The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Monday, October 15, 2007

To Integrate or to be Integral?

There was a small discussion today about redefining the titles of educational technologists on Twitter. Ultimately, the discussion evolved to include integration. I entered into the discussion, but sometimes 140 characters are just not enough.

I'm not a big fan of using the word integration. Do we really want teachers to integrate technology? Or should technology just be an integral part of what teaching is, what classrooms are, and what learning can and should be?

There are no cooperative learning integration specialists, no textbook integration specialists, no assessment integration specialists. Why technology integration specialists? What's different? Why do we hold technology to that standard?

To imply that technology needs to be integrated strongly suggests that it is outside of what the standard skill set is for educators. It's not. The use of technology in a lesson is no different than the use of a lecture, of structuring the lesson so that students learn collaboratively, or preparing an assessment to gauge understanding. Whether or not to use technology tools in the learning process is a curriculum design question, pure and simple.

I've heard teachers say "And now they want us to integrate technology on top of everything we already do." Hold on-the use of technology is not an "extra." It's part of what you should be doing. It's not an addition, but that's the climate that is created when the focus is on technology "integration."

Perhaps you may think this is a matter of semantics. I don't. I think the difference between integration and being integral is absolutely critical.

So, how do you know when technology should be used in a lesson? How do you make that decision during the curriculum design process to ensure that technology is not just bolted on to something that a teacher already does? How do you ensure that technology takes its rightful place along all the other tools and strategies that teachers have to help kids learn? How can you help to develop that climate? Have teachers ask these questions, during lesson preparation.

Ask yourself these three questions:
  1. Does the use of the technology support a fundamental literacy that the school believes in? This can range from a holistic literacy like writing to content specific objectives for a particular course. For example, digital storytelling first and foremost seeks to improve the ability of students to write.
  2. Does the use of technology add value to the lesson? Does the technology extend the lesson to a place that could not be achieved unless the technology was included? For example, using the process of digital storytelling also helps students learn visual literacy skills, project management skills, network skills, and how to use media in an ethical way. If the products are shared, then the student can potentially write for a world-wide audience, and that's a much different experience than writing for a teacher.
  3. How will I structure the lesson so that the technology fulfills the first two criteria? For example, the time-tested methodology of preparing a narrative, developing a script, storyboarding, locating imagery and other media, and then building and sharing the story is a truly effective methodology or framework for effective digital storytelling.
OK, so where does the educational technologist come in to the process? I believe that the person that supports technology (I'm not going to use the i word), learners, and teachers helps teachers understand the three questions.

Do that and you'll take steps towards make technology an integral part of teaching and learning.


  • At 8:52 PM , Blogger Carolyn Foote said...


    Being a librarian, it reminds me of that YouTube video about the monk figuring out how to use the book.

    This whole idea that technology is something separate is so yesterday, I agree.

    Do we talk about integrating books into the curriculum or wonder why we should use them? (well occasionally now, people do...)

    I bet you'd be hard pressed to find a teacher that hasn't checked something on the internet daily, or several times a week.

    And yet, I agree, we still talk about all technology as though it is some "add-on," as though global literacy and world wide connections are some sort of frill.

    Glad you expanded on the tweet.

  • At 9:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Preach it brother...

  • At 10:20 PM , Blogger ehelfant said...

    I like tech being integrated or embedded. I have been doing tech "integration" for 6 years now and my role has become increasingly one of curricular design. I just finished a project with science classes and when we were done, we realized that the tech we used ( groups) FELT minmal. We had designed a good debate that forced presentation skills and had good library/research integration (enhanced with searching and evaluating sources and creating presentations) but it didn't feel at all like tech and I wasn't really needed to do the tech. It was just intentional, curricular change. It was cool!

  • At 11:38 PM , Blogger SMeech said...

    Great point Dave! I have to say that I am very proud of being a technology integration specialist and have seen the evolution of my role just like ahelfant describes.

    That being said, there is a fundamental difference in the learning curves of using a book, teaching strategies like cooperative teaching and using technology in the classroom.

    Just think about the amount of time used to train teachers on how to use textbooks through their own educational experience versus teachers learning how to use tech in their classroom. I just wrote my own entry regarding my own experience lately with professors and their abilities to integrate technology in their classrooms. Higher education needs technology integration specialists just as much if not more than K-12 teachers.

  • At 3:27 AM , Blogger Kern Kelley said...

