Pragmatism is Not the Answer, Part II: Tech Integration

Photo courtesy of gadgetophilia.com

For Leadership Day 2010 I decided to default to one of my soapboxes. Those of you who have made a habit of reading my rants will recognize some recycled parts of an old blog post. However, when I think about the message I most want to communicate about technology integration, it is this message—Pragmatism is not the answer.

For the sake of this discussion, I will define pragmatism to mean: A practical, matter-of-fact way of approaching or assessing situations or of solving problems. (Thanks to answers.com for that definition) It's a straightforward If-Then mentality. In the tech-evangelical world, I would say it means some iteration of ”If I buy the latest and greatest technology, students will experience high quality learning.” 

I spend a lot of time thinking about our addiction to pragmatic answers to our highly-complex educational questions. We are so concerned with fast, practical results that we’ve forgotten that real, substantive, lasting change happens as a result of changing the underlying belief systems of the individuals who comprise your school.

This is even relevant in the sometimes-pompous world of tech-integrationists. We focus on the hardware, the software, or the product—missing the boat entirely. We count the number of laptops, iPods, iPads, and netbooks, and we neglect to assess or highlight the qualitative difference in students’ learning experiences. We focus too much on getting the technology into the hands of the teachers and students and not enough time fostering the belief systems that will allow the teachers and students to innovate with the technology they have.

Or, when proclaiming the positive results of a technology initiative, we focus on all the wrong things. We talk about the laptops, not the learning. We talk about the cool products students have made, not the deep conceptual and procedural knowledge they have attained as a result.

While I am absolutely a fan of meaningful technology integration, simply buying technology for your students will not transform your school. It’s just not that simple. We consistently neglect to consider and challenge our most fundamental attitudes and beliefs—the forces that drive every action we take and every decision we make in terms of how to use technology for learning.

So, think around your building and answer these questions: What are our shared values? What are the core beliefs that drive our actions in conscious and unconscious ways?

Do we believe that educational systems must be designed for students, rather than adults? Are we willing to throw away our treasured traditions and take the risk of letting the students show us where to go?

Do we really believe all kids can learn? Do we believe every single student is worth our utmost effort? Are we relentless in our efforts to connect with students and push them to their full potential?

Do we believe that the best kind of learning occurs when students are deeply engaged in a struggle to understand important concepts? Do we believe that conceptual understanding and skill fluency are more important than knowledge?

A fundamental change in belief system must accompany technology integration in order for us to see the system-shattering results we want to see. In my mind, it’s a chicken-egg deal. I don’t care if you purchase the laptops for every student first and then change the belief system—or vice versa.

My major word of caution is not to neglect the hard work of challenging and changing attitudes and beliefs. Participate and engage others in experiences that provide cognitive dissonance and force us to question our biases and assumptions. Changes in values and beliefs will result in incremental changes in behavior that will get us to the lasting and systemic results we want. 


  1. Well said, Bridgette. Technology is a tool for learning. If technology and learning is not connected what have we gained? Students are living in an age as digital natives and most of us teachers are digital immigrants. Like you wrote, "Are we willing to throw away our treasured traditions and take the risk of letting the students show us where to go?" Good question!

  2. Thanks, Curt! It just seems like we too-often want to find a simple answer to questions that are really quite complex. We've got to commit to engage in long-term, hard work if we want to make sustainable change.

  3. I have found myself addicted to the writings of your blog. As always, you have a profound way of writing and it causes me to think in new and different ways. Thanks for your continued work in the field of education.

  4. Thanks, Amy! I'm so glad you'll still be following! You know I am rarely at a loss for words...