Dear Tech Experts (who do not work in education),
I love to read, listen and watch so many of you who review, discuss, and share the latest in technology. Your blogs and shows are so popular that you don’t need me to give you free advertising. Let’s just pretend that you know who you are! Yes, I am one of your devoted fans who are an educational tech geek!
I write to you today because I want to challenge you and your thoughts on education. Too often your posts, podcasts, and videos dip into educational topics and get it all wrong! While I know that you are an expert in education because you attended school at some point, please know, that doesn’t actually make you an expert.
I challenge your understanding of how technology is implemented in schools and why technology isn’t disrupting education as much as you might expect. Education is much more complex than your discussions tend appreciate. Take a look at this discussion on TechCrunch sometime as I think it oversimplifies the discussion. When you talk about education and technology, please understand there are fundamental differences with the private and business world. Too often assumptions are made and half-truths are shared. The wrong questions are asked and too often the answers are overly simplified!
Who am I to criticize? I am a Director of Technology who loves his job and is working very hard every day to improve education. I am focused on disrupting the establishment so to speak and am not one of your stopgaps. Education may be the most over regulated industry and every person in our society is an expert by virtue of attending school sometime in their lifetime. We have so many experts and yet we have very few issues that we can all agree upon. Fascinating …
Let me ask some questions …
How do you define a successful school? What is the purpose of our public school system? What specific criteria does a great teacher have to meet to be successful in today’s classroom? How do schools successfully provide open access to technology for students while at the same time dealing with government regulation? How do schools balance technology within a society that is based upon fear? How does schools balance implementing technology well within what many agree is the most litigious society on the planet? How do you properly assess student’s to get a holistic understanding of their needs? What should every child know upon graduation? Should every child go to college? Is school for everyone?
Try to ask those same questions the next time you are at a work party, family gathering, or among others you know who generally disagree with your some of your fundamental principles. How do you reform something that has so many passionate people involved with so many questions that we do not have answered?
Wait … I am just getting started …
Let’s take a look at a common question that educational technology experts are trying to answer. What is the perfect one to one device for schools? Why? What platform? Tablet or laptop? What company? What does a one to one device need to do? What types of software would you put on it?
Can you answer those questions without defining what you want students to do with it? What are the really important questions you need to ask before you go one to one? What does one to one look like in a math class? Social studies class? Foreign language? Does this device help meet state mandated curriculum? Common Core standards? How do we assess the technology’s impact? What criteria are you using to assess the impact? What is the perfect device for all of those classroom environments? Is there one device? Are the expectations for a device the same as your average businessperson? How many applications are on your typical “worker” laptop? How many do you think we have on our student laptops? Why not turn everything over to the cloud? Are cloud-based applications ready to replace installed applications? How do we deal with licensing and user names? How do you successfully teach in an over lapping online environment when student work can now apply for more than one class? How do you assess when your work can apply across the curriculum with digital tools? What kinds of responsibilities do teachers have when their classes are interacting with others online in formal and informal learning situations? What is the value of informal learning with technology in comparison to formal learning with subject matter?
Just implement technology right? Just do it Nike! Students will be taking their official standardized assessments online by 2014. More questions … How are we going to fund enough devices for kids to all take the test? If you can’t afford one to one, how do you schedule that with labs or laptop carts? How are we going to provide enough bandwidth for all school districts to successfully implement these tests properly? Will the assessment company be ready for thousands or even millions of students to take these assessments during the same window of opportunity? Does anyone else see horror stories coming about student’s tests failing in the middle so they have to start over from the beginning? What platform is the test going to work on? What device? Will it have flash or be all HTML5? Can these assessments be standard if they are done on different technical platforms? Will schools have a built in blame factor because students had to take the test on 10 year old lab computers that could barely handle the assessment tool? Do we need to emphasize keyboarding even more because kids have to type their answers? Do we have to make sure that kids work daily on the “test device” so they are ready enough so that the device doesn’t impact their test scores?
Surely, these are easy questions and we can overcome all of this! Are there other questions to be answered still about one to one? Who owns the device? Filter or no filter? While you force open the online learning environment because you know it is best for learning, are you ready to deal with the difficult question from parents when their students are exposed to something very inappropriate online? What are the legal ramifications for schools that are different than the work environment?
