Is #EdTech Really A Waste? 8 Lessons for The Uninformed

Is #EdTech Really A Waste? 8 Lessons for The Uninformed

Do innovative educators have it all wrong? According to one head of school we do. In a post that is making its rounds in education circles, John Vallance, headmaster of Sydney Grammar School told “The Australian” that computers in schools are a “scandalous waste of money.”

Vallance is right.

Under his tutelage they are.

Like other arrogant Luddites in power, he is responsible for negligent technology spending because he is clueless about how to use it effectively ... and he never bothered learning.

Vallance is on the lowest rung (substitution) of the SAMR model. (If you don’t know about SAMR read this). Because he failed to understand how technology can “redefine” learning he wasted money and deprived students of quality learning.

If you work with an out-of-touch administrator like Vallance, these are the concepts you can help them understand.


1) Measurable results

Vallance blasts technology for not producing measurable results. He’s right. That’s because we use outdated assessments that don’t measure authentic learning but rather skills important in centuries gone by such as memorization, regurgitation, and writing and computation with audience or purpose. When we begin using updated assessments like authentic portfolios we can see meaningful and measurable learning improvements.

For examples of authentic assessment you can read this.

2) Interactive whiteboards

Valance complains that interactive whiteboards are being jettisoned. Well, yeah. Innovative educators know interactive whiteboards suck. They are a gimmick; a technology that centers the action at the front of the classroom, supporting that old outdated classroom practice. If Vallance had spent some time reading what innovative educators were writing about these devices he and others could have saved a bundle of scarce education cash.

If you don’t know why interactive whiteboards suck you can read this.

3) Face-to-face interaction

Vallance believes teaching is fundamentally a social activity. He says it’s about interaction between people, about discussion, about conversation. I agree. Where admins like Valance fall short is he never bothered learning how students are using technology to support authentic interaction, discussion, and conversation with others around the globe and developing powerful learning networks.

If you’re not sure about learning networks you can read this.

4) Debate, discuss, converse, question

Vallance said one of the most powerful tools in education is conversation. Computers in the classroom rob children of the chance to debate and discuss ideas with the teacher.

Huh? This educator is so out of touch, it boggles the mind. Students have never had a greater opportunity to converse than they do today. In fact they love using technology to converse and discuss with REAL people.

He says children are robbed from the chance to debate and discuss with teachers.

What? It seems he’s never witnessed instruction in the classroom of an innovative educator who knows how to use technology to support students to debate and discuss not just with her, but with others around the world.

5) Questioning

Vallance says technology is making it difficult for children to learn how to disagree, how not to toe the party line, because they can’t question things — the possibility of questioning things has been taken away from them.

More evidence that Vallance does not understand the true power of technology! In classrooms of innovative educators, students are reading relevant articles and commenting on them to an authentic audience with questions, discussion, and conversation. Technology is the very tool that gives students an authentic platform to question and debate ideas.

Not sure how? Read about the social media guidelines created by students and teachers for students and teachers here.

6) Social contexts

Vallance says “If you’re lucky enough to have a good teacher and a motivating group of classmates, it would seem a waste to introduce anything that’s going to be a distraction from the benefits that kind of social context will give you.’’

Here Vallance is displaying racism. He wants to shelter those at his school from those who come from another (ahem, lesser) “social context.” Of course it is not unusual for the business and political elite like those who send their kids to Vallance’s school not to want their children to interact with the 99%. What Vallance fails to care about is that outside his elite prep grammar school there are students for whom technology provides an opportunity for students to interact with those from other “social contexts.”

7) Technology costs

Vallance complains that “In the schools where they have laptops, they get stolen, they get dropped in the playground, they get broken, you have to hire extra staff to fix them, you’ve got to replace them every few years. They end up being massive lines in the budgets of schools which at the same time have leaky toilets and roofs and ramshackle buildings.”

Seems Vallance isn’t aware of how to put management techniques in place. Students shouldn’t be running around on the playground with devices. I find it hard to believe theft is an issue at his 1 percenter school. At the public schools in which I’m involved theft is rarely an issue. Protocols are in place to keep devices safe. As far as device cost and replacement, it seems Vallance isn’t aware of devices like Chromebooks, services like Neverware, and policies like BYOD. If he were, he’d understand how funds can be reallocated and actually save schools money.

You can read about BYOD here. You can read how laptops and services like Neverware can save money here.

8) Handwriting

Vallance is concerned that students won’t be writing by hand. He thinks that’s crazy and he thinks allowing children to lose that capacity to express themselves by writing is a very dangerous thing. What Valance doesn’t get is that in the 21st century we write digitally and that has transformative benefits. When we express ourselves using technology we have the opportunity to write for an authentic audience and connect with the world. How has this guy been using computers? Did he not realize what a powerful tool the internet has become for giving a voice to students?

He claims that from what he’s witnessed, students find it much easier to write by hand, to put their ideas down on a piece of paper, than they do with a keyboard. Seems Vallance hasn’t been staying on top of the latest research about how technology has helped give a voice to students with writing difficulties using various assistive technologies, but that’s not a surprise. It doesn’t sound like he has students with special needs and even if he did, his elite group of students have parents who can hire tutors. But I doubt his claim is even true. I’ve been working with students and teachers for years using tech in the lower grades and kids thrive with a keyboard and it’s their preferred method of communicating outside of school as well.

You can read more about benefits of digital writing here.

I applaud Vallance’s decision to step down next year. It’s time for him to move aside and make way for a more in touch leader. Rather than hide behind traditions, students need a leader who understands how teachers can use technology to engage and connect students and give them an audience and a voice.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects,ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.