Now Trending in Education: When Technology Becomes a Hot Mess

Have you been wondering what’s happening these days in the education arena, PCSE (post-covid shutdown era)? This series of four articles spotlights some of the most recent post-pandemic downtrends now taking shape in K12 and/or university settings.

In our last installment, we focused one two of the key input/output stresses challenging educators these days: the “Great Resignation” and persistent “learning loss”. In today’s installment, we discover how many technology efforts in schools are not the glowing success they seem.

Tired female student in glasses sitting at the table with laptop over white backgroundThe question arises: “Have we created a monster with our firehose approach to post-covid technology use?” Some school leaders think so.

Over the summer months I interviewed three grassroots (in building) technology leaders and also connected with many graduate and undergraduate students currently working in schools. To say the least, I got an earful. Plus, a pounding headache from the dissonance of it all.

One K-8 school technology leader grimaced “technology in our school is a hot mess!” She added: “Before, teachers were accustomed to fight using it [technology], but now they can’t live without it. But they have succumbed to the lowest common denominator [of technology use].” She explained “since teachers weren’t as trained as they needed to be, [poor quality use] has become prevalent.” Another high school administrator agreed with these concerns across the board, adding that increased use of phones in classrooms during the Pandemic have led to “harmful distraction and greatly reduced student performance.” Some of the repeated and specific concerns that seem to be making technology a “hot mess” in schools include:

  • “Teachers just want to do the dumbest things with technology, not the smartest.”
  • “Teachers are now overemphasizing ‘drill-and-kill’ mindless websites in their daily practice.”
  • “Time on computer now equals math instruction or reading instruction [when, pre-covid, technology was a thoughtful additive supplement].”
  • “Teachers just want to watch videos—lots of videos.”

Not all educators, however, picture the current situation so bleakly. One teacher-leader I spoke with said that the “hot mess” problem begins and ends with a school’s culture. In her school, for example, technology-based learning remains focused, positive, and done well because the staff have long entertained a culture of excellence. They simply won’t settle for nominal use of technology or technology as busywork. For the record, I suspect that the number of schools that harbor such a culture of excellence with technology remains at the dismally low 5% level. And, to further advance my point, all three leaders I quoted above are leaving their K-12 education careers for job elsewhere in government or private industry. There you go. The Great Resignation in action, again.

In concluding, it therefore stands to reason why many school district and principals, professors and deans are encouraging front line educators to pull back on the technology and reinvigorate the positives of traditional face-to-face teaching. Poor medium choices, uninspiring application of software or hardware, and unfortunate teaching practices are generally hurtful to the consistent progress of technology in schooling. When these things occur, technology becomes less sticky, or worse, over time finds itself relegated to a second fiddle role in the classroom. If technology is to truly thrive in schools, we need to see its creative, imaginative, and reasoned use in the classroom. Can your products take us there? – Len Scrogan