“Today I was told by a superior that she read an article about how bad Wikipedia is. HELP ME FIGHT THEM. I am really getting frustrated. Today a teacher proposed a wonderful class that would allow movie making and student website building. Again my superior said, no because she does not want their content tied to our school site. “Help me fight them!”
There have been so many horror stories lately about web tools and projects being rejected by decision makers that I thought it would be helpful to investigate the mysterious “superior”, who lives in each of our schools.
In a recent forum I facilitated at the 2006 NYSCATE Conference it was interesting to hear stories of the wide range of people making important technology decisions on behalf of school districts. In one case it was a district network technician killing a request for a project using Skype because he felt it had security holes. Another technician tuned down a request for a podcasting project because it might use too many network resources. In another case a Library/Media Specialist zonked a request to create and use Wikis because, in her opinion Wikis are not legitimate learning tools. A Director of Technology (DOT) put on hold a request from a teacher to have students write and manage their own blogs because he feels blogging will expose them to risks from predators. A building Principal believes that technology is a distraction from “real” learning and turned away all tech related requests no matter how legitimate.
This is not a debate over whether the decisions in the preceding examples are “good” or “bad”, although one could readily debate them. The bottom line is that we need to create better decision-making processes. An ad hoc environment of this kind can lead to arbitrary and unexamined decisions. An important “strategic” step we can take to change this situation is to establish a decision making process that insures that ideas for initiatives get a full and formal hearings, that there is a discussion of all the issues, and that when a decision is made, it represents the thinking of more than one person. It also helps if the people who are examining the issue are the most appropriate people to make the decision.
By, “appropriate” I mean that curriculum decisions should have input from curriculum experts and technology decisions from technology experts. It seems like a simple proposition but the lines between the two are often blurred.
Take the question, “Should we bring online learning to our district?” The curriculum folks see “online learning” as technology and the decision is pushed to the DOT. Is it truly a technology decision? The question of whether we allow students to have access to online courses has technical aspects; but fundamentally it is a policy, curriculum, and pedagogy issue. Sometimes when we are dealing with technology’s role in teaching and learning, we defer to technology experts. Tech folks need to be involved, they can offer a lot to the process; but the decision is best owned by instructional staff.
Similarly, “one to one” laptop initiatives can either be hardware oriented or curriculum oriented. “What is it that we are trying to change by giving every student a laptop?” In the best of all worlds that question is being answered by curriculum people, not just technology advocates. By the way, why not include students on the committee, they are key stakeholders in the whatever decisions are rendered.
Of course, in today’s school structure, the administrator in charge always retains the right to have the final say over whether an initiative goes forward. Even so, our chances of success are much better if we have a committee made up of key educators, with a clear rubric, that examines requests for projects and makes formal replies and recommendations to the requester. The committee may ask for more information, it may raise concerns and ask the requester to address them. In all cases the committee will render a thoughtful reply to the person making a request.
Years ago, I used to hear DOTs say, “My job is to bring technology into common classroom use. If I am successful, I should work myself out of job”. I like the sentiment in that statement, even though I don’t think the job will go away in our lifetimes.
For those of us in positions of technology leadership it is particularly helpful to understand that by organizing and structuring the decision making process in new and more thoughtful ways, we are building a new understanding of technology and a new sense of “ownership”.
By having a defined structure we also build a process that is less arbitrary, and more thoughtful, and fair. No matter what decision is rendered, it is more likely to be accepted because it has been given a fair hearing. Of course, in order to put a process like this in place, it takes courage, trust, and real leadership. Build it into your next technology plan or reshape an existing committee.
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin