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Education Trends, Uncategorized   |   Jun 28, 2011

Stop the tech snobbery

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

If we want to ever get technophobes comfortable with technology, those of us who love the stuff have got to stop being tech snobs. I’m at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference where tech lovers in education unite. Unfortunately, there are occasional wafts of divisiveness that kill the otherwise pervasive spirit of collaboration and enthusiastic learning here:

  • Said to a publisher in the exhibit hall as he walked past dismissively: “I don’t read [printed] books. I have no use for them.”
  • Tweeted on Twitter: “I can’t believe tech people are hearing things at this conference that are 100% brand new to them. Very SCARY.”
  • Announced by a presenter in a session: “It burns me up inside when teachers tell me they’re using technology and then show me a PowerPoint they created.  Doesn’t that burn you guys up?”

Um, no, it doesn’t.

You can’t shame educators into using technology any more than you can shame kids into behaving. Does it work? Yeah, sometimes. But it also breeds resentment, bitterness, and fear which make learning twice as hard.

If  people are resistant to your ideas or slow to adapt them, it might be because they sense a patronizing, conscending attitude, one that you don’t intend to show but shines through nevertheless. They know you’re mocking them behind their backs to your fellow techies, which makes them resistant not only to you but to all the wonderful technology that you represent. It’s tough for learners to be open to new possibilities when they feel judged and defensive.

So, if you really want non-tech people to incorporate tech use into their instructional practice, you have to inspire them, not embarrass them. You have to demonstrate the passion you want others to exhibit. Be so enthusiastic about what you do that it’s contagious. Make experiences with technology so enjoyable that people can’t help but shift their paradigm.

Model. Support. Scaffold. Meet the non-tech users right where they’re at. Praise and encourage them in their small wins. Acknowledge that the learning curve is tough, and you’ve been there too…but the payoff is worth the perseverance.

That’s the way we treat our students. It’s the way we need to treat each other, too.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Great post! I completely agree. I’m not at ISTE this year, but am trying to keep up from afar.

    I really think that we as teachers need to embrace the “practitioner” part of our occupation a little more. We are all on a journey, and journey’s have to start somewhere. If ISTE fulfills its goals, the conference will be more about learning than it is about technology, and it will start to draw together more than just the “techie” teachers. As someone who has been involved with technology in education for over 10 years, I go to tech conferences and have a much different experience than someone who has been teaching as long as me with no technology experience. That’s the way it should be! I hope sectionals, break-outs, lounges, and conference goers understand to differentiate their messages and embrace the “journey” model. If not, well……

    Thanks again for the post!

  2. Well stated. If we wish to influence the masses that have not yet acquired the zeal for education reform thru tech as a tool to achieve a goal, we must do so by showing and sharing how effective our methods are in the classroom. Not by shoving it down their throats and putting down their methods.

    1. Hi, Lee. I saw that tweet go out and thought it was great. I don’t think we were in the same session based on the contents of your other tweets at that time, so I assume you were hearing some of the same things where you were. I think it’s great that you addressed it head on. You’re right that we get trapped in our way of thinking and assuming others think (or should think) the way we do. Something as simple as your tweet can be the catalyst for greater awareness. Thank you!

  3. Very well put. No one needs to be embarrassed by any small steps. I always try to temper any tech professional development with care and concern and encouragement! But thanks for reminding me how important it is to continue that practice.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Marie. Embarrassment and shame should not be part of the learning process. Even if a person “deserves” to be embarrassed because they are not following best practices, we can choose to approach them with empathy and collaborate with them to create new instructional habits. Those are supposed to be the real 21st century skills, right? 🙂

  4. Hello Angela,
    I have followed you since you created your first site way back when. You are a true testament of walking in faith. I am sorry to ask this question on this post but it does deal with technology. I would like to know how you got the facebook feed on your site? Thanks for your time. Patricia 🙂

    1. Hi, Patricia! Thank you for the kind words. The info on getting a Facebook feed on a blog is not necessarily easy to find–I had to dig around for awhile before I found it, so I can see how you might wonder about this. The code for the plugin is actually offered by the developers at Facebook and is not a third party offering. The instructions are written in a way that assumes you have some web background, so if you need more help than what’s provided on the page, let me know and I’ll try to help you:

  5. I will play Devil’s Advocate here:
    Would you be confident with a doctor that has not updated his or her instruments since the 1970s?
    Would you use an airline who’se pilots proudly proclaim that they liked the DC3 and really don’t need training on these newfangled jets they are flying?
    Would you watch a movie that uses special effects that were all the rage in 1950?

