Fact or Fiction? Are Older Teachers Slow to Adopt Technology?

Older teachers are slowing the pace of technology change. As new, and younger teachers enter our schools we’ll begin to see the “real” transformations begin.

Thoughts like this get repeated so often that they go unchallenged. Take a look at “Can Older Teachers Learn New Tricks”; “Young Teachers Are More Effective Than Older Ones”

There is not only a technology gap between students and older teachers, but also between younger (“Millennial”) teachers and older teachers.
Millennial teachers have a much easier time incorporating technology
into teaching, are more willing to take risks with it and are more
comfortable letting their students help them figure stuff out. Many
older teachers are still terrified of computers and of losing their
authority or having it challenged in the classroom by admitting they
don’t know how to use the technology. Helium Blog – Sagebomb

Is the likelihood of adopting new methods of teaching and new tools, like technology, really a function of age? Is there any research to back up this commonly held view of older, let’s call them “veteran” or “seasoned” educators?

I found this interesting data from CDW-G’s third annual “Teachers Talk Tech” survey conducted in 2005 by Quality Education Data with 1,000 teachers from around the country.

The data shows that established, seasoned teachers indicate no innate resistance to classroom technology.
The 2004 Net Day “Speak Up for Teachers Day” survey of 11,132 teachers highlights a similar finding:

One of the major themes of the national findings was:

Defying conventional wisdom, older teachers are as comfortable and fluent using technology as their younger colleagues.

So, are older teachers just as likely to adopt technology as their younger counterparts? Are we buying into a myth and writing off our most experienced educators?
Maybe technology adoption has less to do with age…and more with professionalism?
pete

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24 Responses to Fact or Fiction? Are Older Teachers Slow to Adopt Technology?

  1. Ray says:

    Hi,

    I have to say that I see the opposite data in the teachers I work with. I see the long term teachers of over 10 years as more resistant to new technology because it is something new and they have to change what they’ve been doing for a long time.

    The question from the report “Since you began teaching, has computer technology changed the way you teach?” doesn’t mean “Have you changed your way of teaching because you wanted to?.” What the question and results show is that the longer you have been teaching, the more you have had to add technology to keep teaching. It doesn’t mean they liked it, nor does it mean that they adopted it without resistance.

    Most of them change their thinking only after using the new technology and see the difference in how their students react to the new methods. They also see that they can do their work faster, have it on a network server or laptop for easier use and manipualtion. They also see that they can share their lessons easier when they are digital.

    To get less resistance and quick adoption of new technology you need good IT support and training of the teachers. You can’t just throw it in and expect a teacher, no matter how long they have been teaching to adopt it without some resistance. As an Educational IT support person I know that you need to be available all day at a beckon call so that the teachers know they have someone to fall back on.

    It’s hard enough on a teacher to do their job without asking them to add new technology without any help. You can ask any of the teachers I work with and they will tell you that they might be nervous at first to try some new technology, but they know that they are going to get complete training and support. If they have a problem I’m there right away.

    Ray

  2. Rick says:

    I have to agree with Ray somewhat here. These educators weren’t asked if they actually liked the change that technology has brought about; they were just asked if it had changed their way of teaching. My experience is that most–but certainly not all–veteran teachers are very resistant (if not downright hostile) to technology into the school day.

  3. Tracy Rosen says:

    I’d say that it makes sense for veteran teachers to report that tech has changed their teaching the most – younger teachers are used to living with tech, so new technologies are not regarded as significant change.

  4. pete says:

    hi,
    How would you explain the second survey (Netday) of more than 11,000 teachers that shows no discernible difference in rates of adoption among veteran and younger teachers?

    pete

  5. Doug Harvey says:

    I’ve never brought into the notion that veteran teachers are anti-technology. What we percieve as resistance is really just a desire on their part to avoid wasting time on things that will not make any difference for them in their teaching.

