The setting is Austin, Texas, but the issues on the minds of educators attending the TCEA 2013 convention and exposition this week are universal. The event, which attracts teachers and IT leaders from across the state and around the country, formally kicked off this morning with a keynote address by Peter Sheahan, author of six books, including FL!P: How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings, Making IT Happen: Turning Your Good Ideas Into Great Re$ults and Generation Y: Thriving and Surviving with Generation Y at Work.
As CEO and co-founder of ChangeLabs, a global consultancy delivering large-scale behavioral change projects for clients such as HP, IBM and Microsoft, Sheahan specializes in difficult transitions. So he sympathizes with the K–12 community and the many ways in which the traditional teaching and learning paradigm has been upended in recent years.
“Teaching is possibly the only profession on earth that happens primarily behind closed doors, with very little peer review,” he told attendees. “We shut the door, and it happens in isolation.”
Sheahan drew on his experience assisting Australian schools with their own “education revolution” — a nationwide move toward one-to-one computing — to help the educators attending the TCEA convention overcome their own anxieties about integrating technology into the classroom in meaningful ways.
“People who respond best to change are those who make the right assumptions about what’s changing, how quickly it will change and how best to respond to that change, and who believe strongly in their own ability to respond to that change,” he said.
“When we went on this journey in Australia, we thought if we just gave teachers enough technology, it would transform the classroom experience,” Sheahan explained.
It was an assumption that he said proved to be “deluded.” In working with thousands of schools across the continent and tens of thousands of teachers, he discovered that 50 percent of the notebook computers that were funneled into the schools were still in their boxes 90 days after they were delivered.
The lesson, Sheahan said, was this: Making technological change meaningful and enduring isn’t about the device or the infrastructure that’s needed to support it. Instead, he urged, “Give equal or more attention to the journey of behavioral change. It’s not about technology acquisition, but rather, technology application.”
Sheahan conceded that a fear of ceding control in the classroom precludes many teachers from embracing technology. “To be vulnerable or exposed in the classroom environment is difficult,” he said.
“But sometimes, you have to step over the ledge and into the unknown to make real progress. Technology doesn’t make an average teacher outstanding. Teachers have to be engaged and willing to take serious risks to effect real change,” Sheahan said.
Embrace Challenges One at a Time
To illustrate his points, Sheahan shared several examples of potentially disruptive changes in the business environment and how companies such as Hyundai, Genentech and Tesco innovated in response to those changes.
Tesco, a United Kingdom-based grocery and general merchandise retailer with more than 6,300 stores around the world, once plastered the wall of a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, with photos of more than 500 foods and other items that people typically buy at the grocery store and invited commuters who saw the wall to scan the QR codes of items they wanted to purchase using the Tesco Homeplus app on their smartphones, thereby adding those items to an online shopping cart. The virtual shopping experiment made headlines in Korea — and has the potential to revolutionize online shopping worldwide, Sheahan explained.
Such innovation extends to school classrooms as well, he continued. It involves “going out of your way to create an affinity for the notion of using technology, to change the culture,” he said. “Change is slow, so you have to constantly create anchors to show that you’re making progress. You have to celebrate the much harder journey of the everyday.”
To ease the process, Sheahan recommended that educators avoid trying “to bite off too much, too early.” Instead, embrace one technology, one challenge, at a time. In his experience, teachers do better when they use the technology they already have.
“I bet 95 percent of you have access to technology that you use in other parts of your life: Use it!” he said. “Don’t let acquisition become a barrier in the journey. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the teacher, about driving yourself to do things differently.”
Sheahan extended this logic to the process of teaching and learning, noting that the traditional classroom paradigm of the teacher lecturing the student — also known as “jug to mug,” he joked — no longer applies.
“When left to their own devices, what do people gravitate to?” he asked. “When you don’t enforce structure around them that changes their behavior, they go to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon. They connect, they collaborate, they share.”
Teachers who recognize this reality and find a way to embrace technology will be amazed at what they — and their students — can accomplish, Sheahan concluded.
“Your success in the classroom using technology is directly proportionate to your belief in your ability to do it.” When in doubt, he added, “just fake it!”