    No, you expect those professions to keep up with the times.

    At some point, we have to stop. We have to look around. We have to say to ourselves that there should be little or no room for teachers that “this is all new to us.”
    Computers have been standard equipment in schools since the mid 1990s. The internet has been around at least 20 years. Teachers that say “this is all new to us” either haven’t been paying ANY attention to their profession for hte past 20 or 30 years, OR they have made a conscience decision to ignore it. Either way, they are guilty of educational malpractice.

    Do you feel sorry for people that started smoking AFTER they were given the warnings about lung cancer? I have a real hard time doing so…Same for teachers that have not kept up to date..

    1. Hi, Tim! Thanks for the push back. I’m a devil’s advocate myself. 🙂

      I agree that teachers need to keep up with the times. And I don’t feel sorry for the ones who haven’t; I feel empathy toward them. The idea of being a life-long learner is not something that is inherent in our field; many tech-resistant teachers entered the profession a very long time ago when it was assumed that a bachelor’s degree was all you needed to teach for life. The idea that they need to have a personal learning network and become proficient in the latest trends (which they’ve seen come and go repeatedly) is a huge paradigm shift for them. I get that and choose not to let it frustrate me.

      I guess the real point is this, though–if teachers who refuse to incorporate technology into their instruction are indeed guilty of “educational malpractice” as you put it, we need to figure out the best approach to fix the situation. We can blame and shame and try to force them out of the classroom–that’s certainly being done. Or we can show support and inspire them to improve their practice. As instructional technology coach I can attest that you catch more flies with honey.

      I’m not certain that they ARE guilty of educational malpractice, though. If their students are not learning the subject area content, it’s probably because they are unskilled teachers in many ways other than being technophobes. If we force them to use technology, it still won’t change their attitudes toward teaching and the kids, so our efforts are better spent addressing the underlying issues.

      And if their kids ARE learning the subject area content, then what’s the problem? There’s more than one effective way to teach. Just yesterday at ISTE, someone tweeted that their district’s teacher of the year uses no technology at all, but his kids are constantly engaged in hands-on activities and meaningful projects so they love to learn. Should we mandate that he change his teaching style? Why mess with someone who’s already got a working system when there are so many struggling teachers?

      These are just some thoughts that are running through my head right now…ultimately I believe the way to inspire true inner change is not with outrage and accusations, but with kindness and compassion.

        1. Agreed, this is a great conversation! The thing is, yes, people have been exposed to computers for the last 27 years, but things are changing so fast no that I think a lot of people are just get frustrated and can’t keep up. I’ve only encountered a handful of teachers who didn’t have email, couldn’t conduct a Google search, and didn’t know how to type and print a doc in Word. I’d estimate 95% of teachers can do these things. So almost all do have SOME exposure and are using computers to some extent in their personal and professional lives. They’re doing more than we give them credit for when we write them off as “resistant.” They’re not resisting EVERYTHING. Just because it’s not web 2.0 doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.

  6. Angela, this is exceptionally well written and well-stated. I thought about writing a similar post, but couldn,t quite find the right manner in which to say it. I am at ISTE ’11, as well. This is my first time attending as it is in my home state. While this view is a generalization, as there have been many incredibly open and accepting people with whom I’ve connected here, I must say that I am incredibly surprised by the clique-like community and yes, tech-snobbery. Thank you for sharing this. It hugely helps to know you are not alone in this perception.

    As we try and change the culture in our schools, with our students, we can’t afford to treat each other like this. Yes, it is fun to socialize and meet up with folks we haven’t seen in a while, but really, we are here to learn. It’s difficult to do that when people aren’t terribly open in person.

