Tech Talk: Purposeful Purchases

You can't buy change: it's a process.

Over the past decade, education institutions have spent billions of dollars on technology thinking it would enhance teaching and learning. Surprise, surprise — you can't buy change. Change is a process, not a matter of purchase. Some great technology products are on the market, but if they aren't used as a vehicle for change, opportunity and dollars are wasted.

When it comes to instructional productivity, new technology is useful only when it's accompanied by sound individual habits or processes. In their absence, technology only creates things that masquerade as higher productivity in the public's eye.

Often, very little support is provided to encourage teachers to alter old habits and develop new processes that take advantage of new technology tools, and actually improve teaching and learning. Generally speaking, teachers are left on their own to invent time-management systems that use the right blend of process, habits and technology to fit their individual teaching styles.

Throwing more money at technology without addressing the problems inherent in the system — lack of time and lack of training — is an irresponsible expenditure and simply will drive up education costs with little to show for the investment.

If you don't commit to changing old habits and practices, spending precious dollars on technology tools is not going to create better results. People are inherently resistant to change, and those in the teaching ranks are no different from the rest of us. Certain habits have been around a long time, and many are resistant to change.

A case in point: Recently, a school district with 30 school buildings containing nearly 1,050 classrooms hired a chief instructional officer. Even though the technology committee members still were discussing the basic technology ingredients to be included in each classroom, the new chief declared, "I want an interactive whiteboard in every classroom." With this directive given, a bid was let, contract awarded and whiteboards were installed in all classrooms, at a price tag of more than $5 million.

Two years later, that chief left the district. Many of the whiteboards he had insisted on purchasing had never even been turned on. The technology had been imposed upon, not requested by, teachers.

Another school district spent $13 million on interactive whiteboards because an IT staff person thought it was a good idea. It begs the question, was this the best expenditure of $13 million on educational technology?

Everyday use of technology tools demands a paradigm shift in teaching and learning with technology, and challenges many teachers to modify, transform, and even abandon their traditional model of teaching and learning into an unfamiliar new model to accomplish new expectations. Technology-reluctant teachers have special needs, interests and learning styles that must be addressed with respect and ingenuity if we expect to see such teachers embrace the new technologies being placed in their classrooms.

Many teachers teach as they were taught because they came out of schools of education with tenured professors, many of whom continue to teach with old methodologies based upon lectures and reading assignments. The greatest challenge facing education today is changing mindsets. Teachers know and understand how to use most tools available to them. What they don't know is how to integrate these tools into their teaching. Until education institutions are willing to match equipment expenditures with equivalent commitments on training and staff development, perhaps they should consider a moratorium on the purchase of expensive technology.

Some tremendous technology tools are available, but these tools by themselves don't improve teaching and learning. It is how these tools are put to use that makes a difference.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. [email protected]

TAGS: Construction
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