    Hi Dave,
    I completely agree and think that the term implies something that is incorrect - that technology is an artificial layer to be added to what you're already doing in the classroom. I often tell staff don't add to your workload, just do it this other (presumably better, ultimately easier) way.

    And I may have missed the tweet, but is there another 'Title' besides Technology Integrator that easily explains what my job is to staff, students and parents? Technology Integralist, Educational Technologist, Information Literacy Specialist, UberGeek, or maybe just Teacher?

    Traditionally teachers see all techies alike. I do not want to be the guy who gets called when the printer goes down, but to most staff if electricity goes through it, it must be a tech problem. Maybe it's just a matter of time for the distinction to be widely understood, but for now if the title Technology Integrator explains that in two words, I'll live with it. But I'm all ears to suggestions for a new one.

  • At 7:46 AM , Blogger David said...

    Kern: I completely agree with you on the label of teacher. I think there is nothing more elegant than that.

  • At 10:28 PM , Blogger Cindy said...

    You make a very good point here. You’re right about not having a “specialist” for other areas of our teaching and yet there seems to be a different set of standards when it comes to technology. Perhaps it has to do with the thought that those teachers who are not using technology as an integral part of their teaching lack what they perceive as sufficient technology skills. Now you and I know that shouldn’t be an excuse, and yet when I go to train teachers I hear all sorts of reasons for not being able to log into the server, for not being able to download or attach a file in Email, for not being willing to explore where technology can take a lesson, for not being open to transitioning some of their “paper” assignments to the web….etc. I exercise patience and try to move them another step forward. But I also try to ask them and myself WHY they are holding on so dearly to a certain (low) level of skill sets. TIME is always the number one response. They often say there just isn’t TIME to make the transition or to learn the skills needed to feel comfortable. They seem to believe that only those with a deep passion for technology have TIME to make the shift. Some will say that they don’t bother because their students don’t have access outside of school. I say ALL THE MORE REASON to use the technology. If not at school then those students won’t get much of it at all. I won’t go on and on here….I will continue on my quest to bring as many students and teachers along with technology as I possibly can! As always, I appreciate your perspective and inspiration.

  • At 8:05 PM , Blogger Stephen said...

    I have to disagree a little with you here. I don't think technology is equivalent to lecture at all. When one says “lecture”, we all know what that means. When one says “technology”, the ideas that are visualized here are endless. One can “lecture” with technology or with out it. Lecture is not a tool. It is a structure tied to a pedagogical framework. Technology is a tool to support whatever pedagogical framework being employed.
    Also, for many teachers, technology IS an “extra” when you have never had to use it before - and frankly, have never needed it before to teach. Why do teachers suddenly need to use it? In some teachers’ minds, this is equivalent to saying that all teachers must migrate over to complicated electronic grade books. Why? Does this change how we assess students? What if I would rather use my good old paper/pencil technology (and many teachers do)?
    I would add an additional question to your three very good ones here, and that is: Does the use of technology help operationalize my pedagogical beliefs and desires for teaching and learning? For example, does technology help facilitate collaboration or problem-solving? Does technology supply tools that help amplify thinking, spark creativity, or visualize ideas? Does technology empower students and facilitate self-directed learning or the pursuit of unique interests?
    Or, in along more traditional lines: Does technology help me generate worksheets, create puzzles, assess quantitatively, present information, create displays, find resources for my lessons, communicate with parents...

    We have to understand the pedagogical framework that teachers are working from rather than impose our ideas of how technology use should look if it is integral to learning. What kind of learning? I think that the real issue here that drives technology’s integral role is how we VIEW learning. Because let’s face it - for some, technology is just a pain in the neck and they use it as if they were putting a square peg in a round hole. They use it to please their superiors. Or, they try their best to steer clear of it altogether. So, I think the work that still needs to be done is to help bring vision back to teachers who have lost it, to help teachers no longer excited about learning new things find that spark, to rekindle their desire to connect with students, to help teachers take risks and to make failure safe, to reward collaboration and innovativeness, to foster a community of practice... I think THIS is where technology becomes integral. Any less, and technology, at best, is integrated. At worst, tolerated.

    Great post.

  • At 9:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


    The shift from "integrate" to "integral" is significant. More than a year later since you wrote this post, I see groups such as the Nat'l Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) bringing technology "inside" the "teacher skill set" -

    Over the next few months, I'll be involved in re-writing my district's technology plan. Thanks for articulating some guidelines.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home