Thursday, July 8, 2010

What really is the problem we are trying to solve?

Nothing like a good conference to revive my professional soul, not to mention this blog! ISTE 2010 was wonderful, not just for the stimulating sessions, but just to be in rooms filled with hundreds of kindred spirits. I'm now motivated to begin anew.

So, what is the problem we (Ed Tech proponents) are trying to solve? As much as I loved ISTE, I don't know if we really know the answer or the question. Technology is only effective if applied strategically towards a very specific objective. Can technology simultaneously solve the problems of bored, under-achieving students, over-burdened teachers, test-obsessed administrators, and a stagnant culture in public education? My guess is we are not going to see progress by leaps and bounds this year or next year, or in any year unless we clearly identify the problem and plot a way forward using the appropriate technologies.

I see the big question as "Can technology transform education the way it has transformed virtually all other industries and sectors of government?" Think of such specific industries such as journalism, advertising and entertainment. Each of these fields has been turned up-side-down by technology, yet education continues along with its tremendous inertia. Heck, even the Post Office has been dramatically changed by technology.

So what will be the killer App that induces some good old American creative destruction on the education establishment? One thing I know for certain, is that hardware initiatives such as 1-1 Laptops don't in themselves change education. If the basic workflow and teaching practices endure after the technology is implemented, then we aren't much further ahead. Worse yet, if progressive administrators that pursue these costly programs can't show measurable results, we end up taking more steps backward then forward.

It seems to me that the main purpose of technology is to make things dramatically more efficient and dynamic. This means that technology has to liberate teachers from the stifling drudgery of having to manage attendance, discipline, parental contacts, assessment and instructional preparation on a daily basis. Technology has to make all of this easier. Today, online curricula seem to make preparing for daily lessons more difficult. Let's start with this so that the online curriculum is merged with everything else, including video, e-texts, online collaborative research assignments and even video-conferencing. It goes without saying that attendance, discipline, photocopying, transparency making and all the other administrivia should be made effortless by technology, but the technology really needs to free up the teachers so they can be expected to put everything into student relationships, coaching and motivation. Now let's get busy and make it happen.

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