Being tech savvy, an apology with context

Earlier today I tweeted “Wondering how long educators will keep referring to themselves as tech savvy. At some point that will be the default.” Then I followed that up with “Being tech savvy is a good thing, but announcing it is kind of like saying, ‘I like kids.’ Should be a universal expectation for teachers.”

I reread those two thoughts a couple hours later and thought it sounded quite judgmental and critical of people who say they are tech savvy. I can’t stand it when people get judgmental. I HATE it when I get judgemental. Without any context of the other thoughts in my mind, I think it looked like I was being critical of those who share that they do have knowledge and skill in the area of technology integration in schools. Jerk. Some of my best friends (PLN as well as “real life”) truththfully proclaim that they are tech savvy. They should. They are very smart, dedicated, hard working people who use best instructional practices (not just tech) to provide what their students need. They have every right to state the skills they have developed.

There was the apology for playing the part of the high and mighty administrator with a Twitter account. Now some context.

So what does it mean to be tech savvy? Looking at the word ‘savvy,’ I see a relation to the French word ‘savoir,’ which means ‘to know.’ (Thank you Madame Farrell! You taught me well. Also, I’m sure there is a link to a Latin word as well, so next stop after I finish this post is an online dictionary for some amateur etymology work.) For me, ‘tech’ means the computery and softwarey tools that can be used in schools to help kids learn and do what teachers say they should learn and do. Pair the two together and it means that an educator (not just teachers) can use computer gadgets and software to help students. The tech savvy teacher used her iPad to update her class web page with a video of the newly moulted meal worms so kids could show their parents what they saw at school.

That is my utilitarian definition of being tech savvy, but make sure you take a look at the National Educational Technology Standards from ISTE. There you can find a variety of definitions and resources for what it means to be “learning, leading, and teaching in the digital age.”

So what is up with the educator, especially a teacher, who doesn’t possess and display adequate technology skills? Are they just not smart enough? Nope, plenty smart enough. If you know how to teach a 6 year old to read, you are brilliant. Do they just not care about learning new practices? Not it either. Approaches and philosophies for reading instruction (other subjects/skills too) change fairly often. Those are complicated processes and practices. Teachers seem to learn those and put them to use quite well.

So what is the issue? Why don’t more educators have the skills to take advantage of all the educational technology that is out there? Let’s modify that questions slightly and change educators to students. “Why don’t more students have the skills to…?” A thoughtful teacher would never take the easy (and judgmental!) route and say, “They just aren’t smart enough. They just don’t want to learn. They just don’t care.” The thoughtful teacher would say, “I guess I haven’t engaged them enough and/or taught them what they need to know. Maybe I wasn’t emphatic enough about the importance of learning this content and these skills.”

That holds true for any skills and knowledge that we want our educators to have. If we think that technological literacy is important, we need to provide the motivation (“This is crucial. You must know this.”) and resources (time and money) for effective professional development to happen. Who the heck is this we that needs to provide these resources? The we would be all the stakeholders in an educational community (more than just schools). Teachers should recognize their own need for PD if they are to implement these tools and practices, and then ask for those opportunities. Administrators and school boards control budgets, schedules, and policies. If instructional technology (tools and practices) are important, then make it a priority in these budgets, schedules, and policies. Parents and other community members need to advocate for the use of best instructional practices and resources (tech is just one part) in their community schools.

We expect our students to be digitally literate as part of displaying 21st century skills. Shouldn’t we expect the same of ourselves as educators? Expecting this is only the first easy step. Planning and doing it will be the hard part.

Back to my tweets that got me writing about this. I look forward to the day when all educators are tech savvy and that particular skill set doesn’t need to be discretely stated. Digital literacy should be a universal expectation for all of us who work with students young and old. General savviness and adaptability should be a universal expectation for educators as well. Change in education has been a constant activity, and I imagine that dynamism will only become stronger and swifter.

4/19/12 update: Ryan Bretag writes a great post along these same lines. Simply buying tech devices does not remove the need for professional development and making needed changes for the learning needs of students and staff. If you don’t have Ryan’s blog in your Reader, you should. He really shares some top-notch information regarding educational technology.

Also ran into this post from a few months ago from Pernille Ripp. (another blog to have in your Reader)

P.S. (I like parentheses!)

Syndication note: This piece was originally posted at

6 thoughts on “Being tech savvy, an apology with context

  1. Thanks Melissa. So many people say they want more relevant and applicable skills being taught in schools, but what have we really done about it? We are trying way too hard to teach modern day skills with out of date approaches. Educators need more support to meet the quickly changing needs of our students and society as a whole.

  2. Increasingly, educators are turning to technology not only to amplify their ability to personalize education and elicit higher order thinking, but also to extend their influence beyond the classroom for re-teaching, remediation, sustainable support, etc. Educators are using technology more and more to solve problems of collaboration, global-anytime-anywhere training and development, and real-time communication. This movement has now gone mainstream; indeed, it’s not uncommon anymore to see educators naturally make use of technology. It’s now in plain sight.

    But, there’s nothing so deceptive as something obvious, and we have to be cautious about our acceptance of what it means to be tech-savvy. The extent to which educators deliberately employ appropriately selected technology devices and applications to cultivate an environment of powerful learning is the essence of being tech-savvy as an educator; it’s not having a smartphone, posting to Facebook, or using an interactive whiteboard.

  3. As always Brad, you are spot on. Handing a kid an iPad for flashcard type work is not tech savvy. Using an IWB to only project a planner sheet is not tech savvy. Using Pinterest to only get bulletin board ideas is not tech savvy. We need to find a way to provide resources and PD for educators to be able to implement technology to enable the anytime and anywhere opportunities for learning for themselves and their students.

  4. Pingback: Being tech savvy, an apology with context by @wiscprincipal | TeacherCast

  5. Pingback: Being tech savvy, an apology with context by @wiscprincipal | TeacherCast Blog

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