Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Technology Self-Efficacy

Imagine this scene, teachers:

You have a colleague down the hall who has been telling you all about this great new educational technology that she has been using in her classroom to amazing results. The kids are so motivated and engaged, and they are so enthusiastic about their learning. "You should try it too," your colleague encourages you.

So, you start to plan a lesson. How hard can it be? Your colleague makes is sound like the kids can just sort of dive right in and go with it. And, hey, your students are "digital natives," right? Shouldn't be a problem for them.

As your lesson rolls out, things aren't going quite so smoothly. A hand goes up, calling you over to help out. Then another hand, and another. While you are looking over one kid's shoulder at his screen, you realize that half the class is currently "stuck," and waiting for help. They start whispering to each other...

"I'm so confused!"

"Why are we doing this?"

"I'm frustrated..."

"This is dumb."

...And about that time you decide you are never doing this again. What a waste of your time--and theirs! Why did you put yourself through this anyway?


People who know me well--and my proclivities to experiment in my teaching practice, and my love of all things techie--might be surprised to hear that I am describing myself in this story.
 I have tech troubles. And sometimes my tech troubles lead to teaching troubles. And that stinks, for sure.

And after getting burned a couple of times, it can be hard to give it another go. No one likes to look foolish, or out of touch, or like we don't know what we are doing, right?


So...we might as well hang it up and stop trying to do anything new. Safer to just stick with what we have "always done," not put ourselves out there with the possibility we might look foolish, right?


I have become much more critical of many educational technologies over the 18 years I've served as a professional educator. I think I have developed more pedagogical knowledge now, which helps me to be a better judge of how I might use a particular technology. But I've also strengthened my technology self-efficacy over the years.

Self-efficacy is a psychological construct. Basically, it's the belief that you have the capabilities and capacity to do something. Sort of like the Little Engine That Could: "I think I can...I think I can...I think I can..." 

And then, you did. 

Because you thought you could, you could.

Technology self-efficacy, then, is the idea that you have the capabilities, the capacities to learn how to use a particular technology. (Or, for teachers, to teach with a particular technology, or to help your students learn with a particular technology.) And, crazy as it sounds...the research I've done on this topic indicates that one of the best predictors of your success for using a particular technology is...your belief that you can learn how to use it.

Why bring this up? 

I'm currently teaching a Master's course ambitiously titled "Teaching and Learning with Technology." It is a practical course--we do quite a lot of hands-on work with various tech tools--but it is also a philosophical course--as in, "how shall we decide which technologies to use for teaching and learning?" So the projects and assignments I ask of the teachers taking the course get at one of these, or even both of them.

Take the project I introduced this week: Choose a tech tool that is new to you, learn how to use it, and teach the class how it works.

I know that this is like tossing them in to the deep end of the pool. It can be scary, especially if they don't feel like they are very "techie" individuals! 

But I am absolutely convinced that they can do this! And you can too!

I give them some advice and encouragement, and I try to keep it light hearted:

Okay, first off: I KNOW not all of us are ├╝ber-geeky techno-nerds who just "get" technology. But here's the secret: even the geeks who work for the GeekSquad at Best Buy don't know everything. They have to keep learning too!

When I used to work as Technology Coordinator at a K-8 Christian School, I was expected to just be able to solve people's tech problems. And...often I could...but it wasn't like I was Miracle Max from The Princess Bride or something. So much of the time, I had to head back to my office and learn something in order to help my colleague who was having trouble. And I'm going to share my secrets for how I did it with you...so YOU can become that amazing "Miracle Max" for your colleagues too!

Secret #1: Don't be afraid to just try stuff.

Secret #2: When I find a solution, I try to remember it.

A few specific tips:

1. Never underestimate the power of Google. Try a Google search for basic information about the thing you are trying to accomplish and/or learn about. Start with the name of the program/website/tool/whatever, and then add one or two more keywords that describe what you want to do. You might be surprised what you find out!

2. Consider YouTube. YouTube has so much video available, it's really astounding! And you know what? Many people create tutorial videos that might be just the thing you are looking for! Seriously, I don't know if I would have made it through my stats course for my doctoral program without all the YouTube videos for SPSS (the software package we used for our statistical analyses.) Don't be afraid to try a YouTube search for the name of the program/website/tool/whatever with a few keywords that describe what you want to do!

3. Ask other techie people for help. Maybe you have a go-to person that knows more about tech than you? (Maybe it's a student even?) Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help!

And you know what? In the years I've taught this course, I've never yet had a student who was unable to learn how to use a new tech tool, and even teach it to the rest of us. Daunting for some? Absolutely! But doable? Definitely.

In fact, I had email from one student today, expressing just that thought:
Your suggestions for how to get started cracked me up! Thanks for the levity in a subject matter that gives me stress. I feel like the curtain was pulled back a bit to reveal the Wizard of Oz. :)
And that is all I could hope for. It's not that I have some "mystical knowledge" of technology. It's just, in the words of my friend Alice Keeler,
The only difference between "I'm techie" and "I'm not techie" is the willingness to click on stuff and see what happens.
And THAT is technology self-efficacy.

I *wish* could find a definitive source for this image. I've seen it about a dozen places on line.
If you can help, I'd be happy to appropriately attribute it!


  1. A fantastic post Dave. One of your best. Mindset is one of the hardest things to change in both the "educatees" (students) and the "educators" (teachers).

    Here's my personal example from my past, not about tech:

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, my friend! I totally agree with you about mindsets--that's really what I'm arguing for too. Great post; thanks for sharing your story!