For years I served on the board of directors of The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, a group known to most as NYSCATE. One thing that I always had a problem with while working with NYSCATE was the name of that group. The name gave the perception to teachers that this was a group for computer teachers. It is actually a wonderful, professional group that supports technology for all educators in any subject areas. As any honest politician worth his/her salt will tell you, facts don’t matter, perception is reality. As this is a rule of politics, it is also holds true for many people in the profession of education as well. Perception is Reality!
My teaching career started before computers of any kind were in education. I remember in the very early 70’s buying a four-function calculator from Sears for $99.00 in order to do averages. (Now they come free in the mail in order to solicit donations) In my experience the earliest introduction of computers into schools came through the Math department. Math teachers stepped right up to accept technology as quickly as it would arrive. Computers were not used as learning tools, but rather stand-alone technology that required its own language, and understanding, and courses were developed to support that. The math departments across the country developed and promoted computer courses to specifically teach about Languages, programing, hardware and software.
This created a mystique about computers that continues in the minds of many even today. The perception was that in order for anyone to use a computer, a course of study would be required to understand the languages and mechanisms of the mysterious world of computers. Computer companies struggled to remove that mystique in order to have people buy into the idea of ubiquitous computing. Apple understood this early on and simplified computers enough to make big advances in the education market. It was quite a while before computers began working into the classroom. This was also slowed down by the strategy of computer labs. Teachers again were given a level of obstacles to overcome to use computers in class. Schedules had to be followed and classes had to be physically moved. Laptops and mobile devices are improving this situation. But, getting beyond the desktop computer does add more technology for teachers to learn.
There are now two directions for computers in education to take. There is the study of computers, which is most necessary for the development and evolution of technology. This is very specific to computers as a course of study. The other direction and probably larger role for computers in education would be as a tool for learning for any of the courses in education at any level. These very same skills for using these tools for learning will probably become the same skills used for the tools of whatever profession or vocation a student may enter. This is one of the many ways we prepare our students for life. We are developing technological strategies and skills that will be a basis for a real life experience.
This is what NYSCATE and similar Educational Tech groups support. They help all teachers in all areas; understand how to apply technology in not only what they teach, but also how they teach. As a director of NYSCATE, I would invite teachers to attend the NYSCATE Conference. The response that I more often than not heard in response is one that I think is still a prevalent perception today. Many would say, “Why would I go to that Conference? I am not a computer teacher.”
Now, you might say that the name of the organization may have just been misleading to teachers, and that is why people responded in that manner. I would agree that this might apply to a few, but I don’t think a majority of the respondents. I say that because of my experience in proposing courses and changes in courses over the years. A majority of times that I have proposed adding technology tools or using technology strategies in classes or lessons, those who approve such proposals would immediately point out that I was not a computer teacher. Their perception was that you needed to be a computer teacher in order to use technology in a class. This happened not only in a public school setting, but the same type of objections has recently come from Higher Education as well.
Technology is progressing so quickly that many people are finding it difficult to keep up. As a practical matter it may be impossible to keep up with every change or development in technology. We can’t however ignore the fact that technology has an impact on everything within our culture today. As educators we must understand that Technology can not follow the same procedures as textbook adoption. Schools have no power to control the development or acceptance of technology. Educators can’t approve or disapprove of parts of technology that they think people should find acceptable, or not. Technology provides: the tools our kids now use to learn, the tools people use to work, the tools families use to live. This will all happen with or without teacher approval.
Technology teachers are teachers who teach technology-specific courses. A teacher is one who teaches children with tools for learning that will provide them with technology skills which will translate to skills needed for work and life. As professionals we need to stop separating out technology from learning. It has become part of everything we do. It will not go away or even take a single step back. We also do not need to know how every bell and whistle available works. As teachers we need not use every form of the technology ourselves, but we need to enable our students to use it. Teachers should not always limit the use of technology by their students. For some projects teachers should allow students to select technology tools for learning to explore, collaborate, create, record, and present content. The actual use of technology in a course does not always need to fall on the teacher. In many cases the student can be the teacher and the teacher can be the student. That takes an open mind and a flexible, adaptive approach to learning and teaching. These are not bad traits for any teacher to have; be it any teacher in general, or a computer teacher specifically. Technology has become a tool of our profession, whether we use it, teach it, or study it, we need to deal with it. It is now a required part of what we do in our profession. For technology to become ubiquitous we need to stop compartmentalizing it from what we do.