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Thursday / August 17

Check Your Biases at the Door

There is an awful lot of fear-mongering going on all around us these days. Depending on our biases, our reactions to frightening stimuli can run the gamut from thoughtful repose, to hand-wringing, to channeling Chicken Little and echoing claims we hear and see.

A more mindful approach rests with first taking stock of our own biases, and then double-checking that the claims we hear are free from biases and other errors of reasoning. Only then can we make the best decision in light of our thoughts and our emotions in the present moment.

This reactionary tone also seems to hold true in the context of educational technology integration: too many people are making unsupportable claims that educational technologies either transform teaching and learning or that they don’t. With so much at stake, and so little time to make decisions in light of our students’ needs, who and what should we believe?

Our first step should be to take stock of our own biases and if we are operating under some value bias about technology in our classrooms. If we have a value-negative bias, we may be predisposed to painting all classroom technology use with an unduly negative brush. Folks who labor under value-negative biases are decidedly opposed to using any digital tool in the service of teaching and learning. These folks feel that technology is a distraction, or that the the use of digital tools will impede authentic student engagement and achievement. It’s not too far of a stretch to say that many, but not all, of the educators who hold to a value-negative view of technology experienced the majority of their formative learning prior to the digital revolution. If learning without digital tools worked for them, many reason, then learning without these tools will work just as well for the current generation of students. This is a bias that should be checked at the classroom door.

Educators who harbor a value-positive bias are more prone to the opposite view: they automatically assume that digital tools have a positive effect on teaching and learning processes. Happily branding themselves as “Tech Evangelists,” or “Innovative Educators,” these folks spout loudly on new media that the use of technology in the classroom will automatically yield transformative gains in student learning anywhere, anytime. This reminds me of the mythological ballpark metaphor in the movie, Field of Dreams, and the disembodied voice admonishing the main character that, “If you build it, they will come.” If you just use technology, many reason, transformative teaching and learning will simply occur. Such technological determinism is a bias that should immediately be checked at the classroom door.

Before we go any further, ask yourself how you would characterize your subconscious technology bias. Take a few moments to reflect upon and answer the following questions:

  • Do you feel frustrated or intimidated when you experience new technologies?
  • Do you feel excited or exhilarated when you experience new technologies?
  • Do you feel anxiety about adopting new technologies in your classroom?
  • Do you feel enthusiastic about adopting new technologies in your classroom?
  • Do you feel that technology will automatically add value to your instruction?
  • Do you feel that technology will automatically reduce value from your instruction?

Upon reflection, consider if your educational technology bias runs closer to the value-negative or the value-positive bias. How might your bias have impacted a recent decision you made regarding your classroom? Your school? Your school district? Now consider what you might have done differently upon surfacing your bias.

At first blush, my approach may seem radical, but it’s really not. My approach is this: educational technology tools should be considered to be value-neutral. Specifically, educational technology tools have no inherent value in and of themselves. Rather, the value of any educational technology is made manifest by the manner in which it is used to support, enhance, or augment effective instructional practices. Taken at face value, this value neutral-lens may help education professionals take a huge step towards reframing how to consider acquiring and implementing educational technology tools, and perhaps more importantly, training teachers to use these tools to enhance effective instruction.

For too long educators have viewed technology through either a value-positive or a value-negative bias. It is high time for a new way of thinking about educational technology, not through the frame of the inherent value of such tools, but by considering the manner in which those technologies are used to add value to the process of teaching and learning. It is time to reframe current and emerging technologies through the prism of effective pedagogy to ensure that optimizing students’ learning experiences is our core focus. Surfacing and checking our biases at the classroom door is the first step towards that happy ending.

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Written by

Dr. Sonny Magaña is an award-winning teacher, best-selling author, and pioneering educational technology researcher, trainer, and coach. Sonny is a highly sought-after educational strategist and speaker with more than thirty years’ experience guiding and assessing the transformation of learning systems with technology. The author of numerous research studies and articles, Sonny’s first book, Enhancing the Art and Science of Teaching with Technology, co-authored with Dr. Robert J. Marzano, achieved wide international acclaim.

In his upcoming book, Disruptive Classroom Technologies, Sonny shares his new T3 Framework, which is designed to disrupt the current narrative about educational technology. The T3 Framework contextualizes technology use into distinct 3 stages: Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent. These stages distinguish the value added by educational technologies, from low to high value, in order to maximize the return on investment of technology tools within a modern teaching and learning context. Grounded in sound research and theory, the T3 Framework is designed to support how educational systems measure the ways classroom technologies are used to unleash student learning potential.

