Hope and Education Technology

Recently, a former School Board member that I worked with reached out to me and asked me this question: “I’ve struggled and complained for years, as a board member, parent, student and interested observer, why can’t school better integrate technology to make educational breakthroughs? I see the tech and the tech budgets, but see little transformative delivery and much resistance.”

I keep going back to my answer to him because it encapsulates the problem that education, and all organizations, have when incorporating “technology”

Vaporized Organizations

It comes down to how organizations, and to a certain extent occupational fields, adapt to new technology. In education, new technologies (including the chalkboard in the 1850’s) were met with hair on fire prophecies that it would cure all that wrong with education or be the worst thing ever. We still do this.

What is interesting to me is the idea of “vaporized” organizations or institutions. Traditionally, new technologies are adapted to make the status quo more efficient, not for innovation. Think of what happened to Kodak and digital photography. They had the best digital technology for 30 years and sat in it because they were not interested in creating a new field…they just wanted to make their existing business model of film photography incrementally better. Of course, they were “vaporized” when digital photography took off. The same is true for Blockbuster getting vaporized by Netflix. There’s a great book called (interestingly enough) Vaporized by Robert Tercek that lays out this line of reasoning very well.

Inertia is one way to look at the problem of “no transformation” in schooling, but the problem is more complex. At the end of the day, if a school district does not have a well thought out vision for learning with a detailed plan on how to achieve that vision, then they are just pissing in the wind when it comes to technology. New technology simply becomes the next shiny object to chase (much like literacy programs I might add) to make one feel as if they are progressing.

Goal, Pathway, Agency

Brene Brown (in her book Dare to Lead) discusses how hope is the antidote to cynism and despair. I mention this because my response, to this point, is a wee bit cynical….so I want to offer a solution. The solution is a shift in mindset away from cynicism and toward hope. Hope has three parts, goal, pathway, agency. A goal to strive for, in the case of technology, what do you want technology to do to help learners. A pathway to figure out how you will reach the goal. And most importantly agency which is the belief in our (your school or school district) ability to stay on the path to reach the goal.

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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