In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few. 
- Zen Concept of Shoshin

Saturday, March 23, 2013

When the tail wags the innovation dog

Tonight I found myself involved in an interesting exchange on Twitter that was started by me re-tweeting a comment about a gripe someone had regarding EdTech companies that seek nothing but profits when it comes to K-12.

Retweets are not original ideas. And, in this situation my retweet was kind of like being in church when the pastor asks for an Amen. I admit, my retweet wasn't fully thought through. It was partially a food for thought retweet and partially an endorsement, an Amen.

My retweet was reacted to by an acquaintance in the EdTech vendor world with some challenge to me and the original tweeter that we were way off in our thinking, because the book companies profit much more from K-12 than EdTech companies do. I don't necessarily disagree with this comment, but the level of reaction to my retweet and the original tweet made me think a little more about my retweet, which had been nothing more than an Amen from me.

My first reaction to the challenge to my retweet was to think that maybe it was unfair to EdTech companies and it should be applied to all companies. Schools and vendors may have a mutual need for each other, they just don't necessarily have the same mission or purpose for their mutual relationship.

This Twitter conversation also made me think about my beliefs regarding education and how they compare to my practices and how our system operates.

I believe schools and teachers are pretty good at what we do. If we weren't, why would our school model continue to operate similarly to how it has over the past 75-100 years?

With this, I also believe that if we continue to operate and teach from a status quo perspective that we will stop being effective at what we do. We simply will no longer be able to provide students what they need to be successful in college and careers after high school, because the world and needs have changed and continue to change at an increasingly rapid rate.

There has been a lot of talk the past few years about the need for school reform. Some approach it from an operational efficiency perspective, others from an instructional effectiveness perspective. Regardless, schools haven't changed much, but I think this is starting to change.

I think one of the reasons that schools haven't changed much the past 75-100 tears is because the tools in schools haven't changed much. If the tools have changed it has typically been an upgrade for completing a similar task.

For example, typewriters have been replaced by computer word processors, which are now being replaced by cloud based products. Overhead and film projectors have been replaced by PowerPoint presentations and videos displayed through a classroom projector. Scantron forms have now been replaced by Google Forms with Flubaroo and self-graded assignments built into learning management tools. And chalkboards were replaced by whiteboards, which have been replaced by interactive whiteboards. These are simplistic analogies.

For a long time EdTech has been about making traditional strategies more efficient, and sometimes with enhancements, but seldom innovation. EdTech is starting to focus on instruction and less on tech. The IT departments, tech purchases, and tech professional development in schools are shifting to focus on instructional technology.

Getting back to my retweet, in regard to instructional technology I think too often technology is seen as the magic bullet to improve and reform the education system. And, because of this schools have been willing to throw a lot of money to EdTech vendors, hence the mutual relationship with vendors, which by the way has led to many vendors selling a lot of stuff to schools that has not led to much instructional change. I think in some ways this is changing, but not for all vendors.

In his keynote at TIES conference this year, Simon Sinek commented that technology exists to solve a problem and if there isn't a problem, why adopt a technology tool to do something that already works just fine?

I think this is poignant in regard to EdTech. The tool is not the answer for changes to occur in instruction. Purpose and thinking differently are. It's time time put the purpose for EdTech to a litmus test. Why use a tech tool to replicate a traditional strategy?

Bottom line, my school needs EdTech companies. But, sometimes I question whether we make our EdTech decisions based on our needs, ideas, and curriculum. Or, if we determine our needs, ideas, and curriculum based on our EdTech options.

My district is moving forward with an initiative that after four years will put a mobile device into the hands of every high school student and will provide one device for every two PreK-8 students. We are excited. We are ready. We are starting with iPad Minis. But, our initiative is not a tool initiative. It is not an iPad initiative. It is based on learning and instruction. The tool is just what we need to accomplish our mission and vision. Just like textbooks have been.

In our initiative, we are working to make sure the dog wags the tail and not the other way around.

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