Once every year, I teach an actual course, not a workshop or professional development, but a class with 20 – 40 students. One where I need to write a syllabus, have lectures, papers to grade, homework and exams.
Now, I’m not comparing teaching masters or doctoral students 3- 6 hours a week to my friends who teach middle school six hours a day. In fact, when I go for a day or two, as a guest speaker for six classes a day, and I need to stand on my feet and keep 40 teenagers’ attention for all of that time, I think yet again that teachers don’t get paid nearly enough.
There are several reasons that it is important to me to teach a course every year, and one is that I think it is super-important as someone who makes educational technology that I be in an actual classroom with students. It’s easy to forget how unbelievably BUSY teachers are if you are not in that situation day after day.
It’s also easy to overestimate the amount of time teachers have to investigate new technology. For example, for the course I am just finishing, I considered just two possible types of statistical software – SAS and SPSS. The university had a license for one and it was available free (through SAS Studio) for the other. I knew R existed, of course, but I did not consider it as an option for these students (long story I will skip). I had a short time to decide and someone suggested to me another option – JMP – that I had not considered, but by then I didn’t have time to research it, find a possible textbook and integrate it in my syllabus and lectures. If I’d had more time to look into it, that might have been a good choice.
I know there are other options out there- I had looked at Statistica at one point and it looked pretty cool. However, now that I have my syllabus done, lectures written, textbooks selected, model assignments and my students are generally doing pretty well, it is hard to see myself spending a lot of time researching new software applications for my engineering students. (Social Science and Education might be a different issue).
My point is that one evident challenge for anyone who makes educational technology is the “good enough” problem. That is, if things are going good enough, teachers are not highly motivated to look for something better.
One of the things that drives me crazy, is those teachers who think it’s “good enough” when the vast majority of their students are below grade level or not proficient – but that’s a rant for another day.