About Useless Gadgets


This article appeared in my Zite news feed this morning.  “Schools ‘wasting £450m a year’ on useless gadgets“.

Those of us whose job it was involved acquiring technology and helping classroom teachers use technology effectively live in dread of titles like that.  The really offensive term to me was “useless gadgets”.  For as long as I’ve been using technology in education, I’ve used just a whack of gadgets.  I wonder — what makes a gadget useless?

Reading the article from the Telegraph, they specifically identify tablet computers, computer software, and electronic whiteboards.  I  kept reading to see if the author actually would explain why the gadgets were labelled as “useless”.

I’ve certainly been involved with computer software all my career, even serving terms on the Ontario Software Acquisition Program Software Committee.  In that role, I’ve worked with many teachers helping them understand the functionality of the software and where it fits into the Ontario Curriculum.  The OSAPAC Committee, in fact, has a sub-group whose job it is to identify Curriculum Connections so that teachers using the software could get a sense of where it fits into the big scheme of things.  Within my own district, I was part of a team that rolled out IWBs to the system.  In our case, I had the eyes, ears, and candor of a group of Computers in Education School Contacts, a small but dynamic team of Early Years Literacy teachers, and a spectacular teacher-librarian who got the original SMART Board, nicknamed it “Big Bertha” and used it to raise her library program to a new level.  Even today, these leaders work with their colleagues to ensure ongoing implementation success.

Any time I talk about technology, one of the things I stress is that technology does allow us to do things differently but more importantly, it allows us to do different things.  In my mind, that’s the ultimate promise of technology and why we spend so much money, time, and should devote a significant effort in acquisition decisions and implementation once the technology has been purchased.

The article, in particular, takes some pretty tough shots at the implementation of tablet technology.  But, as I sit back and think, the one piece that’s missing in all of the scenarios that are described is the lack of support for teachers as they try to use them.  I can speak with confidence that the job of a teacher is absolutely jam-packed.  From knowing the curriculum, to differentiating for student success, to assessment and evaluation, to a changing curriculum in a changing world, to pressure from administration to raise test scores, to dealing with individual students’ social issues.  The absolute last thing, and probably the dumbest educational move, is to buy a bunch of technology and drop it off expecting it to perform all of the promised results.  It’s a formula for failure.

And yet, the article would have you believe that the technology is useless and that teachers are somehow pulled in to using it.  There is no mention at all about how much support was given or whether there’s an implementation plan or just who a teacher is to turn to for answers to questions.

I wish that the article had dug deeper.  I think more details about the actual implementation plan are needed before any piece of technology can be labelled “useless”.

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OTR Links 11/17/2012


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.