We haven’t asked enough of the technical questions. Do you set up a wireless network the same in schools as you do in an office building? Are there different requirements because of log-ons, network folders, and privacy requirements? Is there a bigger impact between schools and businesses when it takes 2 to 3 minutes for students to log on to their device? How long are classes? How do you provide students proper access when they may be using a dozen different technology devices in a given school day including computer lab computers, laptop carts, interactive whiteboards, slates, iPads, iPod Touches, digital still and or video cameras, microphones and recording devices.
How do you provide access to the Internet for students at home? Who is responsible if their device is broken? What if your required software doesn’t work on your device or platform? How do you provide licensing for all of those devices properly? How do schools deal with the myriad of different licensing schemes that have been created with new platforms such as the iPad? Can we provide teacher’s with apps in a personal account or does it have to be a school account? Do we manage the devices or give free control to the user?
I have heard so many times, “Can’t I just buy the app for you, for the school?”. Is it really that easy? How are those simple questions different in the business world and the education environment? Speaking of donations, can’t you just drop off your 5 year old computers so students can use them at school? Why are you getting rid of it again? Who is stuck with recycling it after another year or two? Certainly schools can use it even if you only have one technician for every 500 devices. Are your technicians trained to fix everything from interactive whiteboards to sound system equipment in your auditorium? Just get rid of the old technology and force your users to learn and stay up with the times. How do I tell the department heads that all of their previously made curriculum will not work with the new platform?
Let’s get bigger picture again … What do you do if some of your parents will not let their students use a district provided Internet connected device? What if some of your parents require paper copies and they refuse to let there children use the Internet? How do you encourage teachers to learn online and use social networking when many states have implemented rules and laws against their use under penalty of losing their teaching license? How do you encourage teacher’s to engage in online learning when they are clearly set to a much different standard for behavior than most everyone else in society? How do you share student and teacher work online so that it helps improve learning without setting up students and teachers for criticism and ridicule when mistakes are made in a rather unforgiving society? How do you manage online information for children under 13 and CIPA and COPPA laws? Where do FOIA laws and rules apply for teacher machines and student communication? How long do we need to archive any digital communication? What is FOIAble period?
Please know that I love my job and I love trying to solve these problems and improve learning for kids. I know that we can and we will but please stop implying that reform is easy and that people are trying to prevent improvement simply because of old age or stubbornness. I wake up every day excited to take on the challenges that we have but they are challenges that I think are unique.
As you criticize schools and why education has not been “disrupted”, learn more about educational technology. School networks and device requirements are unbelievably different from the business world. I challenge any of you to come visit and hang out with me for a week to get a better understanding of our environment! Start asking tougher questions before you challenge your understanding of the status quo.
Let’s ask some more questions … How do you balance innovation with remembering that the experiment is with your kids and not lab rats? While business can lose profit, schools lose something much more valuable when something goes wrong … Time! How do you reform schools within a system that has several norms that clearly conflict with other core values? I wish we could provide a learning environment that allows students to master something during a school day before they are expected to move on to another subject or class? Can schools work like that? What would you have to change to do this properly? How do you provide for the vast difference in user ability when you are working with highly gifted to severely disabled? How do you provide for the least restrictive environment while providing for what’s best systemically?
Once again, I am working very hard to provide our teachers with the means to disrupt the traditional learning environment. While I am confident that we are moving forward exponentially faster, many roadblocks inhibit us and yet too many critics simply criticize without answering the fundamental questions! Yes, schools can improve but stop pretending that schools are not better than they were 10, 20, and 30 years ago. Schools are vastly superior in so many ways.
Can schools afford to fail when trying to innovate? What happens when a business fails to innovate? What happens when a school does?
Questions like these are important. I just wish I had included all of the important questions, as this is just a short list. Questions like these are what EdReach is all about. Education can answer these questions and many schools are answering them already. Education just needs a better platform for sharing those best practices and success stories.
Tech gurus from all walks of life … I challenge you to continue talking about educational technology. I challenge you to value our discussions on EdReach as much if not more than media outlets such as Tech Crunch. Join the discussion with educational technologists as we have joined yours. Spread the word, partake of an EdReach podcast, comment on our podcasts and blogs, and help be part of the answer.
Heck, do we even know what the web is doing to our thinking? Do we really understand the impact that it is having on education?