Technology Success?

Is it success to install bright shiny new computers that operate super fast and run the latest operating system and in the process lose the use of teacher and student software, tools, and lesson plans that can’t run on the new OS?

Or how about this?

I asked the leader of a networking services team, “What differentiates your networking services from those of your competitors?” He responded without hesitation, “Our team only works with K-12 networks. We have been doing this so long that we know how to “bullet proof” the network better than anyone else. We plug all the holes, we lock down the network in ways that kids can’t get around.”

Is it success to tie down a network to the point where teachers and students can’t use the A: Drive; can’t load software on the C: Drive, have the “right click” mouse feature disabled, can’t attach peripherals, can’t use applications like Skype, have little storage space for projects, cannot create and/or store podcasts, videos, blogs, and wikis; while having little or no access to “approved” applications and files from home or locations outside of the school?

I would have loved for the networking services leader to tell me, “Our team works only with K-12 networks. We have been doing this for so long that we know how to provide “open and reliable networks” better than anyone else. We provide access to all the tools and features you need to do your job, the tools that our competitors take away and lock down, and we are clever enough to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise the reliability and safety of the network and the data it holds.”

Now that’s a networking service that I would buy without hesitation.

But let’s not blame the technical staff for all our problems…we are the ones that have made hardware “King”. Given limited budgets how often have we opted for hardware over the “poor step-sisters” software and professional development. How many of us would drop $30,000 to $50,000 on a new switch to move data at faster speeds; but balk at spending the same amount on a piece of instructional software, or put the money towards professional development.

I’ve seen a number of super expensive, “state of the art” networks: new machines, gig to the desktop, server farm, fiber to the Internet…running Microsoft Office, Inspiration, and Explorer as the key instructional apps. Is it success to have a network costing hundreds of thousands to create and maintain…to run a simple word processor and browser?

Then there is the case of the district with more than 80 applications on the hard drives. The Director of Technology asked that they all be brought forward because he had no idea how many or what was being used by the staff…none, some, all? So where was the DOT’s attention and energy focused? Hardware. Software was an afterthought. “Just bring it all over to the new system, that way I won’t have to worry about it.”

This is a call for us to re-focus on the purpose of educational technology. This is a reminder to invite the “stepsisters” ….instructional software and PD to the “big dance”.

Let’s adopt a new definition of educational technology success: powerful instructional software, used by well-trained teachers and students, running on supportive, reliable, and accessible networks.

pete

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3 thoughts on “Technology Success?

  1. Pete,

    I can see why you would want to buy the second technology offering you described – but the question I have for you is what would you pay?

    The reality here in Canada (and often in the States as well, I suspect), is that the technology department gets limited funding – so the ideal technology solution isn’t possible.

    Your new definition of success is a fantastic place to focus. Changing the hardware mindset is going to take putting the technology department and the educators in a room to be open about their NEEDS (i.e. we need to improve reading skills by providing students with the ability to not only read books, but also to hear them or to record themselves – not we want ipods), then being open to creative solutions that are both supportable by IT and that meet those educational needs. Create WIN-WIN!

    As Districts, we have to measure HOW the technology is being used, not just HOW MUCH technology we have.

    We have to get administrators talking with teachers and trainers and the unions in order to find training solutions that work for everyone. I’ve seen honest attempts at technology training run headfirst into brick walls put up by collective agreements. Again, let’s get creative about providing a winning combination of training strategies in order to meet all needs – some online, some interactive video conferencing, some in-person classes, some text documents, some mentoring in the classroom, etc… I haven’t seen one single approach be successful yet!

    And finally, I think we need to have a crystal clear and agreed upon vision for what we’re trying to achieve with technology use in the classroom. What are we doing and why? Both teachers and District decision makers need to be fired up about the value of technology use before they’re going to put the time, effort and MONEY behind proper funding of technology (including hardware, software and ProD).

    My formula for successful use of technology in education:
    1) motivation and inspiration, a clear and compelling vision, leadership
    2) reliable and user-friendly technology (hardware, software, networks, servers, etc…) that meets both IT and educational needs
    3) a suite of training options, in addition to templates, samples, forums for ideas
    4) in class mentoring to support teachers in trying new projects, new ideas that are outside their comfort zone
    5) measurement of technology use, in order to provide feedback for funding decisions and system improvement

    Mix it all together with a ton of communication and a smile. Bake for 12 years and serve with students to create engaging, exciting, creative and passionate schools!

  2. Pete,
    I think the first step in this approach is getting the entire school system to be all for the use of technology software in the classroom. The school system needs to provide for the classrooms the tools and skills needed to use these technologies. I also think that all the teachers need to be willing to learn these new schools and use them in their classrooms.

    It will take a lot of time and effort before all of this happens but once it does it will have tremendous impact on students. Students working in classroom using technology will be better prepared for the new world and ready for what life throws at them.

  3. Emily,
    Interesting points. Let me challenge your thinking. First, when you say the “school system need to provide…” who are yuou talking about when you refer to the “school system”?

    My second reaction, is to the idea that “the school system needs to provide for the classroom the tools and skills needed to use these technologies.”

    Do we want the “school system” picking the software and tools that teachers will use? Would it be better to have the folks on the front lines having some say in what software and tools might work best for them?

    in appreciation,
    pete

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