    So if a veteran teacher is given viable technology options that can truly enhance their students’ learning, they will most certainly adopt it! But if that technology is not supported with training, technical assistance, and coaching from other teachers, they will want no parts of it.

    The same is true of young teachers – they have far too much to do managing their first classrooms to spend time playing with technology. Another myth is that just because they are comfortable with computers at home, that will translate to eagerness to use them with their students.
    The fact is that for the most part, young teachers were no better prepared by their teacher education programs to integrate technology than veteran teachers.

    So I wouldn’t say it is about professionalism – it is about utility and effectiveness. I applaud veteran teachers for not blindly adopting technology, but rather asking for its usefulness to be proven first.

  6. Angie says:

    I think it comes down to level of comfort. Newer (ie younger) teachers are more comfortable with technology. How many older teachers do you know with a MySpace page? I mention words like Twitter and wiki and get blank stares from anyone over 30 or not involved directly with techonology training/courses. Older teachers might use “techonology” like computers and Powerpoint, but not beyond that. It’s the gap between digital learners and digital natives (Prensky).

  7. Pete Reilly says:

    Hi,
    Just back from a district technology assessment and in one of the focus groups 2 student teachers sat in. I heard a lot from the veteran HS teachers about how their students were being short changed because there wasn’t much technology available to them.

    They pointed to the student teachers and said, “These young folks coming from college have been using technology as part of their courses all through their education. Our kids are going to be behind the eight ball when they get to college.”

    Both student teachers nodded agreement.

    I asked the unbelievably young looking student teachers how they used technology and they had the same response…we used a Blackboard like system to get our assignments and notes and to submit our papers and assignments.

    I pressed a little further… did they have any courses that showed them how to use technology to teach their subject matter. Neither of them had had any course or training on using the technology with students.

    And therein lies the problem. Even the youngest teachers are coming to our classrooms unprepared to use technology in their teaching! They come straight out of the mold that produced the last generation of teachers…except they have some experience with classroom management tools…and they are probably less afraid of the use of technology, in general.

    That said, we are left to do expensive “on the job” training…

    Will they be any more receptive to trying new teaching styles? Teaching styles that they have probably never experienced as a k-16 student?

    pete

  8. Tom Haskins says:

    It’s not surprising to me that the data does not reflect age of teachers or professionalism as the determining factor in technology adoption. Last week’s PBS Frontline documentary on the impact of the Internet on adolescence– showed high school teachers who were early, late and non-adopters of technology. What stood out for me is the difference between learner-centered and content-centered instructors.

    The content centered instructors were plagued by students “cheating” to complete the assignment by their resourceful use of the Internet. The teachers were giving assignments that had been given before in every content-centered class, and could be copied and pasted with ease, or simplified by short synopses of long reading assignments. The learner-centered teachers had a very different take on this. They naturally adopted the use of handhelds, going online in class and uploading content (podcasts, slides, text, links, etc). To their way of seeing, the students are obviously prolific authors, technology-fluent,and resourceful about finding things online. They don’t need to be disrespected, framed as in need of remedial instruction or subjected to content delivery they can find on their own. They can be understood, validated for their fluency and challenged in meaningful ways.

    Learner-centered instructors learn from their students. They discover how the class is going over. They take the feedback back on themselves to come up with better ideas, alternative approaches and more respectful solutions. Whatever works for the current students would evolve from getting it wrong, getting feedback and getting to try again. It pays to do this. The instructor gets so much back from the students – admiration, buy-in, earned respect, trust and openness. I don’t think it takes being youthful or professional in the academic sense. It takes being learner-centered and open to getting taught each time by the students.