    1. Thanks, Suzie! This was my first ISTE, too. I didn’t notice a clique-like community, but many people who already know one another online were meeting up face to face so that may have made you feel a bit excluded. Also, people who travel in groups to conferences (not just ISTE) tend to stick together and can be a bit difficult to approach, in my experience. I did notice a lot of school groups splitting up at ISTE which was great. Anyone that I approached for conversation (even if I was not in the ‘clique’) was very friendly and welcoming. I agree with you that it’s very important that we’re open with one another in person.

      1. It’s worth stating that Suzie put on one of the best (even better now that I’ve learned that it was her first ISTE) and most useful BYOLs of the conference about Diigo…with about 3 days to prep because she was filling in for Vicki Davis who (understandably) couldn’t attend.

        Snobbery in education in this day and age, when schools are under such scrutiny and teachers are under fire, really has no place. Let’s celebrate the amazing educators that are out there doing amazing things in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and let’s band together in these times of strife. I have a terrific boss who often likes to say (even though some don’t like to hear it) “It’s not about you.” No truer words have ever been spoken to teachers. It’s about our students and if you forget that, whether you’re in front of them in your classroom or at an international technology classroom, you have dropped the ball. Pick it up and remember why you’re here and why you’re doing what you’re doing…you’re not here to bask in the glory of your admiring twitter followers, but rather to make a difference in the lives of those that should mean the most to us…our students.

        1. Powerful stuff, Ben! I think what we’re really talking about here is an unpopular but necessary attribute in Western culture today: humility. The ability to put ego to the side and focus on a greater, communal good. There are so many distractions, but ultimately, that’s why our community of educators comes together at events like ISTE: to learn from one another and contribute to something greater than ourselves. The more we humble ourselves and approach one another with openness, the more we can accomplish.

        2. Thank you again, Ben, for the kind words. Both you and Angela have hit the nail on the head with the direction of your thoughts. I was excited by the opportunity to present because I love Diigo and use it regularly. While I had only a short time to prepare and wasn’t exactly certain what I was getting myself into, I did it for two reasons. First, to help a very good friend in need. Second, and most important, because when I have to the opportunity to teach and share with others, I learn a lot. People ask questions about concepts I hadn’t considered. In turn, I can take new perspectives back to my students. When that happens, ultimately we open up new doors for our students.

          Yes, it is so important that we recognize and be mindful at all times of the reason we are there. Apologies, Angela, for taking up comment space that is a bit of a segue from the initial intent of your post. Ultimately, so very many of us are passionate about how our experiences can help to transform our students and this was one of them.

      2. Thank you for the reply, Angela. Perhaps clique-like was not exactly the sentiment I should have conveyed. Again, you state it perfectly in acknowledging the meet ups between people who have a long-standing relationship online. I’ve learned, though, to be more proactive next time. The more I read others’ posts about approachability, or lack thereof in some instances, the more I am able to reflect and note what I can do differently next time to make such a fantastic experience even better. You are right, there are so many people who are open, inviting, and willing to help and teach you what you don’t know.

    1. Tim! I totally noticed this! I was actually at EduBloggerCon and didn’t pay much attention until that group photo of us was posted after lunch. My first thought was, wow, where’s the diversity? My second thought was, how can we increase it? Good stuff to think about.

    2. Tim,
      You use the word, “Exclusive” when referring to Edubloggercon and although I was not at EBC11 or ISTE11, I have been in the past few years and I take exception to your choice of words. Edubloggercon is absolutely not exclusive. The very premise of EBC is to include everyone. ANYONE can come, there is no cost. ANYONE can present or host a session and EVERYONE can join in on ANY discussion. There is no exclusivity. I have yet to hear of anyone feeling uncomfortable at an EBC. EBCs are the place where the “famous” meet the “newbies” meet the “tech challenged” meet the “geeks” and the playing field is level. It’s an exciting experience and the fact that there’s not ethnic diversity is NOT for lack of openness.

      1. Hi, Lee! Thanks for stopping by and adding to this discussion. You make a really important clarification here: EduBloggerCon is designed to be INclusive. Certainly the invitation is open to all, and all are respected and welcome (I felt that very sincerely at the event.) The fact that most attendees were of the same ethnic background and social class is not a reflection on the event or its organizers; it speaks to to something much bigger that I can’t quite put my finger on. Ed tech in general tends to attract people from that particular background.

