Note to Principals: Stop Spending Money on Technology.

Did y’all see this bit in yesterday’s #edtech Smartbrief?  

It details the plight of the Decatur County Schools, who are facing huge cuts in Federal eRate funding in the next five years.  The results, according to Larry Clark — principal at Jones Wheat Elementary School — will be devastating.  “Technology is the up and going thing for our kids to learn and the best way for them to learn,” argues Clark, “and they really, really enjoy the technology aspect.”

Can you spot my beef with Clark’s thinking?  

Perhaps most importantly, technology is NOT “the best way” for our kids to learn.  The best way for kids to learn is through powerful studies of real-world causes that leave them motivated to master core outcomes and expectations while taking action in their communities.  The best way for kids to learn is through studies of topics that have deeply personal meaning and that leave them challenged.

The best way for kids to learn is through constant conversations with peers, with kids in other classes and in other countries, and with supportive and caring adults who recognize misconceptions and can point out new avenues for continued study.  The best way for kids to learn is by providing learning experiences that are customized and targeted towards the strengths and weaknesses of individuals instead of whole groups.

I think what I’m trying to say is principals and superintendents should STOP spending money on technology.

Instead, principals and superintendents should commit themselves to spending money creating classrooms that are dynamic and outward facing and differentiated and personalized and committed to developing kids who can imagine and innovate and experiment and act.

Can technology support efforts to integrate these kinds of core behaviors into the work that we do in our schools?  Absolutely.  In fact the best lessons in my room — whether we are microlending, raising awareness about sugars in foods, or fighting back against bullying — are almost always supported by technology.

But the best lessons depend FIRST on schools and systems that develop clarity around just what meaningful teaching and learning experiences look like in action.

Technology is, after all, just a tool.  It’s not a learning outcome.

 

Author’s note:  Much of this thinking was inspired by a conversation that I had this week with Ron Rizzo — a new friend who also happens to be the Interim Director of the Charter School Office at Ferris State University.  #goodfella

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Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome

More on Technology is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome

Does YOUR School have Technology Vision Statements?

 

13 comments

  1. Pingback: Is YOUR School Wasting Money on Technology? |
  2. Tanya Guillory

    Bill Ferriter,

    I am a secondary education student at South Alabama University .
    I do agree with you that children learn through real life experience. Your views on the need for technology are refreshing and encouraging.
    Thanks
    Tanya Guillory

    • Bill Ferriter

      Glad you dig that thinking, Tanya.

      So let me ask you a question: How many times did you use technology in those ways when you were in high school?

      Why is it that there is such a gap between what we CAN do with technology and what we ARE doing with technology in our schools?

      Interesting questions, right?
      Bill

  3. JP

    Hmmm…shouldn’t learning to use technology tools ‘be’ a learning outcome as well as an assistant to mastering learning outcomes? We can argue a point that focusses on the specific learning outcomes of the course or lesson, but the reality is that students learn an unwritten curriculum whenever we do anything in class, and often, the most effective learning occurs while we strive to solve a completely unrelated problem. My point, most of K-12 curriculum serves more to teach students how to learn than it is about the specific outcome being addressed?

    I have no difficulty with the problem, but I worry that the title and implication that we should stop purchasing technology becomes a tool to support an argument against the effort to look for and implement effective use of technology.

    • Bill Ferriter

      JP,

      You wrote two interesting things. One I agree with and one I don’t. Here’s the one I agree with:

      I

      have no difficulty with the problem, but I worry that the title and implication that we should stop purchasing technology becomes a tool to support an argument against the effort to look for and implement effective use of technology.

      When I whipped up this post, I was looking for a title that would capture attention. Call it click bait if you want. And I tried in the text to be sure that people realized that I wasn’t arguing for a tech-free school — but instead a school where tech played a purpose. I do worry, though, that there will be clods who don’t bother to read the post at all and use the argument against investing in tech.

      Here’s the statement I don’t agree with:

      Hmmm…shouldn’t learning to use technology tools ‘be’ a learning outcome as well as an assistant to mastering learning outcomes?

      I just can’t support this at all simply because it places technology — instead of interesting opportunities or essential content or making a difference — at the center of our conversations about what we do with the kids in our classrooms. Until we stop talking about tech and start talking about good teaching and learning, we’ll continue to waste time, money, and the support of our communities.

      Any of this make sense?
      Bill

      • pusic

        Both makes sense. However, we may agree to disagree with the latter issue. I feel that there is a significant group of people who believe that our students are fluent with new technology simply because they are young and grew up with it. This is absolutely not true. In fact, there are many young people who are very poorly versed with technology in all of it’s forms. Without the conscience decision to learn tech skills (on behalf of student or teacher), students risk being left behind their peers and ill prepared for the world post-schooling.

