Level Up! Bring your Tech Integration to the Next Level.

One name keeps coming up every where I turn this summer: John Spencer. If you are not following his blog posts, youtube videos, or social media, you are missing out. AJ Juliani and other members of the Innovative Teaching Academy reference him, or his work, often. Three of the four sessions I went to at the recent EdCampMidMN shared his ideas about design thinking, genius hour, personalized learning, and empowering students. He is also often shared on Twitter. It is incredible, but there is a great reason for it all - he is an innovator.

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Recently, I viewed his presentation, The Seven Stages in the Technology Journey. In it, John discussing the 7 stages a teacher goes through when working to integrate technology in education. When viewing this presentation, I imagined myself as going through these stages as if they were levels in a computer game. I envisioned The Legend of Zelda (original Nintendo version - that makes me feel old). Here are the "Gamified" Levels (mine) and the bulleted stages of John Spencer's presentation.


Level 1: The hero of our game is isolated in a room with 25-30+ creatures and must keep them all in line. Their focus is preventing them from being distracted, because that when problem occur.

  • Isolationism - Teacher believes technology gets in the way of real learning. "Put your device away. It is distracting you and the rest of the class."

Level 2: The hero of our game finds a secret weapon and begins to use it to help maintain control of the creatures.

  • Awareness - Teacher believes that maybe technology can help with a few things. "You know that spell checker is a good idea to use."

Level 3: The hero of our game discovers their is a world outside of the room where the creatures are confined and that while it is a scary beyond the walls, there are adventures awaiting them if they are willing to explore.

  • Tourism - Teacher believes technology is a learning event or reward. "Great work today everyone! We are going to go to the Computer Lab now to play (educational) games."

Level 4: The hero of our game discovers that having adventures outside the room are fun and reward and begins to spend more and more time there, saving more and more creatures along the way.

  • Assimilation - Teacher buys in completely integrating technology into every aspect of learning. "I'm going completely paperless this year!"

Level 5: The hero of our game discovers there are road blocks and challenges along the way. Those challenges become more difficult to manage and defeat all the time. They win some battles, lose others, have to hit the reset button a few times.

  • Culture Shock - Teacher realizes technology failed to change every aspect of learning. "Everything is taking way too long. Students aren't the Digital Natives I thought they were."

Level 6: The hero of our game refuses to give up and begins seeking advice from other gamers who have been through these experience before. While our hero doesn't have all the answers, they are willing to keep trying new things to find out what works, or what works better.

  • Integration - Teacher is effectively integrating technology to match learning goals. "What kind of learning do I want to see? Will technology help students learn this? What technology tool(s) will best help this learning?"

Level 7: The hero of our game has become an innovator. They learn alongside their creatures and fellow gamers as they advance through new, and ever-change game situations.

  • Citizenship - Teacher and Students choose to use technology wisely. "How is technology reshaping what we learn and how? How can we innovate and share our learning to improve the world we live in?"

If you are being honest, where do you see yourself in this game? Where do you want to be? How are you going to get there?

I'm pretty sure I skipped level 1 all together. I don't remember a time where I thought that all distraction from technology must be eliminated, or that I was there to shelter my students from the world.

I do remember Level 2 however. When overhead projector was replaced with an LCD projector. I thought, "Cool, now I can project my notes from my computer instead of on transparencies!"

Level 3 was when our school got a cart with 30 laptops. I created a project (actually a recipe) so that my students could use these new laptops, because they were cool, not the content.

Level 4 engulfed me for a long time. I was the first to buy in that technology was going to fix education. 1:1 iPads were going to make it so that students would have the world available to them with one click. They would innately be creative digital natives, who with just a little push were going to revolutionize the world. Everything in my class had to be done on the iPad, I didn't use paper for anything. While there were many incredible moments, there were also many challenges I hadn't anticipated and the results on learning and student achievement weren't as drastic as I'd hope.

~ John Spencer

~ John Spencer

It is then I realized that I had entered Level 5. "Technology won't fix education." I was growing more frustrated by the day. I wasn't ready to give up on the use of technology, instead I started thinking about why technology was used, how it was being used, and what it was being used for. Can you tell this was about the time I read Start With Why by Simon Sinek?

I had entered Level 6. My current challenges and battles are testing me at this level. But the great thing is that I find it extremely rewarding to take the risks because, even though set backs may occur, I understand and desire the rewards they will bring. "What is the best way to use this tool?" "What kind of learning do I want to see?"

Each day I get closer to Level 7. I know what I want from my teaching. I want learning that is personalized for students and for them to feel empowered to pursue that path. There are still obstacles and challenges standing in my way. What do I think will help me reach this next level? Like in the Legend of Zelda game, the map is hidden from me. I haven't found it yet, but maybe it is because it doesn't yet exist. It is a map I am continually making for myself. Maybe it will never be finished, but, the journey of creating it will be the best part.

There is no guidebook or instruction manual or how-to video for how to be a great teacher. There is no secret formula or codified list of best practices that will guarantee success in your classroom....
There’s no point where you “have arrived.” You are always arriving at new places and new ideas and new insights. As a creative teacher, you’re always exploring, always experimenting, always innovating. That’s what makes the journey so amazing.
— "Teachers Need a Roadmap, Not an Instruction Manual." John Spencer. 22 June 2017. Web. 23 June 2017.