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What are you so afraid of?

It seems to me that lately there have been a lot of articles posted around the Web about higher education being afraid of using technology.  I suppose that since I received my recent Master’s degree entirely online from an accredited university, I’m somewhat oblivious to that fact, but I can see why that would be thought, based on the various arguments made.

Bringing technology into the classroom, let alone have distance learning via e-learning or even m-learning, is still a bit of a foreign thing even now, despite the fact that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were working on getting computers into classrooms as much as 30 years ago. (Time flies!).  Part of the problem is that there are many educators who are a little intimidated by technology. Yes, computers–as just mentioned–have been available in the classroom for decades in one form or another, but not everyone has learned to take advantage of that.  Why?

One of the obvious reasons is cost.  Computers–whether desktops, laptops, tablets, or even smart devices (like an iPod touch, NintendoDS, etc.), are not cheap. Trust me–we have at least one of each of those types of devices in my house, and I know how much we spent to have them.  Even with the movement to promote BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), not everyone can afford to have the latest and greatest gadget. Technology, these days, evolves very quickly, so it’s hard to keep up with the latest devices and tools. (This is why I’m always happy to hear of endeavors made to try to supply simple computing devices that are made cheaply to supply to children in far flung places in Africa, South America and Asia where such resources are scarce.)

Even so, I think the reason that many in higher ed and other educational levels don’t use more technology to teach is basically because they don’t know how.  I’ll give you an example.

My father was the first one to introduce me to computers a little bit more than 30 years ago when I was a kid. The Apple II had come around, and my father–a lifelong educator–found himself trying to support a family with four kids (me being the oldest of them) and having a very difficult time finding a job due to budget cuts happening left and right.  He found computers interesting, and realized that if computers were to become prolific, then maybe he could segueway his teaching skills into teaching adults how to use VisiCalc and basic word processing programs in business. In other words, he would move into the training and development business. But once he got a job back in the traditional educational field, while he did stay involved in computers, and even got to a point where he was not only a curriculum administrator but teaching night courses as well–he’d teach computing for a while, but it was never major advances. To this day, he’ll call up either me up or talk to my developer husband if he has computer issues. I don’t think other than teaching computing for a short time, that he really ever used technology in the classroom much. Sure, “Oregon Trail” was used, and maybe “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?“, but beyond that, even when he was officially retired and teaching history courses at the local community college, beyond the use of email, I don’t know that he necessarily used technology for those courses.  History classes can be very dry subjects (I ought to know, being a history major as an undergrad), but so much history is available online to make it come alive–with video and images alone.

Even in my own online grad courses, I could see where the staff knew things to a point, but then some would show their limitations of what they knew of the outside world and what tools were available to them, and this was a group that was generally more willing to use technology as well. One professor posted all the coursework on Moodle in one folder instead of using the features to the fullest to disseminate information. He may as well just have photocopied everything, stuck it in a manila folder, and handed the materials out willy-nilly instead. I see these as hugely missed opportunities for both my dad and this professor.

My taekwondo teacher taught me something years ago, which I know has been repeated elsewhere: the best way to learn is to teach.  From my own experience, this is not only true in taekwondo, but also for just about anything else in the rest of the world. Teachers–whether they be training specialists at a company, or preschool teachers, or anyone else in the educational field in between–need to continue to learn and grow themselves in order to be effective teachers, especially in this day and age. Technology is a lot less scary and more intuitive than it was 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago, and people forget that very quickly.  If teachers are expected to help turn out students who can contribute towards future growth, how can they do that if they don’t keep up? Yes, there are some older tried-and-true methods that still work and will always work.  But to create a future where everyone from the littlest preschooler to the adult learner contributes in a way that pulls us all forward–teachers need to keep up.

Mobile learning provides a fantastic and easy opportunity to do this, no matter what subject a teacher teaches, or what level. Tablets and smartphones are more prolific these days than even desktops or laptops, so whether a school district provides those tools, or a student brings it from home, it’s a portal to a world of opportunity. The use of whiteboards in the classroom make a huge difference–I know I remember hearing that my son enjoyed and seemed to respond better in classes if whiteboards were used.  As it’s been mentioned many times before, education is undergoing a bit of a revolution, because 19th century ways of teaching aren’t working well in the 21st century.  Life and business are conducted very differently and on a grander global scale than even 100 years ago, or even 10-15 years ago.  Social media and Web 2.0 tools are changing how we communicate and work with each other, especially in real-time.  And yet, having these tools can enable all of us as students of the worlds to learn more.  I guess I don’t know why some are so afraid of trying out the many technologies or applications out there that can work to advance our common knowledge.

You see, in my head, I can imagine how all these different subjects can use mobile technology or other e-learning tools.  You have a Social Studies class? How about asking students to find online newspapers to look at the world in other countries? Or using online libraries or resources to find information? What about doing a short project about looking up records on to learn about World history and how their families may have come to this country? Science–so many scientific journals out there to access. English language and grammar? Many blogs and websites covering those topics, as well as many works of literature have been converted into videos or movies. Math? Check out Khan Academy or similar sites, and see if a flipped classroom curriculum works more. Physical education? Plenty of websites about sports, health, fitness out there. Foreign languages? Watch Japanese TV, Mexican soap operas or Italian news on YouTube. Google, Bing and other search sites are your friend as well as your students’ friend.

There is one last resource for teachers of higher ed or other educational institutions to learn more, and it harkens back to my taekwondo instructor’s words. Learn from your students. They are usually more up to date on what’s going on with all the devices. Why not ask them for suggestions, or learn how to use tools from them? Recently, I remember showing a professor of mine how to use hashtags on Twitter to start getting more involved in topics that she was interested in researching and find other Twitter users that shared common interests on that outlet. While she understood the concepts behind Twitter, she didn’t know that one could search by hashtags within Twitter, and so she learned how to use a social media tool that she was familiar with in a different way. I was glad that I was able to show that to her, and I’m sure going forward that it’s something she may pass along to her other students and colleagues as well.

Also, don’t be afraid of asking colleagues who are tech savvy as well. If they are enthusiastic about using technology in the classroom, they are usually more willing to share those ideas with someone else who shares that enthusiasm.

In the end, we can all benefit from each other in helping each other learn technology, but educators need to take special attention because in helping themselves learn about technology and using technology, they will help their students as well.

So, what are you so afraid of? Start looking in the App Store, You Tube and Google, and see what you can find. You might be surprised. Every little bit of knowledge helps to advance you and your students.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

And if there are any teachers (on any level) that would like some extra help…let me know.


Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who currently employed at Cox Automotive, Inc., and freelances as her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, BASF North America, Merck, and Deloitte, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog,, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. She is very active in the STC, as a former chapter president for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, and is currently serving on three STC Board committees. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog. All content is the owner's opinions, and does not reflect those of her employers past or present.

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