A tireless advocate for equitable access to educational technology, Sonny founded and served as director of Washington State’s first CyberSchool in 1996, a groundbreaking blended learning program that continues to meet the needs of at-risk students in Washington. He is a recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award and the Governor’s Commendation for Educational Excellence. Sonny holds a bachelor of science degree from Stockton University, a master of education degree from City University (where he was honored with the Presidential Award for meritorious scholarship), an educational administration endorsement, and a doctorate in educational leadership focused on modernizing adult learning from Seattle University.

Follow Sonny on Twitter @sonnymagana

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Latest comments

  • I consider technology enhances learning. To get that goal educators should be prepared to use it, having done professional development and using the tools they consider are appropriated to their class. It´s very important professors believe they have to adapt themselves to the new paradigms where they should be guides, moderators and help them when they´re in trouble. The blended learning gives very positive results but it takes time to plan the class. I´m convinced about technology enriches learning process and computers are not going to substitute teachers. Only our role will change and we need to be prepared for that. World is changing, we need to prepare world citizens to be successful in any part of the world and it depends on us to improve education. We should take the positive points of those changes and we need to adapt to themselves.As Einstein used to say (if we want to get better results we need to do things in a different way)

    • Blended learning. Yet another aspect of technology education that’s oversold :(. It is not a magical bullet. It replaces some traditional tasks (e.g. certain types of lecture) and leaves room for other learning tasks with the teacher, but, ultimately I do think the success that comes out of blended learning comes from increased teacher engagement and not from the tech itself.

      It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at the research surrounding blended learning, but, my anecdotal observations since has been that it’s no magic bullet. While it may simplify certain tasks, it’s also not received with great enthusiasm by students.

      And, one unintended consequence of blended learning is that it _ENCOURAGES_ us to spend _even more_ time behind electronic devices, just as research is starting to demonstrate that us humans (especially young humans) are having a great deal of difficulty using electronic devices without having adverse consequences on our physical and mental well being.

      If teachers put the same _additional_ effort into their conventional classes I’m confident fairly comparable learning gains will be achieved.

    • HI Sylvia,
      Thank you for your considered comments. As educators and education stakeholders, our commitment should be for preparing students for their future, not their education systems’ past. Modern teaching and learning tools hold promise, but the value added by digital tools rests with the manner in which they are used to support effective teaching and learning. Education would benefit from a value-added hierarchy of technology use; this is precisely what I explore in my upcoming book. “Disruptive Classroom Technologies.” Thank you again! Sonny

  • Ooops. That’s what you get for posting at 2 in the AM (EST). While I do think SOME educational tech does have intrinsic value, I am also convinced that much of the PERCEIVED value comes from increasing teacher engagement with curriculum design, not from the tech itself.

  • While I do think educational tech does have some intrinsic value. I am also convinced that much of its value comes from increasing teacher engagement with curriculum design.

    The adoption of a novel technology will likely go hand-in-hand with a new lesson plan or a new project. These require the teacher to apply their experience and creativity which they may not necessarily do with tried, tested and true lessons and projects. My gut tells me that it is the increased teacher engagement that generates the learning, not the technology in and of itself.

    That said, there are some very simple technologies that truly are supportive (though, all they do is replace the lecturer). For example, the rise of YouTube has allowed students to gain access to short videos on every subject imaginable. The quality is not universally high but if you find a good performer it adds greatly to the student’s opportunities for understanding. For example, CrashCourse and Bozeman are second to none and Khan Academy has garnered a lot of attention (but I’ve never been fond of Khan’s style compared to the professional educators out there… he may be a great entrepreneur but he’s not a particularly experienced teacher). There are also sites that allow for a more teacher-directed interactive experience with videos. And, of course, there are the simulations.

    Anyway, I digress. Ultimately tech is oversold and there’s a price to be paid. Google Apps (or now the rebranded G-Suite) is a prime example. Schools are pushing this onto teachers as the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly no Microsoft Office. Since it’s not as good as it’s hyped to be people turn off.

    There’s a backlash against the non-stop onslaught of initiatives by well-meaning tech evangelists who don’t get that tech is not a synonym for effective.

    • Hi Eric,
      You make some great points about the “overselling” of technology into education. I’ve observed this same phenomenon as a teacher, principal, and researcher. Putting any stock in a digital “magic bullet” underscores a value-positive bias about technology. As you rightly say, there are no magic bullets; however, as my friend Robert Marzano says, “There may be ‘magic BBs.” What he meant was that a combination of highly reliable instructional methods, and technologies applied to enhance those methods, yield very high gains in student learning. What do you think about the “magic BB’ concept? Many thanks for your thoughtful responses! Sonny

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