wasting bandwidth since 1999

DIY Technology for Teachers

Any of us old folks who have been around technology training long enough remember the challenge and frustration that went with trying to teach teachers to program their computers.

Logo. Basic. Pilot. And other languages, all with the idea that educators would create their own applications or instruct their students on how to use these tools to control the computer.

Gary Stager David Jakes recalls a more recent example of these efforts.

Rewind to 1992 or somewhere close, I can’t remember exactly. I taught a class, as did many schools, on how to program in Hypertalk, which was the programming language of HyperCard. That wasn’t too hard to do, and teachers could make simple stacks easily enough. Some tried, but it quickly fizzled. It didn’t stick at all.

Why? Teachers aren’t programmers. They never have been and they never will be. So the lessons of the early 1990’s were forgotten when the Web rolled around, and when schools decided that teachers should learn HTML, Web page design, and Web page editing software. How well is that working?

David concludes that trying to turn teachers into web publishers hasn’t been any more successful than making them computer programmers.

He identifies five reasons for the failure.

Reason 1: Using technology to create and support learning opportunities in most schools is not considered mission-critical.
Reason 2: Most administrators have failed to understand technology and how it applies to the learning process on the most fundamental level.
Reason 3: Schools have not provided teachers with the proper tool(s), infrastructure, or support to get the job done.
Reason 4: Teachers are too comfortable.
Reason 5: Teachers have not seen the benefit.

In our overly-large school district we have been trying to get teachers to build class web sites for more than four years. With very mixed results for exactly those same reasons.

Number 3 stands out especially since we require that teachers wedge all instructional web publishing into the inadequate and poorly designed confines of the Blackboard system.

However, completely aside from the issue of teachers learning to program or create web pages, read through David’s list again.

For the most part, those are also the primary reasons why we haven’t been particularly successful at using technology to improve teaching and learning.

education, programming, web publishing


  1. Kelly Dumont

    Tim, the post is actually David Jake’s, not Gary Stager’s.

  2. Tim

    Ooops! Right you are! Sorry, David.

  3. Sylvia Martinez

    That’s why we should teach these things directly to kids. We’ve spent 30 years trying to funnel technology through teachers in the hope that some will trickle in the classroom. It has never, and will never work. Time to go direct.

  4. David Jakes

    Tim: LOL, thanks for the honor..!

    As a sidenote, our district uses Blackboard and it has been very successful. However, I can certainly see how a Blackboard implementation could go bad. We have had our issues as well.

    Thanks for your thoughts on my post.

  5. Mark

    I would add one more point: technology changes too quickly! My work studying PASCAL isn’t really helping me now; similarly, teaching our students HTML or PowerPoint will likely be similarly futile, as both will be long since replaced by the time those students are working full time.

  6. Tim

    Again, my apologies, David.

    As to Blackboard, it’s a good product for what it was designed to do, namely provide an online course delivery system.

    In our district, however, they are trying to turn it into an all-purpose content management system. But it has no built-in search capability or RSS feed, making BB a pretty poor solution at that task.

  7. Dave

    (this is a different Dave than the cited post’s author)

    I could comment on this for pages! Trying to be brief, I think there is a core problem: schools move slowly with technology, which is mostly inevitable, but we don’t make decisions with that in mind. We don’t hold out and wait for good applicants for technology positions, we don’t hold out and wait for quality solutions, we just adopt whatever seems best out of the sub-standard choices that edutech vendors provide.

    My bits of advice:

    1) Don’t require teachers to use any technology.
    2) The vast majority of technology tools/solutions directed at K12 education are at best a disappointment and at worst a scam.
    3) Your technology people should spend time reading web, tech, and edutech blogs.

    Sylvia: Yes, but how? That’s sort of what “highly-qualified” teachers are supposed to accomplish – they’re supposed to know these things already.

    Mark: Good point – technology education for students should focus strongly on concepts and how to teach yourself new technology, rather than specific current solutions. (That said, HTML has been almost entirely unchanged since 1999, and will (unfortunately detrimentally) be backward compatible for the foreseeable future, as will PowerPoint.)

    re: Blackboard: The only reason we don’t have education technology tools with usability on par with Google tools is that we haven’t created demand for them – we just keep buying the same things without saying “No, I’m not buying an upgrade until you show me something that’s intuitive for teachers and incorporates current technology trends according to high-quality standards.”

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