the challenge of incorporating blended learning into our classrooms. I was delivering a presentation on how to use Khan Academy to personalize instruction and generate data. Since I used to think that the best way to encourage teachers to use technology was to emphasize the time it can save them, I focused on how a blended platform would not only save time grading but would create easy-to-read graphs that enable us to better understand student strengths and opportunities for improvement. I had also shared with participants how students who were having difficulty with a question could take a hint or watch an instructional video to help with the question that they were answering.

To my surprise, one of the teachers in the workshop called out, “If the computer does all that, what are we supposed to do?” At the time, I felt deflated and disappointed by the comment. When I first began using technology in the classroom a decade ago, it was clunky and time-consuming; worst of all, it was hard to understand how the technology we were using was improving outcomes for our students. I expected other teachers to be as excited as I was to learn that the latest wave of EdTech offerings had overcome these obstacles to meaningful classroom integration. Instead, here was a teacher whose concern wasn’t about the difficulty in using technology, or even a question of its benefits: he was opposed to giving students access to this powerful tool because he was afraid it would do his job better than he did.

I had begun with the assumption that teachers would want what was best for their students, whatever the costs. Like most assumptions, I have since learned that this one was flawed in a number of ways. Over the years, I have often replayed this teacher’s words in my head, and I’ve come to appreciate his comment as a guide on the importance of making teachers feel valued and supported when rolling out a technology initiative. Any type of change is difficult and stressful; incorporating new technology into a classroom setting can be especially hard. Teachers have anxiety that the technology will fail, that they will fail at using it, or even that their success will rob their job of purpose and meaning.

When teachers embark on a blended learning initiative, it’s important to help them understand that there will be changes to the type of work they do, but that the change will be gradual, comfortable, and valuable. Despite advances in Virtual Reality, we are nowhere near the point where a computer can do the things we expect from an effective teacher. Instead, computers can do some of the repetitive and tedious work that has historically taken too much time out of a teacher’s day. Instead of correcting answers, teachers can use that time to interpret the data to better understand their students. They can better differentiate their instruction, plan interactive lessons, and incorporate project-based learning that emphasizes higher-order thinking. One big advantage of technology integration is giving teachers the power to do the things they want to do but just haven’t had the time to accomplish. In order for technology integration to be effective, teachers need to be on-board with technology as an ally rather than a threat.

In future posts, I will explore both the philosophy and the tools that make blended learning integration comfortable and effective for teachers, administrators, and students.