teacher agency and edtech
Last night, my spouse and I took kiddo to her new school to find her classroom, officially meet her teacher, and all that fun stuff. While we were there, we got confirmation of what we’d heard earlier: ClassDojo is going to be used in all classrooms this year as part of a school-wide initiative. It was helpful to talk to kiddo’s teacher about this. She understood my concerns, she had her own trepidations about being required to use ClassDojo, and she honestly wasn’t sure how she was going to bring it into the classroom. One interesting detail that came out of the conversation is that she had only heard on Friday (a mere five days before the beginning of the school year) that she was going to be required to use this platform.
This in particular reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in terms of edtech. During grad school, when I taught in the MAET (Master of Arts in Educational Technology) program at Michigan State, we proceeded under the assumption that teachers were the primary agents in the consideration, adoption, and use of educational technologies. This makes sense given our context: For most of my time at MSU, we had both Matt Koehler and Punya Mishra on the faculty (Punya moved to Arizona State near the end of my time there), and so their work on TPACK (technical pedagogical content knowledge) was deeply influential in informing how we thought about and taught edtech.
Of course, seeing the teacher as the primary agent in edtech has never been the only way to look at this phenomenon. I’m not deeply well-versed in instructional design, but it seems to me that the field semi-presupposes a different kind of professional, who has disciplinary knowledge and expertise that an everyday instructor might not have. Yet, you could still put this in TPACK terms if you wanted to. Higher education instructors are generally understood to be highly qualified in content knowledge, but they may rely on instructional design professionals to provide pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge.
What this ClassDojo conversation reminds me is that edtech is less and less a function of individual instructor decisions and knowledge. At my kiddo’s school, ClassDojo was a decision made at an administrative level. At my university, Canvas is also decided at an administrative level. You could try to fit this into a TPACK model, with administrators exercising technological and pedagogical knowledge on behalf of teachers, but this entire perspective starts to get more and more strained. It’s harder and harder to put teachers at the center of decision-making as it relates to technology.
I’m not really a teacher educator any more, and I’m not shy about scholarly dabbling in disciplines other than edtech, so maybe it’s not my place to voice my concerns about all of this, but it really gets the wheels turning in my head. If I were teaching in an MAET-like program these days, would I feel like I were doing enough teaching teachers how to make responsible decisions about how to implement technology? Or is it time to teach teachers how to work within sociotechnical systems that make technology choices for them? There’s a lot of thinking to do here, and I hope there are folks in edtech who are doing this work.
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