Tech integration won’t make teaching easier. It just makes it easier for students to do amazing things.

This is a cropping ruler:

It’s pretty low tech. If you’ve ever done any work with photo editing, you may be more familiar with it in this form:

When I started advising yearbooks in 2002, my staff had to measure and crop each of their photos by using an old fashioned cropping ruler and a red wax pencil. Then, we had to sticker the back of every photo and send a giant envelope from Minnesota to Dallas so that the photos could be scanned and placed in the yearbook for us. Before we could even crop the photos, my lone photographer needed to drive to Target to buy film, go out and take the photos, drop the film off at Target for developing, and then return two days later to bring the photos back to school. This was just one part of making a yearbook.

We produced the entire 256-page yearbook using three castoff computers that didn’t work very well, using design software that basically just drew rectangles.

Also, during that time I had to walk to school in the freezing cold, uphill both ways.

Honestly, though, what I realized this morning wasn’t how hard it was to make a yearbook in 2002. I realized how easy it was. My staff was half the size it was now and much of their time was spent doing easy stuff like putting stickers on photos and sketching basic layouts on custom graph paper. Our audience’s expectations were relatively low, too.

Now, my staff is twice the size – up to 50 brilliant students. We have eight photographers shooting with high-end digital SLR cameras and professional-grade lenses. Photos are available instantly and cropping is an afterthought on our 17 reliable computers.

However, making a yearbook is harder and more time-consuming than ever and we work longer hours than we did when we had to do everything the “hard” way.

I often wonder why our work sessions have lengthened and become more intense as the job of making a yearbook has become, supposedly, easier. The answers have led me to reconsider the way I think about technology integration.

As our capacity to do remarkable things increases, so does our responsibility to improve. Having better equipment that takes care of the things that used to consume most of our time doesn’t just allow us to learn more deeply and create amazing products, it requires us to. Instead of learning how to make wax pencil marks on photographs, we’re studying graphic design seriously. Instead of driving to Target, my photographers share their work on Flickr, getting feedback from the best photographers in the world. Our audience is inundated by beautiful design, and so our expectations of ourselves have increased. It would be easier than ever to make a 2002 yearbook – our after school work sessions would be at most two hours instead of nine – but instead we’re working right up until our deadlines, filling each moment with the best work we can do.

In my four years as an integration specialist, I had to walk a fine line with teachers who wanted technology to make their jobs easier. Many teachers hesitated to embrace new tools simply because they implied a responsibility to do better things. Many just wanted a way to find and print out worksheets online instead of ways to allow students to create brand new products and ideas. Others just wanted to digitize transparencies to project on a SMARTBoard or find a miracle app that would engage their students.  It can be hard to explain that the job of a teacher will always be difficult and that, if you decide you want to be a great teacher, technology won’t actually make your life any easier; it will just make it easier to do amazing things.

For example, doing classroom blogging is a fast and easy way for students to publish their work to a wide audience. Getting an entire class set up with blogs can take less than 10 minutes. A students can write and post to a potential audience of thousands in less than a class period.

Easy, right?

I’ve been facilitating student blogging since 2006, and I’ve failed with it as often as I’ve succeeded. The common element that led to successful student blogging experiences, without fail, was the amount of descriptive and authentic feedback I provided my students each week. That means, I must spend time leaving paragraphs of feedback for each entry and bringing highlights of student work into my classroom. That’s much harder scribbling “yes!” or “interesting!” occasionally in the margins of a piece of paper that students used to hand in. It’s more time consuming than adding a +, ✓, or – at the top of a piece of paper.

Blogging is quick and easy, but scaffolding a great writing experience and teaching writing with integrity in a world full of multimedia distractions, unintentional plagiarism, and intentionally misleading sources is more difficult than ever.

However, the rewards for getting these things right are greater. Our students can publish writing, create music, produce professional-quality video and audio, and visit with amazing people in a single class period, often with their own tools. These are things that used to take technical expertise as well as prohibitively expensive tools. Having access to the tools isn’t enough. These kids may be “digital natives”, but that doesn’t mean they’re digital experts. I’ve stopped waiting for the day that technology makes my job easier, and embraced the idea that the impact of an amazing learning experience has never been greater.

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