15 Common Mistakes Teachers Make Teaching With Technology

by Terry Heick

The role of technology in learning isn’t entirely clear–or rather, is subjective.

While it clearly is able to provide access to peers, audiences, resources, and data, it also can be awkward, problematic, distracting, performing more strongly as a barrier to understand than anything else. Why this happens also isn’t clear, but there are some common patterns and missteps to look for while designing or evaluating a learning process.

15 Common Mistakes Teachers Make Teaching With Technology

1. The teacher is choosing the technology they like.

When I design lessons and units, I almost always use the tools, materials, and ideas I’m most familiar with. These are often the bits and pieces I enjoy the most (which is sometimes why I’m most familiar with them.) There’s nothing wrong with this–in fact, it’s efficient and (usually) smart. But without getting too deep into the whole sociocultural/equity/economic/tech divide argument, hopefully it’s clear that the more teachers simply choose the technology they like, the more they’re bringing specific biases and blind spots into their teaching.

This is a messier conversation had daily on social media by people smarter than I am. My only point is, with anything you bring into the classroom, think of students and the lives they live outside of your classroom before you think of yourself and all the fun tech-stuff you like. It’s not always possible, but when you can, let the students choose, and see what happens. Not all of them will be able to. Some need help; so let other students help them. (See #3 below for more on this.)

2. The teacher is choosing the function.

This doesn’t mean you can’t choose the function, but if you students can’t control the technology the use nor its function, this can be problematic: the learning is passive from the beginning.

3. The teacher is determining the exactly how and when and where students use technology

To an extent you have design and control the learning process, but don’t overdo it.

How feasible it is to empower students with technology depends on your unique teaching circumstance, including grade level, student readiness, district policies, learning models used, and so on. Connecting students directing to whatever technology they desire whenver they desire it could result in genius from some students, and outright danger for others.

However, what you can do is give students room to grow–maybe choose between three apps or websites or YouTube channels or digital communities you’ve already surveyed and decided were safe. There’s a thin line between protecting students and stifling them and obviously when choosing between the two, we choose the former. But there better you are at doing the former while avoiding the latter, the closer you’ll be to great teaching.

4. The technology is distracting.

If the technology is more magical than the project, product, collaboration, process, or content itself, try to muffle the bells and whistles. Or use them to your advantage.

5. The technology isn’t necessary.

You wouldn’t use a ruler to teach expository writing, nor would you use a Wendell Berry essay to teach about the Water Cycle. No need for a Khan Academy account and a fully-personalized and potentially self-directed proficiency chart of mathematical concepts just to show a 3-minute video on the number line.

6. The process is too complex.

Keep it simple. Fewer moving parts = greater precision and less that can go wrong.

The best learning experiences are the ones where the students only do what they need to do to learn what they need to learn. If the lesson or unit is too complex (I have many of these myself), the learning objective can get obscured. And it’s not just technology that can do the obscuring. Too many assessments, too much ‘group work’–or even poorly-timed assessments and group work can get in the way of students grappling with ideas.

Ideally, technology will serve this process, not undermine it.

7. Students have access to too much.

What materials, models, peer groups, or related content do students actually need to reach the learning objective? See #6.

If you’re using an open-ended learning model of some kind–or even simply project-based learning–strict pursuit of even stricter ‘learning objectives’ can reduce the magic of learning and the genius of students. But go too far in the other direction and what students are actually learning can become unclear.

8. The teacher is the center of everything.

Even if you’re amazing, you’re almost certainly less interesting than the content, experts, and communities students can use technology to learn with and through.

9. The scale of the technology is artificially limited.

Technology connects everything to everything that’s connected to technology. Use this to the advantage of the students.

Letting students ‘decide’ between two types of online encyclopedia may be useful to some learners. Others may find it not only too limiting, but also artificial and ‘school like.’ In other words, nothing like they’ve ever done or will ever do again outside of your classroom. Sometimes that can be a good thing.

Just make sure it is.

10. The scale of the technology is limitless.

However, giving students the keys to the digital universe with no framework, plan, boundaries or even vague goals is equally problematic.

For example, providing students full access to a Google search engine and letting them ‘google it’ when doing research might be authentic, but depending on the application, could very well be an example of ‘unlimited’ technology access.

11. Students access is limited to too little.

The opposite of too board a scale is too little–akin to taking students to the ocean to fish but squaring off a 5 square feet section in the middle of the Pacific to operate.

12. The transition between technology and non-technology is clumsy.

“Okay students, stop searching global databases to identify the most relevant and compelling digital media resources for your project-based learning artifact. Have a seat and let’s all do a KWL chart together so we have something to hang on the wall.”

13. They think forward, not backwards.

Begin with the end in mind. Where do you want to be at the end of the lesson or activity? What sort of evidence does it make sense to accept as proof students “get it”? Start here, and move step-by-step backwards through the learning process. You can choose tech-first, but you have to be careful.

14. Technology is functioning as an end, not a means.

This is similar to #5. Learning technology is flashy.

15. It’s not cloud-based but it needs to be.

Designing a project-based learning unit that could allow student access to peers, assignments, and content and then limiting it to a school server, offline folders, disparate flash drives, or even disconnected social media platforms (one assignment on Edmodo, another on facebook groups, etc.) is the quickest way to turn a 4-week unit into an 8-week unit.

*previously published at TeachThought.com

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