|Prospecting for Digital Riches|
|by Jamie McKenzie|
|MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2002|
so long ago, it was fashionable to speak about students surfing the Net.
Schools rushed to connect classrooms to the Internet as if mere connectivity
might work wonders. Many proponents of new technologies promised revolutionary
shifts in the kinds of learning that would occur if schools bought the
right equipment. The proponents also predicted impressive gains in student
performance—claims rarely substantiated by credible research findings.
But then the Internet and the dot-com bubbles burst. Many ventures proved unworthy. Others turned into dot-compost. Some schools awoke with empty hands and bankrupt business partners. Some digital emperors even paraded without clothes. At about this same time, the rush to wire classrooms was criticized by The Alliance for Children as a rush for "fool's gold."
a response to these charges, take a look at MultiMedia Schools editor
Ferdi Serim's article, "Gold into Straw: Alliance Report Misses Mark" at
Ferdi writes, "Fool's Gold is the perfect snooze alarm for people
who have yet to wake up to the idea that educational improvement requires
change. And change is about more than velocity; it is also about direction.
The debate today is about more than technology or school choice; it centers
on whether your model for learning is based on transmission or construction
Riding the Curl
How can schools maximize a return on technology investments, backing mostly winners while avoiding losers? How can schools ride the curl of innovation without tumbling into heavy surf? How can they escape failure and a vicious undertow?
like to present in this article a strategic approach to the selection of
innovative educational practices and tools, an approach designed to protect
staff and students from "toolishness"—a fondness for tools that transcends
purpose and utility. (See the article in the September 2001 issue of my
educational technology journal From Now On at http://fno.org/sept01/toolishness.html.)
The goal is to improve schools without falling prey to bandwagons or train
A Dozen Strategies for Making Discerning Choices
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
How can we avoid what Shakespeare warned about some 500 years ago?
"Discernment" is the answer. We approach the adoption of new tools and practices with discernment.
Chevron offers the following information on its Web site [http://www.chevroncars.com/know/primer] describing the search for oil:
People have used petroleum products for nearly 5,000 years. The Babylonians caulked their ships with asphalt, and the ancient Chinese lit their imperial palaces with natural gas. For these early users, finding petroleum was a matter of guesswork and good luck. People simply looked for oil seeps and hoped the source was nearby.
Convergence and the Search for Value in the Technology Marketplace
Schools may also employ convergence in scanning the extensive menu of new tools and practices currently being offered by eager vendors. The goal is to find convincing evidence of each of the following elements associated with value.
1) Designed for Learning? Is this innovation solidly grounded in sound learning principles?
Those who sell tools and programs to schools do not always understand how classrooms, schools, and learning take place. Rather than bother with what we know about effective learning practices, they skip the discussion by underlining how different the high-technology classroom will be. This kind of sales approach is usually a danger signal. The wise school checks to make sure that the inventors of the new program understand the psychology and philosophy of learning in a way that matches the values of the school. Part of this checking is a review of the credentials and experience of the invention team responsible for the creation of the product. Does the team possess a strong track record of success within the educational workplace or are the members outsiders with little knowledge of what works or doesn't work? Are they inclined to invent hybrids rather than focus on solid value?
2) Tested and Refined? Has this innovation been shaped and refined by careful field-testing and data collection?
In all too many cases, the product is rushed to market without much field-testing or refinement based on actual usage. When a school asks for data to guide decision-making, this request may be met with a blank stare or statements about leading-edge technologies, vanguards, and pioneers. This is another danger signal. Product development should include careful testing and the collection of data. If the innovation has been field-tested without data and the vendors present nothing but glowing testimonials from heavily invested administrators, place somecalls to find out how the rank and file feel about the innovation. Reliance upon testimonials rather than data should set off an alarm.
3) Comfortable and Friendly? Is this innovation user-friendly, inviting, and familiar to the rank and file?
If we seek broad-based acceptance of an innovation, we would hope that someone had taken the time to make it a comfortable rather than a threatening experience. Unfortunately, sometimes the designers of an innovation are out of touch with rank-and-file teachers and do their designing with a focus on the styles and preferences of early adopters. Look for evidence that someone has considered the needs and preferences of reluctant users and late adopters as well as champions and early adopters. If the innovation is unfriendly in design, it will be hard for the majority to swallow and unlikely to thrive within the school.
4) Effective in Winning Results? Is this innovation capable of creating improvements in student performance?
bottom line for schools is student performance and the likely impact of
the innovation on the daily practice of the school. Schools should avoid
doing technology for technology's sake and should only adopt innovations
that have considerable promise to improve the reading, writing, and reasoning
of students. There is little to be gained by bringing into schools more
toys and tools that promote such things as powerpointlessness or cut-and-paste
plagiarism. Does the vendor have hard evidence of gains validated by research
conducted with some degree of reliability and validity?
Inquiry: search (verb)
"Exploring for Oils" Schoolscience.Co.uk [http://www.schoolscience.co.uk/content/4/chemistry/findoils/index.html].
"Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood." The Alliance for Childhood. October, 2000 [http://www.allianceforchildhood.net/projects/computers/computers_reports.htm].
"Foolishness Is Toolishness." From Now On—The Educational Technology Journal, September, 2001 [http://fno.org/sept01/toolishness.html].
"The Prospector's Primer from Chevron" [http://www.chevroncars.com/know/primer/].
© 2002 by Jamie McKenzie. Communications to the author may be addressed to Jamie McKenzie, Editor of From Now On—The Educational Technology Journal, 500 15th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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