        From talking to people at EduBloggerCon and ISTE, it also seemed that most attendees taught in suburban or rural districts–very, very few were inner city teachers, which is where you can often find ethnic diversity in the teaching force. This could be partially attributed to the fact that urban schools tend to have less funding and therefore less technology, so teachers who want to go fully 21st century are attracted to the wealthier suburban districts. There are lots of factors at play here—but none of them have to do with an exclusionary nature of EduBloggerCon.

  7. Well said – couldn’t agree more. Everyone comes in at different levels of know how. Imagine if we said to our students “You’re still reading Encyclopedia Brown books – that was sooo 20 years ago” – or something more menacing. That’s not so different from the PowerPoint comment you shared from the presenter.

    Great post.

    1. Mike, I was thinking the exact same thing! Some people might say that the way we treat our students is different from the way we treat one another, but we’re all part of the education community. We need to practice what we preach!

  8. Love this! One of my tweets was simply, “keep it positive” as I had a similar experience as you.

    Listening to some of that tech snobbery made me wonder what students would think of their teachers behavior…don’t we teach them to do the right thing no matter who is watching?

    1. Hi, Ellen! Good for you for speaking up on Twitter. It’s up to the participants to set the tone for the conference. We’re the ones who shape the quality of the experience, and we’re the ones who determine what flies in presentations. We can set the expectation of a community of learners in which everyone is accepted and welcomed.

  9. Hi Angela,

    I think this is a very well written observation and reflection on our behaviors. It can be very easy to stay within our own bubble and begin to believe that everyone else should be “where we are” with regard to technology skill & knowledge because everyone else in our bubble is in the same place.

    I think it is helpful to remember a few things…

    As you have stated, “I believe the way to inspire true inner change is not with outrage and accusations, but with kindness and compassion.” I couldn’t express that any more clearly than you have and I agree completely.

    I know some people critique the “Technology Adoption Model” as being too simplistic to match reality (looks like the typical normal distribution curve and divides people into categories such as “early adopters,” “early majority,” “late majority,” and “laggards”), but in my experience it very closely resembles the average distribution of technology knowledge, skill, and “willingness to learn” that I have found on most school campuses. Not everyone will always be at the far end of the curve as an “early adopter.”

    At the very least, anyone attending a major (and expensive) conference such as ISTE does deserve our respect (regardless of their current level of skill or knowledge) for their willingness to be open to learning more about technology as evidence by their attendance at the conference.

    Finally, with regard to the model described above, most of us will fall into different places on the curve at different times and with different technologies. While I might be on the “early adopter” end of the curve with social media, I am probably on the opposite end with some other technologies. None of us can be experts in everything. Additionally, with the rate at which everything changes now, it can be challenging even for us to keep up with all areas of technology innovations — the “end point” is constantly being moved and we must remain constantly in motion (learning, exploring, experimenting, etc.) in order to stay “caught up” with all of it or even with a subset of it.

    We are all learners, and we all have our own learning process, pace, and timeline. If we want to inspire others to join us, we need to meet them gently where they are and we need to have patience for their individual learning process, pace, and timeline.

    1. Hi, Stephanie! Thanks for your thoughtful response. I really like your point about the “end point” constantly being moved. This is probably the most exasperating part of technology integration for the technophobe: no matter how much they learn, it’s never enough. There’s always something more, something new, something better. Everything upgrades so quickly and the projects they put their heart and soul into now become obsolete in a few short years. Their attitude then becomes, why bother trying? It’s impossible. This is the heart of teacher resistance and apprehension, as I see it.

