In this game of schools proving to outsiders that they are tech innovative, a good portion of school money gets misdirected and sometimes flat out wasted, and too often teachers and students ironically end up at the bottom of the priority list.
Now, let me state quickly that I am not anti-technology. I love tech in the classroom, and I believe wholeheartedly that it can positively impact student learning. I am drafting this blog entry using my favorite creative and organizational and education tech tool: OneNote. I try to guide my students in using select technology to promote organization and self-reliance. So, with that said, what I am against is when technology becomes the means and the destination of schools and school leadership. Too often, technology for the sake of technology becomes the focus in public education, and what should be the focus in any ed movement--students and teachers--become mere bystanders in the process far too often.
There is a big push in my school district for us to become a Google school. (Apparently, this is achieved through the purging of all things non-Google.) This year all the teachers in my building were given their own Chromebook. (I declined one.) We were given professional development training on using Google products for education. Our school has recently purchased two Chromebook carts, and word is that as our desktop computers age, they will be replaced by Chromebooks. All of this sounds progressive and like we are on a very conscious tech path as a school district, but there is one big problem. No one ever really asked any of us teachers or the students what we think about all this. The decision makers were impressed with what they saw in Google's offerings, caught the fever, and decided that's the way the whole school district should go. This Google move can be presented as measurable proof that we are hitting technology standards...regardless of whether or not it actually makes a measurable difference in academics. No one cares that there are teachers in our school who might be doing great things with non-Google products. I'll say a hundred times that Chromebooks are bad for schools because they lock you completely into the Google ecosystem and prevent students and teachers from using competitors products--a Chromebook does nothing but run Google based services, whereas Windows and iOS, and even Android devices, can run apps and software from a long list of different tech providers, including all the things a Chromebook does. Chromebooks are the geldings of the computing world. With my district going Chrome, every teacher is essentially having all non-Google options taken away from them in that process.
This is backwards technology thinking, where technology integration becomes the means through which the goal of technology integration can be reached. The intent may be sincere in many cases, but the approach is all wrong. Why not talk to teachers and find out what their needs are first? Why not ask teachers what they are already doing with tech and then support that, rather than steer them somewhere else? I've been told to use a Google product instead when asking for tech assistance with a non-Google product. Why not ask teachers what they would love to be able to do with technology in their classes, if given the resources? Why not survey students to get actual data to use and consider when making tech purchases/decisions? Sadly, in public education, teachers are often cornered into using the technology that someone else decides is best for their curriculum, their classroom environment, and their students. We need to let actual feedback from students and teachers drive technology purchases and decisions, since they are the ones most affected in the end. As an experienced teacher, I find it insulting when someone assumes I'm not competent enough to choose which software and which hardware best fits me and my students' academic needs. I'm HUGE on choice. I love to share with other teachers some of my favorite ed-tech, but I realize it may not be the best option for everyone. Honestly, our students are best served when they are exposed to different technologies. I'm open to trying new things and weighing options. I am cool with administrators saying a school's documents are going to be shared via Google Docs and all should be Google competent. However, when administrators and tech leaders start dictating which tech resources they deem teachers should and should not be allowed to use in their own curriculum, that's a problem. Especially when non-teachers in school systems often don't have the strongest track record with tech decisions.
We've all seen tech trends come and go. Several years ago, the school I was in wanted to show some tech innovation and bought a classroom set of Netbooks. Pretty much everyone in the building agreed a couple years later those Netbooks were a flop and a waste of money. Then we were provided with an iPad cart. After a few years of use, most also conceded that those 30 devices were overhyped and not the best way that money could have been spent. Then a big chunk of cash was dropped to equip most of the classrooms with interactive white boards. I'm not sure the total cost of that move, but a sizeable percentage of teachers in the building only used the setup as a projector system. The school could have saved thousands and thousands of dollars had they put a projector only in those classrooms for those teachers. (The company that marketed the systems also went bankrupt shortly after the purchase.) Now I am faced with the Chromebook rage in my school system. Here again, there was no visible effort to actually research whether or not Chromebooks fit the wants and needs of the teachers in the building. No data was collected from the students. A select few just made the tech decisions and told the teachers to jump on board.
Until teachers are given the freedom, the resources, and the support to integrate the technology that best fits the needs they identify, true ed-tech innovation will never happen. It's like the pair of rain boots your mom bought for you in college. Yes you needed some. Yes she bought a nice pair. But they weren't what you wanted and not what you would have chosen if you'd been asked. That's why they hardly got worn, if ever. How much money gets spent on technology that teachers end up not using because someone else told them it was what they needed?