  9. Justin205 says:

    Hi all, I am a college student with the hopes of becoming a high school teacher. After reading this article I would have to say that I disagree with the conclusions drawn from the data. Judging simply in the context of my own life I can conclude that most people from an older generation have a very difficult time picking up on newer technologies. This makes sense because technology is an ever changing field. To get from point A to point D in technology without ever experiencing B and C means that a “quantum leap” in knowledge is necessary. And for many people the effort that it would take to accomplish this simply isn’t worth it or might even be too difficult. Also, not to say that older teachers are lazy, but when you have been doing something one way for a long time and it has worked you might tend to get comfortable with that system. We all get comfortable doing things a certain way and resist change because it is inconvenient for us to change. Take for example getting to work in the morning. If you have been driving yourself to work everyday for 10 years straight but all of a sudden you were forced to take public transportation, I think that might make us all a little uneasy and we would probably try to find a way to continue driving ourselves to work. In conclusion I dont think it will be an easy process to get older teachers up to speed with technology. We need to simply try our best to do so while at the same time understand that they have their own methods that have worked for many years so maybe we can learn something from them too.

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  11. Clm114 says:

    So, are older teachers just as likely to adopt technology as their younger counterparts?

    Yes, they certainly are. I work with faculty in higher education. We are seeing more and more veteran faculty coming to professional development workshops seeking out ways to incorporate technology into the classroom. Recently an adjunct professor for our education school, who by the description listed above would be considered an older teacher (I’m guessing late, very late 70’s), came to us wide eyed and full of enthusiasm! She wanted to learn how to use Blackboard so she could teach online, among other things. She wants to stay current for teaching future educators and for assisting the current teachers she mentors in her district. She’s been teaching for at least 30 years. The enthusiasm and dedication for teaching today’s learners and future educators must be there in order for any teacher to be an effective educator. Recognizing that you are an old dog in need of a new trick, is humbling, but can also be very rewarding.

  12. Pete Reilly says:

    Hi,
    After reading your responses I think I’m of the opinion that there is some truth that age plays a bit of a role in adopting new technology. I see that in my own life. I know older family members who would never think of buying an iPod, and we have someone in our family who won’t use a cellphone. So, there is a bit of a generational thing going on with technology; but it certainly is the minority of my family.

    It’s not cut and dry. I think if a teacher is reflective and oriented to honing their craft; they will open themselves to new pedagogies that are more effective, and also open themselves to the technologies that enable them to succeed with those pedagogies.

    This is not age driven.

    I believe the two surveys should give us pause to re-examine our stereotypes about older teachers. I don’t think those beliefs serve us well.

    pete

  13. Katie-ed205 says:

    I do think it is hard for older teachers to adapt to new technology. Especially if they have not seen a need to use it their whole life they probably won’t want to learn now. Most people become set in their ways and will find it hard to learn something new. My mom says, “I haven’t needed to use a computer my whole life, why start now.”

    I do think that if a teacher wants to become more knowledgable and helpful to their students they will want to learn.

  14. Ray J says:

    I don’t feel older teachers are resistant to use technology, what have they been actually supplied with? I have had several conversations with now retired teachers about this and my impression of them using technology is more support related. Their experience is limited yes, but time is so valuable that I can understand why they would not what to use it when there is not enough support. My older family members would rather have me stop by for a face to face chat then an abbreviated text message. I like to use technology in the classroom and just like my retired peers, get very frustrated with the system.

  15. Kristen205 says:

    I think that it depends on the teacher. Some older teachers I know are all for technology and they know how to use it, while others are more afraid. I think it also depends on how much they have been exposed to it and how much experience they have. I think it is harder for older teachers to use technology in the classroom if they have not been exposed to it and then are given the technology with no help in using it. This is when they most likely get nervous and decide not to use it. If they were given more help in how to use the technology I thik that many teachers would be more apt to use it.

  16. pete says:

    Katie-ed205,
    So, it really isn’t an issue of age; but of the professionalism of the teacher?