        The strength of teaching technology in all subject areas is that the cross over builds students’ metacognitive skills and provides a connection between diverse areas of study that are poorly connected for students normally (speaking K-12 here). Truthfully, all curricular areas should strive for similar cross connections which are naturally evident with technology.

        Cheers,
        John

  4. Stephen Ransom

    Great post and completely agree with the main idea here. The only issue I’d push back on is the statement that “technology is just a tool”. That implies that technology is only additive, when in many ways, it is, as Neil Postman puts it, ecological. It has the potential to change everything. The problem with the “just a tool” thinking is that it then becomes something that simply gets integrated into current practices rather than have the potential to transform current practices, contexts, ideas, ways of knowing, ways of learning,… (see Postman’s 4th point here: https://www.student.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~cs492/papers/neil-postman–five-things.html). That thinking can do more to hold us back than move us forward.

    You’re so right that placing our emphasis on the technology rather than on the learning is hugely problematic. However, I think it’s also as problematic to limit technology’s use to traditional models of learning, even “best practices”… the “just a tool” mindset.

    Anyway, just adding a little fuel to the fire. Love your depictions of what learning should look like!

    • Bill Ferriter

      Stephen wrote:

      The only issue I’d push back on is the statement that “technology is just a tool”. That implies that technology is only additive, when in many ways, it is, as Neil Postman puts it, ecological. It has the potential to change everything. The problem with the “just a tool” thinking is that it then becomes something that simply gets integrated into current practices rather than have the potential to transform current practices, contexts, ideas, ways of knowing, ways of learning,

      ———————–

      Hey Pal,

      First, thanks for adding to the conversation and for challenging my thinking. I always value that — and sadly, it doesn’t happen enough in today’s spaces.

      And I totally dig your argument that selling technology as “just a tool” can lead to people who just use technology to reinforce traditional practices. I actually really like how you explained that here — in fact, it’s the first time that I’ve heard it explained in a way that I can wrap my head around.

      I think the reason I struggle with that argument is because of my own notions about what technology enables. In my room, technology serving as just a tool means enabling kids to raise their voices and participate in the world around them. That’s just what we do with tech. So for me, it really is “just a tool” — but it is a tool that we are using to do great things. Additive in my room is a good thing simply because I’ve done enough reimagining of my learning space to move beyond the basics.

      I have to remember that’s not generally the case in most spaces!

      Thanks for the reminder,
      Bill

      • Stephen Ransom

        Yes, I completely agree – and there are degrees of “additive”, I’m sure. Additive in a very behaviorist environment would certainly look quite different from additive in a more constructivist environment. Like the analogy of “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, one might also frame it, “When all you do is lecture and test, every new tech looks like a flash card and quiz tool”.

        Keep up the great stuff – and sharing it!! We need great models out there.

  5. Antonio Vendramin

    Hi Bill. Wonderful post. When I first read the title, I knew the direction you were going. I remember someone saying something to the effect, “If technology was the answer, we should have seen exponential growth in learning by now.” That obviously has not been the case. It’s the role technology plays in our classrooms that makes the biggest difference. If the focus is on the technology, we’ve got it wrong. When the focus is on personalized, meaningful learning supported by technology as a tool, as you suggest, then we’re hitting the mark. Love reading your stuff. Take care.

    Antonio

    • Bill Ferriter

      Hey Pal,

      Jazzed that you saw where this post was going from the beginning — and even more jazzed that you agree with the twist I put on tech spending!

      This bit has gotten some negative pushback, which kind of caught me by surprise.

      All that I know is that I’m tired of seeing principals purchase tools and then say, “Let’s figure out what to do with this stuff.”

      The right approach is to figure out what really matters — to the kids in your school, to the community that you serve, to the colleagues that you work with — and THEN purchase tools.

      This stuff isn’t rocket science — and yet we keep getting it wrong.

      #sheeshchat
      Bill

    • Bill Ferriter

      Using technology tools effectively, clime guy, can HELP kids to master learning outcomes, but using tech tools effectively isn’t a learning outcome in and of itself.

      Until we focus on good teaching and learning first – instead of on technology – we will continue to botch tech in schools.

      Does that mean tech can’t play a role in classrooms?

      Of course not. Tech enables remarkable things. The best experiences I have created for my kids are enhanced by tech.

      But when we place tech – instead of teaching and learning – at the center of our conversations about change, we forget that it doesn’t automatically result in improved learning for kids.

      Does this make sense?
      Bill