The Secret to Introducing New Tech is Support
I’ve been a nerd my entire life. Getting my very own computer and my own TI-83 were momentous occasions, and I don’t even remember the last time that I went more than a couple days without using the Internet. I’m plugged in, turned on, and geared up for being on the cutting edge. It’s what I enjoy.
Which is why it absolutely blew my my mind when I realized that some teachers just didn’t like using [insert amazing new technology here]. I mean c’mon, it’s the coolest thing ever! It’ll save everyone so much time and make lives better! You’d have to be crazy to not be entirely excited about the whole shebang.
Luckily, about 90% of my wife’s family are teachers. They’re the ones who introduced me to the concept of not being completely hyped over new technology, and we spent some time talking about the relationship between teachers and technology. I was surprised -- they had pretty good reasons for not always falling in love with new things immediately.
How can you work past the issues? How can you convince teachers to actually use that cool new technology?
Nobody likes change for the sake of change, and it’s easy for teachers to lump new technology in that category. “Why use X when we’ve been using Y for six years? It works just fine!” Even if the new tech is a complete game changer, lots of people need something more than a nebulous promise of improvement to actually want to change their day-to-day activities.
This is where the proverbial carrot and stick come into play. As another adage says, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Offering strong positive incentives to make use of something will make people excited to use it instead of making it feel like a chore. The incentives can be just about anything with only one real rule -- it has to be something that the teachers want or need. The point is to get them excited enough to start using the technology. Hopefully the tech is good enough to keep them using it.
Lots of Support
Teachers are ridiculously busy people. According to my wife’s family, it’s got something to do with educating children or something. Regardless, they don’t have much time to spend learning all of the ins and outs of a new product. Now of course in an ideal world, the product is user friendly enough that most people can at least figure out the basics.
…but we don’t live in an ideal world, so the users will need some form of training. They can get “on the job” training by simply forcing themselves to work with the technology. Sometimes that’s great, but it’s rarely optimal and can even lead to people using a product in ways that it was definitely not intended to be used. The better option is to choose a technology for which the teachers can receive training. If the product is from a decent company, they should offer at least free training to get started. Even better if you can schedule refresher sessions throughout the year! Ensuring that everyone gets the support that they need to get up and running will be a huge help in making sure that nobody feels lost or that they simply don’t have time to use the technology due to lack of familiarity.
Once everyone is up and running, you’ll inevitably encounter a problem. This was a sticking point for several of the people to whom I spoke. If they’re in a classroom full of students when something goes wrong with a piece of technology, it can derail an entire class. Even if they aren’t actively teaching at the moment, there’s a good chance that they don’t have the time to figure out how to fix it right then and there. Instead of feeling that they’re on their own, they need to know that they can contact a support team for the solution. More importantly, they need to know that the support team will get back to them quickly -- a solution won’t do much good if it comes two months after it’s needed.
Lots of good support is needed to make sure that teachers have a good start with the technology and to make sure that they’re not going to be left out to dry when something inevitably goes wrong.
Easy as Pie
No matter how much a teacher knows about a new technology, if it’s a pain for them to actually use it, it will go neglected. You can have the world’s greatest iPad application available for teachers and it won’t be used unless the teachers can easily get access to iPads for their classroom.
This doesn’t have to be nearly as drastic as buying an iPad for every student in a course. It can be as simple as ensuring that it doesn’t take a mountain of paperwork to get started with the product. An example of an extremely easy win is making sure that teachers are allowed to use their internet browser of choice.
The roadblocks for a teacher to actually use the technology will vary on a case by case basis, so there’s no real “do this” or “don’t do that” that will apply across the board. Luckily it’s easy to figure out what needs to be done -- ask the teachers! Especially if they want to use it and haven’t been because of some difficulty, they’ll be quick to tell you what would help make it easier for them.
If it Ain’t Broke…
This can be a little bit touchy. Nobody wants for someone new to come in and tell them that they’re doing something wrong, which is exactly how lots of new technology can feel for teachers. This is exacerbated when the change will be a drastic one.
Approaching this issue is easier if you think about it before you get a new technology. Will it compliment the teacher’s work, or will it be something that they have to drastically change for? Hopefully it’s somewhere between truly complimenting, which is the best option, and at least vaguely similar to something they’re already doing. Smart boards are a good example -- they’re definitely a change away from the typical board but the teachers can intuitively see how and why it’s a step in a nice new direction. A good rule of thumb is that the technology should improve a pain point for teachers, not try to improve on something that they feel is already good.
It really all boils down to putting yourself in the teacher’s shoes. The general sentiment I got was that teachers were reluctant to use some new technology because they often felt overwhelmed by getting up to date on how to use it correctly. They worried that they would end up with a problem and they would have no support to help them find a solution. They were worried that they were going to have to completely change how they do their jobs, and not in a positive way. With that perspective it’s easy to understand how teachers may be apprehensive to using that cool new technology I’d be super excited about. By mitigating some of that apprehension, you can help ensure that not only do the teachers use the technology, but they’ll be glad to do so.
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