      Therefore, if we’re going to address the underlying problem and not just a band-aid solution like mandating tech use, we have to create a culture of innovation. We have to do exactly what you said: inspire others to join us, and make the process enjoyable and worthwhile rather than a race to be tech compliant. We have to celebrate every step along the way, because the journey IS never-ending. And that’s kind of the best part. 🙂

  10. I had a conversation with Scott Meech (@smeech) at Edubloggercon where we talked about the fine line between ‘naming the problem so we can solve it’ and ‘shaming/blaming.’ For example, suppose I say, “Most of the administrators in your district don’t know what to do to create learning environments that prepare kids for a digital, global world.’ Is that ‘naming the problem so we can solve it?’ Yes, absolutely. But depending on how sensitive you and/or those administrators are, it may feel like ‘blaming/shaming.’ So perspective and individual sensitivity are important here. As many know, I’m less worried about some people feeling put upon if the alternative is avoiding the problem and thus not fixing it. In other words, I care about people’s feelings but not at the expense of reforming the system.

    1. Hi, Scott! Thanks for reading, and for a great session at ISTE, as well. You bring up a very valid point. We can’t worry so much about hurting sensitive people’s feelings that we allow them to stay in the place they’re at. In fact, true compassion and empathy compel us to help move people along toward a better place.

      My point in this post is more of a motive check for tech lovers: a call to examine our own attitudes, and ensure that when we push for ed reform, we’re doing it for the right reason. It’s a plea for us to check our intentions and make sure we’re looking to create constructive change and not just draw attention to what’s wrong or shame someone for not meeting our standards. The attitude of the heart always shines through, so it’s up to us to make sure we’re coming from a positive place and make that apparent in our conversations and actions.

  11. Angela,
    You are speaking about ME! Thank you a million times! I want to learn to use technology and implement it in my lessons, however, I have only two computers that are OLD and barely work. I also do not have the money for all the latest gadgets with the newest bells and whistles. I am trying to raise a family on one income and have to prioritize. Thank you for sticking up for us!

    1. Hey there, Ruby! You are so not alone in that experience. There are so many teachers out there who have limited and outdated tech that keeps them from doing as much as they’d like. Sometimes trying to integrate old, unreliable tech is so frustrating that it’s just simpler to stick with pencil and paper stuff. Just keep working with what you’ve got, and advocating for the best for your students. Experiment with different things and reach out to other educators for support and ideas. One of my plans this summer to is to add a whole section to this website on classroom management with technology–hopefully that will be a good resource for you. 🙂

  12. Angela, one more thing I wanted to add has to do with your comment about the lack of presentations centered around urban education. You are so right…there are great teachers doing great things with few resources in urban environments (@engaginged are among them 🙂 ) I hope to hear more from them at future conferences…and I hope to become more involved in this strand of the conversation, as I’ve come to believe that ed tech, especially its myriad free Web 2.0 options, can help to “level the playing field” when it comes to keeping up with the more affluent suburban “high-achieving” districts.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there and just say thanks to you, Angela, for a thought provoking post.

    1. For those following this discussion, Ben is referring to a comment I made in this blog post: https://truthforteachers.com/2011/06/best-and-worst-of-the-2011-iste-conference.html.

      Ben, you’re so right that tech CAN help level the playing field for urban students, which is just one more reason why it’s so valuable. After that post, someone approached me about putting together a panel presentation at ISTE12 to talk about urban ed. That’s definitely something to consider. Sounds like you may have some things to add to that discussion, with your experiences in Detroit schools. Let’s definitely keep this conversation going. 🙂

  13. Angela,

    I wish our paths had crossed at ISTE! First, I applaud you for writing this post! Beginning with our arrival to the conference on Sunday, I noticed the self-congratulatory grouping of teacher educators, as well as the “tech snobbery”. It was disheartening to say the least. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve taught, what degree you have, what position you have (teacher’s assistant, classroom teacher, admin, higher ed, IT, etc.) or where you teach (urban, suburban, rural, public or private). Everyone attending ISTE was there because they want to make a difference in the lives of children. Nothing is more important or more sacred. Let’s stop celebrating individuals and start celebrating our profession! As many heard me say at the conference, “Swoon over the profession not the individual.”

    I will continue to focus my attention on our amazing profession and those who are committed to change, open to collaboration and willing to make a difference in the lives of all children everywhere.

    1. Hi, Marialice! Our paths probably did cross a bunch of times and we didn’t even realize it! You are quite right that we need to focus more on the IDEAS in ed-tech that help kids rather than any one particular person. We as educators have an amazing opportunity to make a difference for kids, and we have to make a conscious effort to continually refocus our efforts on that.

