Friday, October 14, 2016

It's Not the Tool, It's the Learning

In all the years I have worked with Education Technology, I have seen a recurring theme. Administrators, Tech Directors and teachers often go to conferences or sales demonstrations and get dazzled by new and shiny things. They immediately come back to their campuses and purchase these items. When the fancy new toys arrive, they say, "Let's write some lessons to use these cool things!"

But what has happened is that they have missed the point. Technology integration is about transforming learning. Buying technology and them forcing it to fit into every lesson is like forcing a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn't work that way. We need to think about learning first and then find the right tool. Otherwise we are spending money on what George Couros calls "thousand dollar pencils".

Be mindful about technology integration by asking yourself these things:

1. Will our network support it? - Schools need a robust infrastructure first. Going from teacher desktops and a few computer labs to a 1:1 or BYOD initiative is overwhelming for a network. Make sure you have enough bandwidth and connectivity before purchasing devices that need wifi. Otherwise, your devices will become expensive desk decorations and discourage teachers from using technology because it never works.

2. How sustainable is our plan? - Your district just got a grant for technology. It sure is nice to have 1:1 MacBooks or iPads, but hardware gets old and must be replaced. How much time will you have before you will be buying new devices? Will you need to hire more staff? Who will pay their salary? These are all considerations before you begin any type of technology initiative.

3. How will we train our teachers? - Giving teachers technology does not mean they can effectively utilize it in the classroom. Just because they can check and send email does not mean they know the ends and outs of that new Chromebook they have just been assigned. Regardless of what technology is adopted, training of staff will need to happen. And training needs to be more than basic functionality. How can the tool be used to transform your classroom?

4. How will it impact learning? - If the technology will not change the way we teach, we are wasting our money. A digital worksheet completed on a laptop and turned in via the internet is still a worksheet. Technology is designed to transform the student experience. It should do more than substitute digital for print. It should connect students with learners in other places. It should give students authentic audiences for their work. It should empower students to be curious and self-driven learners.

We have to pick learning first. Then we can assess what tools will assist in that learning objective. It may not be the same tool for each school or each teacher. But if we are getting our students Future Ready by transforming their learning and building a successful tech-based skill set, we are impacting the future.


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