Why Technology

May 8, 2009

Something has been happening lately in education, and the implications are a bit unsettling.  People are beginning to ask a cogent question, but I fear it’s being framed for the wrong reason.  I’m hearing more and more important decision makers asking, “Why are we using technology?”

-Ben Grey

Instructional Technology Coordinator and Technology & Learning Contributor Ben Grey shared a thought provoking column today anchored on the question, Why Technology?”.  The entirety of his post can be found HERE.

This is a great question, and my extended respnse in the comments section prompted me to duplicate my reply below.  How would YOU answer the question?

Schools ARE asking this question, and many times for a good reason. In a well-functioning learning environment, every support resource, including technology, should justify its status on a regular basis. Every resource should help advance the mission and goals of the district, and many school districts need to confess a disconnect in the past 10-20 years between the objectives in the classroom and the objectives in the server room. A self-serving technology program is destructive to learning, and should be held accountable.

A generally good indicator of such dysfunction is when principals, teachers, and students (as a majority interest) don’t view technology as indispensable to learning. As learning technology practitioners and leaders the 80/20 rule should apply, with the lion share of our efforts directed toward helping teachers and students effectively use technology to enhance learning. In every school I’ve visited or worked with, that degree of focus and priority bears the fruit of a pedagogical transformation in which teachers become guides, students become learners, and technology becomes essential (and almost invisible).

Unfortunately this is far too rare, and most districts’ time, energy, and money spent on technology initiatives yield fragmented implementations due to mis-aligned interests pulling in separate directions: Administrators and board members want measurable results on standardized tests, technology staffers want security and ease of management, and teachers want technology to get the hell out of the way so they can do something meaningful. Often, there is no apparent curricular driver for the technology to be found. We get caught up in debate over content filtering, 1:1 programs, SMART Boards versus Promethean, Mac versus PC, and management of student data, but forget to ask what we need to facilitate learning. When decision-makers see millions of dollars spent on the purchase and support of rooms full of equipment that do nothing to catalyze progress, the question, “Why technology?” is quite fair game.

My response to this question would consist of a few reciprocating questions of my own: Is it a core value of our school district to prepare students for the world the are about to enter? What does that world look like? Is it practical to expect students to acquire the skills and competencies they’ll need to succeed (either in college or in the workforce) without also providing them access to the very interface of this flattened world we live in?

The (hopefully) obvious answers should lead us to apologetically borrowed terminology from the current White House Administration. Education technology is “too important to fail” because technology itself has become too integral to the way the rest of the world functions. We just have to make sure the resource needs of learning direct technology, and prioritize effort that leads to meaningful change.

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One Response to “Why Technology”

  1. Jenn said

    Why technology? I have a simple answer: because we live in a technologically-driven world. Period. Our job is to educate and prepare students to take their places and successfully function in society. Without implementing cutting edge learning tools into our classrooms, we are crippling our students and hampering them from taking their places in our tech-driven society. Since other countries are doing this better than America, we are also making our students less competitive and marketable in a universal job market.

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