Are you a digitally illiterate teacher?

I'm not good with technology.

As teachers, we make choices every day about how we want to develop our practice. Some of these come easy as they are in our comfort zones and attainable without a great deal of effort. But the most important choices are those we make to address areas that don’t come easy to us.


Video Transcript Follows: 

There has been much discussion about this phrase recently in education. For years and years, it’s been socially acceptable to just blanketly declare a deficit in Math. For whatever reason, it was ok for adults to say this about math and pass this attitude to our children, but it wouldn’t be ok to proudly state “I can’t read”. We as teachers know the importance of literacy in our world and the harm that these words can carry to our learners. We understand the power that words like this can have on our development. So we push back against it. We work to  build a growth mindset in our students. I’ve seen the bulletin boards and posters. You’ve seen the posts on Twitter. This is a mindset shift that is going on in our schools.
So, why do we accept this? Why is it OK to proudly state “I’m not techie.” “Computers don’t like me.” “I’m digitally cursed.” In 2018, is it acceptable to be digitally illiterate as a teacher?
Sure, if you’re like me and the other nerds among us, technology is something that is exciting and interesting. When the first computer came into my childhood home, I was captivated. When the internet opened up a world beyond the small town I lived in, it changed my perspective completely. I love to understand how things work and am enthralled by the leaps that are made as time marches forward. I’m afraid of getting older because it moves me closer to the day that I’ll miss out on all the amazingness that is still coming. I want to see self-driving cars. I want to see where virtually reality will go! But I understand that not everyone shares this raw excitement for technology.
But like math and reading, technology is no longer a stand-alone subject that you can choose to embrace or not. Technology is not like history or geography where students may be passionate or not, and while important, ultimately, can find their way with a deep understanding or only a surface level exposure. Technology is not art, where an understanding and appreciation is necessary for all of our society, but engagement in creating art on a daily basis, is not. Technology is a new literacy. It is not an elective. It is interwoven into every moment of our lives and it is not ok to opt out of.
Our students come to us as Digital Heirs, Digital Orphans and Digital Exiles. Heirs having access to technology and guidance as a consistent part of their lives. Orphans having access to the technology, but lacking the guidance to make it a meaningful or safe part of their lives. Exiles being excluded from the technological world, either by chance or simply by fear.
Those Orphans and Exiles are dependent on us, the caring adults in their lives, to help them navigate their changing and increasingly-digital world. We are in a position to model and foster an understanding of this new landscape. When we make the claim that “we don’t do tech,” we are telling them that the world they live in is not important. We are telling them that we do not have the interest to participate in the world they are living in. We are choosing to make ourselves irrelevant in their world.
“In real life” Labelling something like this is how people like to separate their digital or online lives from their analog ones. But the thing is, this is real life. They’re inseparable. Our real lives include the digital world in almost every bit of them. We can’t teach our students in some sort of technology-clean room pretending as if our lives don’t heavily depend on the technology that is in them. To teach in a world where we pretend that information isn’t searchable, is simply a farce. To pretend that our lives are not intimately intertwined with our phones, is a lie. If we are talking about preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, we need to at least teach them in the context of the world that does exist. Looking at the world from ten years ago to today, it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see that we are moving towards a life where the digital world is more integrated into our lives, not less.
Now, I’m not saying that teachers need to know every bit of how computers work. I mean, I’m a relatively competent driver, without being able to build a bridge. But, living in the modern world, I don’t get a choice to opt out of roads. They are part of our world. It’s how we get around. As educators, we also can’t opt out of integrating technology. It’s a part of our world. This is how our world works now and we need to be at least competent in it. Not the world’s greatest stunt driver, but at least able to safely navigate our highways.  
But this means that we may need to let down our guard, take a risk. We may need to make ourselves vulnerable enough to admit to our students that we don’t have all the answers. We need to be ready to show our students that we figure things out by searching Google or looking up how to do something on YouTube. We need to be open to learn new things. We need to show them that sometimes we just click all the buttons in the menus looking for something that might do what we want. That there are things that we are going to learn alongside our students, together.
We don’t need to become gurus of technology, but technology offers us opportunities that have never before been seen, and we need to embrace them. Embrace them AND be ready to change our practice to maximize the potential of this ever more powerful tool.
It’s NOT ok for teachers to be digitally illiterate in 2018. And I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I want to empower you to take this stance with your own staff.  I want you to push back on this mindset. So how are we modeling this move towards a deeper literacy? How are we moving from “I’m not good with technology” to “I don’t know that YET. I’m ready to learn.” We expect our students to be this open. We expect our students to embrace this growth mindset. I think it’s time we as educators do too.

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