    “I do think that if a teacher wants to become more knowledgable and helpful to their students they will want to learn.”

    pete

  17. pete says:

    Ray J,
    I have observed what you describe just about everywhere I go.
    pete

  18. pete says:

    Kristen205,
    So, what would you change in order to get more help to the teachers who were not familiar with tech or who were a little afraid of it? Do we pull them out of their classes for PD? Do new tech savvy teachers volunteer some of their time to help them?
    pete

  19. fburnett says:

    I think a spark is needed to respond to change for the elder educators. I have been teaching for 15 years. Recieved my Masters last year, and in the tech course, the professor let the class teach to themselves. In doing so, we became the expert. During the research for my chapter, I came across ideas I would have never dreamed of 2 years ago! I utilize them in my class, some for extra credit and others are mandatory for student participation.
    When trying to help my collegues, I have set up my edtech blog to enhance their understanding. It can be intimidating if you don’t have someone to go to for questions. In my blog I plan on showing examples of best practices that might work for one class and not for another.
    At 43, I feel my whole career is opening up to new teaching styles. It’s really got me over the hump of “same ol’same ol”
    What was really great at the mother campus-They had a NOOB camp, and explained all things tech. Students as well as professors became the experts. Everyone was a rockstar (themed) This should be a requirement for the next few years at all schools.
    Frances

  20. Pete Reilly says:

    Frances,
    Is there a link to your blog so we can get a glimpse of what you are doing?

    It must be wonderful to feel the new possibilities for yourself at this point in your career.

    Congratulations!

    pete

  21. fburnett says:

    Sure, I would love to hear and ideas…positive or negative..Like I said, I have only been at this for a year or so, but it’s slowly becoming my new hobby!
    http://fburnett.wordpress.com/
    Frances

  22. [...] data from two studies that Pete Reilly cites in his post, “Fact or Fiction? Are Older Teachers Slow to Adopt Technology?” seem to put the lie to conventional wisdom. These lyrics from one of my favorite classic [...]

  23. susan says:

    In the analyticalAs a middled aged scientist turned teacher at ag40 (14 years ago) I have always received compliments on my willingness and ability to utilize technology. With that said, I still run intp those who use anecdotal evidence (like most who are responding here) rather thqn real scientific data or critical thinking. These are two things distinctly missing from public education.
    In 2009, I went through much abuse and terrorized by a principal in north MS who was angry because I did not limit my use of their outdated technology nor would I take his very publicly touted approach to te with lots of research,aching serious subjects as though we were on American Idol (whatever that meant) or through silly Kagan games that were not content based typically but made him look to parents like school was always fun. As a MS student who went to University of California and Stanford in the analytical sciences and public health, I thought I could help by coming back. Now I know why my parents left for the west when I graduated high school. Living in noerthern CA taught me a great deal including not stereotyping everyone in a particular group. Those of you who think we older people cannot learn or adapt keep people like me from helping others U of TN at Memphis openly told me my age was why I could not enetr either of 2 graduate programs because of this age bias. I cannot get another teaching job since younger teachers are preferred. Tell me how someone with my experience in biomedical engi8neering research and public health don’t help students in high school chem and bio while someone who has gone straight from high school to college to teaching has better qualifications based on age?

  24. Marcy_GVSU says:

    As a student working toward my teaching degree, I often wonder if “older” teachers are more resistant to technology in education than others. When you describe “older” is it characterized by age or length of service? Perhaps those who have taught for several years have had experience in what works for them and feel that changing things would cause more harm than good. Another reason may be that the teacher’s school district is not pushing the integration of technology or perhaps it is not offering training to along with the integration of technology. Either way I believe that it is important to remember these issues. Perhaps those who are older in age have not had the exposure to the tech age and aren’t as versed in what is out and available to students. However, I think part of the responsibility to change this lies in the hands of the administration and part is the teacher. If the administration is on board with technology integration than I believe the teacher will be more open to it as well. Personally, I believe technology integration is important and needs to be brought into the classroom. As I work toward completing my degree and getting a teaching job, I hope to bring these skills into the workplace because I believe it is beneficial to the student and the teacher to offer this learning option.

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