In the Digital Age, Good Teaching Still Matters the Most

June 08, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Students, Technology Integration

"Technology changes everything – and nothing,” is the underlying message academics, technology experts, and online gaming company heads took home from The Atlantic’s second annual Technologies in Education Forum held late last month.

As Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education, wrote in the Huffington Post, one would think support for new educational digital resources would abound in a room full of tech-bigwigs and “futurists.” Instead, the conversation, regardless of the starting topic, would always boil down to the fundamentals of great classroom teaching. “Essentially, what we do with technology has to have fundamental underpinnings in what the best teachers in the world have done for decades,” said Busteed.

While technology is often touted as the key to education reform in the United States, there are additional factors that require as much attention and support. “Many education policymakers hail technology, in particular, as the savior,” said Busteed, who maintains that, according to his research at Gallup, public support for technology in education is still “mixed at best.” Busteed pointed to one poll  that found split results to the question, "Would it be best for the school to hire a more effective teacher who was only available to teach over the Internet or would it be better to use a less effective teacher who could teach the class in person?" Fifty percent said "less effective teacher in person," while 46 percent said "more effective teacher online."

According to Busteed and researchers at Gallup, the fundamentals needed for a great online course or gaming experience are the same that make for an excellent classroom teacher. Gallup has outlined three traits that the best teachers often possess:

  • They are relational: They develop relationships with their students and the parents of their students, as well as help encourage peer relationships between those in their classes.
  • They are hopeful: They inspire students to have passion for their futures, and encourage excitement for what they’re learning.
  • They are insightful: They treat each student as their own person, and get to know each student’s unique personalities, strengths, and areas that need growth.

Busteed said that forum attendees left with a clear sense of purpose and that the unending debate of great technology vs. great teacher is unnecessary. Instead, the conversation needs to be about maintaining a “seamless interplay” between the two. In other words, we need to find the most effective ways of putting the best technology into the best teachers’ hands. “Our opportunity to innovate and improve education is deeply tied to these fundamentals,” said Busteed.  “A great teacher is a great teacher -- whether she is real or avatar."

Robert Torres, Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said that technology can be a great assessment tool, and allows us to better gauge complex skills in the classroom, like problem-solving, systems thinking, and collaboration. “Our agenda has moved and evolved over the last two years really, from thinking about games as learning environments to games as assessment environments,” said Torres. “We have to really design immersive and deep learning environments that place kids in really authentic problem contexts if we’re going to solve this problem of the alienation that kids feel from school.”

At the forum, White House office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director Tom Kalil announced that the theme of this year’s “Race to the Top” federal grant competition, which rewards education reform at the state level, will be on tailoring instruction to individual student needs. The Atlantic wrote of Kalil’s decision, “After a day of dialogue about how technology can facilitate adaptive learning and easily adjust instruction to accommodate students with varied abilities, Kalil’s revelation highlighted that the administration is also embracing technology as a vehicle for learning.”

Photo by Jeremy Wilburn.