Technology in Schools Offers Potential Not Promise

Educational Technology Offers Potential Not PromiseI have been working in the Educational Technology field for around 15 years now. I have worked with schools, organizations, and Ministries/Departments of Education on 5 continents. In all the jobs I have had and the schools with whom I have worked, I have refused to promise impact when we talk about EdTech. Never do I guarantee improved test scores or increase learning aptitude. What I have suggested, is that technology in learning offers immense potential for lasting impact.

If you read the read the research or take a deep look at “failed” tech programs, you will find a common thread that putting a computer in a student’s hand does nothing to guarantee any learning. It will not, in isolation, give student any addition skills or knowledge by virtue of access to technology, digital resources, or the Internet. There is no PROMISE in Educational Technology.

This becomes especially difficult when decision makers think about return on investment (and later when they look to blame). I have talked to countless school board members who see the rising cost of technology in education and ask what they should expect in return. The are looking for a quantitative measure of academic impact for technology in schools. However, we know this will not work because of two things:

  1. When it comes to learning, technology is not a treatment. Computers, resources, and access are not an intervention that elicits response. It is not a drug or a turbo charging. It isn’t a standalone add-on to existing programs and people. Technology doesn’t do anything by itself and thus cannot be measure in isolation.
  2. Technology for learning is contextual to the situation in which is is introduced. When added to a school, devices and resources become part of a larger ecosystem. There are existing conditions, needs, wants, programs, people, environmental factors, you name it, that influence all learning, let alone the impact of technology.

Thus, the introduction of technology into a learning environment does not promise anything, be it positive or negative.

Educational Technology Offers Potential Not Promise

What research and experience shows that technology does offer potential to do things that could not be done before. It opens up connections to people, ideas, and knowledge that was available without it. It offers opportunity to reimagine curriculum and pedagogy in the classroom and tailor it for the needs of individual students. Technology CAN make learning deeper, broader, and interconnected. It CAN teach new skills. It has the POTENTIAL for lasting impact on students and teachers.

But then I think about something I read on a friend’s Facebook page, “Potential has a shelf life.” That’s a bit depressing isn’t it? I feel like that speaks to me as someone moving through my career having missed the opportunity at greatness on the football field or having miss the mark at making my first billion dollars before the age of 30. That’s said, there is truth in this statement, that potential is limited in time and it should be seen as a call to action. Seize that potential because it won’t be there forever.

This suggests a couple very important ideas that I try to infuse into each school in which I work.

First, planning is vital to a successful technology program. We need to know what we want our students to learn and what the environment should look like before we jump into the technology itself. The words “Student Learning Outcome” should be a cornerstone to all decision making around the infusing of technology into the school’s program.

Luckily, school don’t need to do this on their own. There are materials available all over the Internet, whether ISTE’s Essential Conditions or roadmaps to technology planning. Talk to colleagues at other schools or follow the key thought leaders in EdTech. As questions and join the dialogue, and I’ll guarantee you that the planning aspect of your program will be robust.

Educational Technology Offers Potential Not Promise

Last, time is of the essence. This potential for lasting impact will only be around as long as your staff is engaged and excited and the shine is still bright on the computers. So, as you embark down the road of integrated EdTech, do it with gusto and passion. Jump into the system (after careful planning of course) and make things happen. Don’t wait for others to catch up or your everyone on your faculty to get on board. Take them through the journey immediately, not once everything is in place.

I have seen excellent and terrible EdTech programs. And what I can say is that the terrible ones believed they had to jump into EdTech because either it would fill a gap or it would catch them up. Whereas the excellent programs, never really trusted the computers or the Internet to help their kids. They leveraged them through continuous planning and growth, always bearing in mind that potential is only attained through collective work…and nothing is guaranteed.

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