Devices Are Only Part of the Digital Transformation

I was in a classroom recently where the teacher was calling on students to identify each of the 50 states from their book to complete a map worksheet.  I talked to one of the students who told me they were learning the states because “the teacher thought it was important to know them” and when I asked if she knew a better way to learn about the states, she pointed to the iPad face down on her desk and said, “the internet?”.  As I looked around the room, each of the students had their own iPad that was face down on the desk as they were copying the states from an Atlas into a “map packet”.  These students were transferring information in an attempt to memorize each of the states and their geographic location when they could have Googled the map and instantly had all of that information and more in the time it would take them to write in “California”. The purpose of having the technology is to create new learning opportunities for students that allows them to access and interact with information in better ways than we did without access to such vast resources. Yet this lesson, or some version of this lesson, is still happening in many “21st century” classrooms.


The point of sharing this is not to critique the teacher but more to provide and example of the challenges that many schools and educators face today aligning teaching and learning to the vision. As technology becomes more prevalent in schools to keep pace with the world we live in, we must remember that devices are only one part of the digital transformation. If we continue to purchase technology without addressing fundamental beliefs about learning and consider how schools can better serve students, by creating new and better opportunities, we have missed out on the purpose of integrating technology in the first place.

There can be no institutional ‘vision of technology use’ that exists separately from beliefs about learners, beliefs about what characterizes meaningful learning, and beliefs about the role of the teachers within the vision- Winschitl and Sahl (as cited in Ertmer, 2005, p. 32).

Consider your answers to the following questions?  Does your district or school have a shared vision and operate in alignment with the answers?

  • What do we want students to learn? Who decides?
  • How will student learn?
  • What is the role of the teacher?
  • How will we assess learning, progress, growth?
  • What is the role of technology?
  • How are we learning and sharing to be the best educators we can be?

These beliefs drive learning experiences. If we don’t address our beliefs about learning and the role of technology, nothing will change. I still hear people talking about implementing programs with “fidelity” while the district vision is about personalization and authentic learning.  In the article, Let Students Cheat, Allan Rabinovitch asks, “What sort of decisions do we have to make as educators [and learners] to prioritize which type of knowledge is worth memorizing and which to delegate to Siri?”  This is a question that I believe needs to be taken seriously and it is not enough for district administrators to decide and tell teachers. Teachers not only need to part of this conversation, they need to lead it.

If we add technology without creating new and better learning experiences for our students, why bother?



Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for technology integration?. Educational technology research and development, 53(4), 25-39.

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