  14. “I don’t read [printed] books. I have no use for them.”

    Astonishing. I was recently considering buying myself a Kindle, but realized that I have almost no use for an e-reader.

    1. Wow, that’s funny! And interesting when I really think about it. I’ve heard people say they can’t afford an eReader right now, and that they prefer printed copies, but I haven’t heard anyone say they don’t have a use for it. I have an iPad and am relying on it more and more for my reading. I like not having to make trips to the library to get new books (it’s all done online) and being able to switch quickly between different books even when traveling. It’s definitely lighter and more manageable. I guess it depends on what you’re reading. Are the books you typically buy not available in eBook form, or not as practical in that form?

      1. Well, I could find some use for a Kindle. It would be really great to have access to Wikipedia at all times, for example (I don’t have a smartphone, or really much of a cellphone at all), and I do occasionally read a book that I could get on the Kindle. But most of the books I read these days are textbooks, and when I’m not reading those in actual print, I use my laptop. At this point, I would consider a tablet computer for myself (especially an iPad!) to be a crazy extravagance.

        On the more general topic of using technology in teaching, I was once extremely interested in using every possible bit of tech that I could to make course material more lucid and intellectually accessible. But over time, I have increasingly come to the realization that this is counterproductive. I have learned the somewhat counterintuitive educational benefits of cultivating student frustration, and have seen the research supporting that view. To the extent that technology seeks to make a subject more easily digestible, I can’t condone it. I see in another post that you lament the absence of brain research at the ISTE conference. To be frank, I’m not surprised; I suspect that an honest discussion of the long-term effects of some kinds of technology in teaching might be a bit of a downer.

        In short, there are those of us who take a dim view of certain instructional technologies for deeper reasons than personal discomfort or unfamiliarity.

        1. Boy, you’ve really given me some food for thought here. I’m glad you called attention to the fact that not every person who is slow to integrate technology is reluctant because of personal discomfort.

          As to the reason why there was a lack of brain research at an ed-tech conference…I hadn’t considered that the connection between the two topics might be negligible. I assumed that if people are passionately pushing for certain techniques to be implemented nationwide in classrooms, the neuroscientific research would certainly back up those ideas. There was a lot of talk about how students need to learn in the 21st century, but is there a connection to what brain researchers tell us about how our minds work? This is definitely an are that I want to explore in more depth…

  15. Imagine if we said to our students “You’re still reading Encyclopedia Brown books – that was sooo 20 years ago” – or something more menacing. There is an incredible lack of ethnicity.

  16. Wow! Quite the popular post! You make a thoughtful point about our interactions with students and how it turns them “on” or “off” to learning. Change is hard enough on its own, but when you add in belittlement and fear it takes out the possibility for positive long, lasting effects. Educators are role-models, your every move is watched closely (counting your attitude)! Remember, everyone was a novice at some point.

    1. Yep, I am still amazed at how many tech tools there are to be a novice about! It seems like ten new tech sites/services are started everyday. Checking out the latest programs and apps is a great way to stay humble! 🙂

  17. Angela, thank you for this post. There is definitely a gap between the haves and have-nots in the classroom, especially in the area of tech resources. There are many great Web 2.0 tools that I use in the classroom, but with only one computer, I, not the students, am usually the one using them for instruction. Sometimes my colleagues scoff at my use of paper handouts and “old-school” methods. However, I do not have a computer for every kid in the class as they do. Besides, sometimes paper, pencil, and tangible (not virtual) manipulatives can be easier than technology for both student and teacher, and many times these methods are just as effective as tech methods. I agree with your reminder, and I believe we must remember too that simply using technology for technology’s sake, or to say we an use the latest-and-greatest equipment, will not necessarily make us better teachers. I keep up with tech as much as I reasonably can, and I appreciating you reminding the haves of their privilege.

  18. Spot on! As a mentor to “the most unlikely candidates ” of teachers in my district as far as tech integration goes, this is exactly how I tackle the challenge. My team spoke at ISTE on our success, failures and advice along these lines on Monday. Relationship building and trust goes much farther than “this is easy” or “you don’t know how to do THAT, that’s easy.”

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