In my position, one of my responsibilities is purchasing technology. Not only do I purchase technology, but I talk to others about purchasing “stuff”. I work with administrators who are in like positions in other districts. I know many principals (partially the result of previously being a principal). I, and many others, deal with the issue of “cool”. What follows is not about my district, but education in general.
I frequently am asked “what type of computer should I buy?”. People are sometimes taken aback when I respond, “I don’t know. What do you plan on using it for? What are you comfortable with? Why do you want a computer?” See, for me, the Why is more important than the just the What. There is no perfect computer. It really depends on what one wants to do.
These questions are even more important for a school district. When it comes to buying technology, schools are very different than individuals. Schools use technology in different ways than individuals do.
Buying on the sales pitch.
This is a pretty popular issue. This happens a lot. Someone goes to a sales pitch and decides “we’ve got to have this new wonderful widget”. Sales people are generally really good. (It’s kind of their job). However, in the sales pitch, they don’t emphasize the problems that exist. They don’t explain how it will work with your specific network. They may be really well intentioned.
One of my favorite examples of buying the dream, is the purchasing of iPads in schools. Let’s start with this, I’m an avid iPad user. I’m on my third iPad (all of which I’ve purchased with my own money). I think that it is a terrific device. It is an extremely personal device. iPads are not made to be used by multiple people in a classroom. I would even argue that they are not positioned to be the best choice in general in education. With the proper training, iPads could be an extremely valuable tool in education. Let me repeat that. With the proper training, iPads could be an extremely valuable tool in education. Used properly, iPads could be combined with Project Based Learning and other strategies and schemas to lead to real student empowerment. Student could create and consume so much with iPads. In reality, few teachers have the available time and attention to devote to that kind of change. This would not be a just, “oh, well do something different” kind of thing. This would demand a complete re-think of what education is and how it is delivered. All the details and day to day procedures would need to be examined. It’s not just wish. It takes ton of real work. If you don’t believe me, ask the LA school district about their iPad project. Here is some more information: Refund, NPR, MacObserver. LA bought into the promise, the idea of iPads in the school without asking some really hard questions. They never contemplated or planned for the real work (hard work) of actual change.
There has been lots of research on whether technology makes a difference in school or not. One can easily find research that supports either that it is not effective or that is truly makes a difference. That question is a huge question. There are lots of things to look at it and consider for that.
Back to the point. Technology in education is different than what we purchase for home. It is different than what we use on a personal level. Technology needs in education are pretty specific. We should be asking how something is going to be used. We should be asking what problem are we trying to solve. We should be asking how this technology will transform learning in the classroom (we don’t need any more $500 pencils). (The idea of a $500 pencil is when we use a piece of technology to accomplish something that would be more easily and better accomplished using a pencil).
So, sometimes people head out to conferences or salesman come in and “pitch” a product. The sales pitch is convincing and some get really excited about the product. However, the sales pitch is designed to get you to buy. Sometimes asking pointed questions and thinking about the real world use of the product can help determine if that product is right for your school or not. It is best to include a range of users/decision makers in the process.
Buying on the presentation
This is related to the above. Apple seems to be really good at this. Apple puts on a Keynote and suddenly lots of people want to include them into the classroom. There is something great about this. Educators are dreaming and thinking. However, before hitting that purchase button, one should go back to real world questions.
Here is one example. I heard of a teacher who wanted to have an iPad Pro (and Apple Pencil and keyboard) purchased for that teacher’s classroom. This was immediately after the big Keynote. Now, no one had really reviewed the device. No one had considered the pros and cons of such a device. The teacher, though, wants one. (In truth, I kind of want one too. But not enough to have someone else buy one for me when we could use other things in the classroom). The early reviews are out and it doesn’t seem as though the iPad Pro is a great choice for the classroom right now. On one hand, I applaud the teacher wanting to stretch the limits of what is happening in the classroom. On the other, teachers need to really consider what will make the biggest impact in the class. The teacher is an elementary teacher. I’ve reached out to the teacher to request what the intended use would be, but haven’t received a response.
So, I’ll keep asking the question of Why. I hope others will consider the Why as well. I truly believe that technology can make a difference in education. But we need to be thoughtful about what, why and how to get there.