picture of 1800s classroom with blackboard, seats and a teacher's desk.

How We Select Technology

Technology adoption is tricky. What technology should we use and for what purpose? Should we use something just because everyone else is using it? Should there be another reason? What is that reason? What is the technology that fits best in my classroom, with my students, and for what I want to do?

In the field of assistive technology, where IDEA talks about individualized educational programs, we use a great framework developed by Joy Zabala (http://joyzabala.com). It’s called SETT, and it stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools. It says that rather than starting with the tool (a way too frequent approach), we should first consider the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs; we should consider the environment that the student is operating in; and we should consider the tasks we want the student to accomplish. Once we’ve considered that, identifying the tool becomes much easier and more appropriate.

While it’s hard to consider the strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of every student in a school, there’s nothing stopping us from at least examining the environment (the WiFi, the classrooms, whether the device is going home with the student or not, etc.) and the tasks (what are the educational goals? What are we trying to accomplish in the classroom? What do we want the students to learn?). Once we do that, maybe we can do a better job of selecting the appropriate tools rather than having closets full of technology that once was hot and now it’s not.

Picture of the jump to conclusions mat from the movie office space with insert picture of the movie character Tom Smykowski

The jump to conclusions mat

How do we know what we know? How do we know what we should know? I’ve been in the field of educational technology for almost 20 years. Despite my hesitations, I think that makes me a relative expert in the field, and I always have a hard time gauging whether what I know is general knowledge or not.  However, lately, I’ve been getting the sneaking suspicion that those of us in the field are making too many assumptions about the general technology knowledge of teachers and other educational practitioners whose job does not constantly revolve around thinking about technology. I think we get so wrapped up in the possibilities that we see for technology in education that we jump to conclusions about the steps required to integrate whatever solution we’re talking about. We have the tendency to think that the teachers who will be responsible for the integration of technology understand it as well as we do. We may provide some kind of technical PD, where we tell them to click here and click there but, ultimately, I think we sometimes leave them more confused than they were before we started.

I think that we need to take a step back and re-evaluate the technological knowledge of the teachers we’re asking to implement the solution and provide professional development that is appropriate for the level of knowledge they have. We are never going to be successful if the ed tech people are being much more high level than the audience we’re trying to reach. We need to do what we always talk about doing with our students: we need to meet them where they are rather than force them to be where we are.

The iPad Revolution

Last week, during an education-focused session held in Chicago, Apple released its new iteration of the iPad.  Since it was first released in 2010, the iPad has struggled to find its niche in education. With the release of the 6th generation, Apple is taking another stab at trying to figure out how to stem the Chrome revolution in education and explain the relevance of the iPad to a market that, after an initial overdone enthusiasm, has cooled significantly towards Apple’s offerings. Partly, Apple has suffered from the economic downturn, with many school districts cutting technology budgets and looking for less expensive solutions, and partly Apple has suffered from a lack of understanding of how to best integrate the iPad in education.

One of the main problems with technology in education is down to technology selection issues. Too often the tool wags the dog and not vice-versa. We decide on the tool and then try to fit our educational goals around the technology. Once we bought the tool, we have to use it because we spent all that money on the tool, so we end up contriving uses for it. That may work in the short term, but it’s not a good long term strategy. We need to start with the educational goals and then identify the tool that supports those goals.

When the iPad first came out, schools were excited. Educators contrived uses for it, but it did not lead to any educational strides. When budgets became tight, it became harder to justify the iPad since we weren’t seeing results. Chromebooks were the perfect tool to step into that gap: they were cheap, they had a keyboard, and we could easily use them as a substitute for previously used methods: typing rather than handwriting, PowerPoint rather than writing on the blackboard, etc. That’s not to say that this is not important. Add a marketplace of apps that can approximate other activities and you have a solution that’s easy to understand. However, that’s not the niche that the iPad fills.

The iPad has the potential of being a transformative tool. Unfortunately, Apple has not done a good job of explaining that. While they have the ability to be technology substitution tools, they are too expensive to only fill that role. With the release of the new iPad, Apple has added the pencil to a device that’s moderately expensive. It changes the way we can interact with the devices and provides a full complement to the touch and keyboard that already existed. Beyond the variety of access methods the new iPad can bring in transformative activities using alternative reality, it can creatively engage the students on a level that is hard to do with a traditional screen&keyboard device, and it can open the imagination of students and teachers alike. Now only if Apple can match the device with the learning goals and do a better job of explaining how the iPad can be a revolutionary device.

wordle for ed tech

What is Educational Technology?

In 1943, at the start of the computer era, Thomas J. Watson Jr., then president of IBM is sometimes alleged to have predicted that “there is a world market for about five computers.”  Regardless of whether he said it or not, neither Thomas J. Watson Jr. nor many of his contemporaries could have foreseen the technology revolution that has taken place over the past 70 or so years.  Today, companies like Apple sell hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets and computers every year.   The biggest consumers of that technology are young adults.  As far back as 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to refer to the generation that grew up using technology and those who only adopted technology later in life. Whether they’re accurate terms or not is debatable.  The “digital natives” are certainly adept at using technology for personal use.  Social media, creating and consuming multimedia and gaming, are definitely areas in which digital natives thrive.  Where I think the divide between natives and immigrants narrows is in the use of technology for academic uses.  That’s not stopping the business world from investing tremendously in educational technology and for schools and higher education institutions to follow suit.  According to Gartner, Inc. global spending on technology in education was set to exceed $67 billion in 2015.  While there is impressive evidence to suggest that technology can enhance education, not all technology is created equally. Technology by itself is just a tool and, like any tool, it has to be employed judiciously.  Here’s the analogy I always give: Say you need to dig a hole to plant a flower. You have three options in front of you: you can use your hands, a shovel or an excavator. Too often people either pick their hands or the excavator. Using your hands may be fine in certain situations, but sometimes the earth is too hard. When they use the excavator they make a mess of the situation but rather than realizing that they didn’t pick the appropriate tool, they end up blaming all tools and eventually return to trying to use their hands.

So what is educational technology? Educational technology is technology that, used appropriately, can enhance education.