Why Technology? by Ben Grey

10/21/2011 1:18:16 PM

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?"

The question itself isn't inherently problematic.  In fact, it's quite an excellent question that should be asked every time we create a student learning experience, but it should be asked as a pedagogical inquisition rather than the way it's being framed in too many districts as of late.

I've heard from several colleagues in various states that there is pressure mounting to cut both future and existing plans for increasing technology utilization in their districts.  Many districts are eliminating technology personnel as well.  The primary catalyst for this is being blamed on the economy.  Budgets are being trimmed and belts are being tightened, and it would appear to those wielding the shears that technology is the low hanging fruit.  The federal stimulus package, while certainly helpful, hasn't proven to be enough to reassure many of the trepid districts.  Technology is typically expensive, and the reality of the expense is seen by some to outdistance the reality of the return on investment we can get when affording students the opportunity to engage learning with technology.  

Beyond the economy, a more disheartening line of logic is being taken to trim back.  Where is the increase in student achievement?  We can stop and discuss at length exactly what student achievement means, but the fact remains, society's perception and opinions are quite clear on this issue.  To the general public, student achievement is most often measured and manifested as test scores.  We could have yet another discussion on the merits and deficits the economy of test scores creates, but many don't have that leisure when addressing the issue in front of the highest decision makers in their district.

A reality is that there are many districts who have been increasing the use of technology in the classroom steadily over the past ten years, yet their test scores remain static.  This is a point Clayton Christensen establishes early in Disrupting Class.  Decision makers are using this information as reason enough to curtail the pursuit of technology purchasing and implementation.

There are other districts who may not be going so far as to overtly cut programs, but they've presently stopped pursuing change.  For the two aforementioned reasons, they are determining to wait and make do with the resources and environments they've already built.  Unfortunately, as a district gets mired in complacency, the technology, and culture, continues on without them.  I'm confident we've all felt the frustration at how change in the institution of education never seems to come close to the rate of change in society, culture, and technology.

And the issue for us is a matter of response.  Or in some cases, the lack thereof.  Often, those getting released aren't given the opportunity to defend their position.  But what if they were?  Often, nobody is given the opportunity to defend the cutting of budgets or programs.  But what if they were?  What if you were?  If tomorrow you had to stand in front of your Board of Education and respond to the question, "why should we continue to use and pursue technology in our district," what would you say?

I believe we as a community of technology users and advocates must have a salient response.  If you haven't been asked this question directly, don't be surprised if that time comes sooner rather than later.  And your response could have a great impact on the future learning experience for the students you serve.  I'm aware the question, and potential response, might seem almost too simplistic, but pause and reflect how you would honestly answer should the question be posed to you.  I don't think crafting a response is as easy at it might first appear.

I plan to discuss my ideas coalesced with the input of others in my next post.  I'll be forthright in admitting that though I have my thoughts on the issue, I can certainly benefit from having my thinking shaped and honed through conversation.  I believe it likely we all could.  Think about it.  Really, really think about it.  And then answer.  Why should your district continue to use and pursue technology?

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