Is THIS Technology Leadership?

Reading through Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant recently, I stumbled onto this article detailing a school board meeting in Waukee, Iowa where members authorized a university study of the district’s use of technology.

In and of itself, that’s not all that surprising, right?

It is the 21st Century, after all!

What caught my attention was the description of the board members own work with technology:

The meeting was the first time board members had used district-owned laptop computers. The laptops have sat unused at the board table for months, drawing the occasional quip from members that they might soon be outdated.

“I just wonder if the report we request is going to come back and say the laptops we got are obsolete,” vice president Larry Lyon said as he and other board members struggled to get the hang of the new laptops and Web-based agenda system…

As they conducted the meeting, members kept their eyes glued to their laptop screens, often expressing their frustrations at the unfamiliar technology.  “For those of you out there, this is their first attempt at this,” Wilkerson explained. “And there has been no training.”

In the midst of debating the technology study, Ripperger shot a confused look at his fellow board members. “I’m sorry,” he said. “My computer has beeped at me and I don’t know what I just did.”

To read about these kinds of digital struggles from educational decision-makers just plain worries me.  These district leaders didn’t seem to value—or to know how to take advantage of—technology as a tool to facilitate their own work. Not only had their laptops sat unused—there wasn’t a sense of urgency to figure out how they could be used.

I know that I’m picking on the Wakuee school board members here—and that’s unfair.

After all, ANYONE who volunteers to work on a school board deserves an instant ticket to Sainthood.  There couldn’t possibly be a more demanding volunteer position in any community.  School board representatives have to juggle diverse interests and make controversial decisions about the topic that most passionate to any voter:


And my guess is that struggles with technology are common in school board meetings across the continent!  After all, few adults really know how to use technology to make their own learning more efficient.

But if those who are in the position to make decisions about how dollars are spent or how instruction should change struggle to understand the range of ways that digital tools can be used to facilitate the work of groups or the learning of individuals, how can we expect to see opportunities for creation, communication, and collaboration facilitated by digital tools integrated into the fabric of instruction in a district?

9 thoughts on “Is THIS Technology Leadership?

  1. Dave

    I agree with all who pointed out that this is more like a failed implementation than anything else.
    I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that it’s not going to work to just wait for the retirement of people who don’t understand computers. Most people aren’t comfortable enough with computers to learn by doing, and there’s really nothing in place to help them catch up, so situations like this School Board happen all the time, everywhere.

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Renee asked:
    BTW: What’s with the overgeneralization? “After all, few adults really know how to use technology to make their own learning more efficient.”
    Would you really call it an over generalization, Renee?
    Based on what I see every day, I’d call it a fact.
    How many of your peers are using blogs as a source of new learning? How many know how to use feed readers to sort content? How many have created a network of peers that they can reach out to for immediate help on a range of topics?
    In the blogosphere—probably everyone, right?
    But what about in your Sunday school class? In your workroom?
    If I had to put a percentage on it, I’d say less than 10% of my peers use technology to learn efficiently.
    It’s frightening.

  3. Renee Moore

    Key point in your post: They received NO training. Just setting technology in front of folks (students or adults) shows how much we are still treating these tools like idols.
    BTW: What’s with the overgeneralization? “After all, few adults really know how to use technology to make their own learning more efficient.”

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Claus asked:
    Was it clear from the report whether the school board had a plan for how laptops would improve their work?
    Hey Claus,
    I agree with both you and Adam…All too often, technology is purchased without a clear end in mind—which makes implementation difficult at best.
    The article does detail the purposes for the laptops, which included being able to access materials needed for decisions instantly and easily.
    Which makes great sense.
    I guess what I wonder is if decision makers struggle to imagine new uses of technology on their own, will they really be able to create a vision for others.
    I know that if I had been the school board members, I would have worked to find a way to apply the technology in a meaningful way so that I could better understand the kinds of things that technology can do for users.
    Does this make sense?

  5. Adam

    Seems like the purchase was about laptops and not about how it will enhance or improve what the board and the district are trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, many of the decisions are not made with outcomes in mind and it makes implementing a new way of thinking even harder.
    Yesterday I worked with a group of teachers, district leaders, and business folks designing a document that would define student-centered learning and many of the participants wanted me to tell them what it was instead of facilitating the creation of their own tools. Do you see the irony here?

  6. Claus

    Was it clear from the report whether the school board had a plan for how laptops would improve their work?
    Even leaders who are reasonably proficient with technology may have trouble using new tools when the reason for using those tools hasn’t been made clear to them.

  7. Bob Heiny

    I wonder what the facts are: How many people on and off school boards have more information about than familiarity with advanced communication technologies (ACTs). As I remember, over 70% of the general population use cell phones, an ACT. Perhaps we could ask, “Which preposition fits the facts about the Waukee board?” I see no reason for every school board member to know how to use every tech toy in any school as long as they know about them.

  8. Bill Ferriter

    Scott wrote:
    The Waukee people are good people. I think they represent the norm and are not an exception.
    I couldn’t agree more, Scott—on both points! First, anyone who volunteers to serve on a school board is a Saint! After all, they’re rarely paid and they have to try to juggle the needs and interests of dozens of diverse groups.
    I’ll change my post to make that more clear.
    Second, I’ve rarely met digitally savvy decision makers….and that’s for lots of reasons: Time to learn is limited for anyone in today’s rat race, people who make it into decision making roles are often experienced—-which means that they grew up in a time when digital tools were non existant.
    Definitely didn’t want to imply that the Waukee leaders were incompetent.
    Just questioning how we’ll ever see change when adults aren’t efficent users of technology for learning.
    Does this make sense?

  9. Scott McLeod

    The Waukee people are good people. I think they represent the norm and are not an exception.
    I’ve said it before (maybe even on this blog!): The people who are in charge of transitioning schools into the 21st century often are the least knowledgeable about the 21st century.

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