I saw this article on LinkedIn, “The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade,” and as I looked at the title, I thought that no way was I going to go through that whole list. Surprise! I did. It took a bit longer to read, but I found myself reflecting on my experience as a principal and how my thoughts about ed tech changed over time.
When I first began teaching in 1973, there was no such thing as ed tech. We took all our data by hand, we wrote out or typed up conference notes about our students, and my favorite book of ideas was called Workjobs; many of the activities we used to address strudents’ strengths and challenges was homemade using recycled materials. The use of technology was never even on our radar.
Fast forward to 1993 when I was hired to teach first and second graders at Mililani Mauka Elementary School, our state’s first “high tech” school. We had four student desktop computers in each classroom and a desktop for the teacher. We attended training sessions on how to use technology to engage students in their learning. Information was more readily available on the Internet, but we carefully managed the sites our students were able to access. Our students became much more comfortable with word processing, and we created video portfolios, recording students as they gave oral book reports or shared projects they had completed. Things have changed so much since then.
Fast forward again to 2003 when I became a school principal. Going from a perceived high tech school to a school with limited resources was an eye-opener. Upgrading our devices and providing teachers with opportunities to learn more about how to use them was a priority. (Thank goodness for grant opportunities!) Reading over the list of Ed-Tech Debacles, I realized that we tried some of those ”failures,” and I agreed with the writer; they were not worth the money or the hype. As the principal, I was influenced by other educators who raved about different programs, and sadly, I sometimes drank the Kool-Aid. We spent a lot of money on programs that promised to raise student achievement; they didn’t. A lot of what we did was trial-and-error, and the way teachers used technology in their classes was vastly different despite our attempts to train everyone equally.
Until I read this article, I had not thought about the massive amounts of money being “invested” and wasted in education technology - millions and billions of dollars each year. This article, “K-12 Districts Wasting Millions by Not Using Purchased Software, New Analysis Finds,” shares that in some districts, 90% of software licenses purchased were not being used, amounting to a loss of $2 million per year for that district. The reasons are varied: lack of adequate professional development on how to use the program or how to interpret the data; poor connectivity; or lack of student engagement. Studies show that the amount of money invested in ed tech really has not improved educational outcomes. Personalized learning, learning labs, computer-based competency testing, flipped learning - they do not guarantee success or student engagement.
As I became more experienced as a principal, I realized that the best strategy to ensure the appropriate use of ed tech was to give teachers more say in how we used technology at our school. We encouraged teachers to experiment and to share how different learning tools engaged and empowered their students. When (if) we had extra money to spend at the end of the fiscal year, rather than buying more licenses for programs, we chose to purchase more devices because newer, less-expensive models such as Chromebooks were available. The change in thinking was that we were now using technology more as a tool where students could explore, discover, create, and share their learning, not as a substitute textbook or worksheet. Our students and teachers were able to collaborate, to ask questions and research to discover answers, and to work together to solve problems through project-based learning. Learning then became more meaningful, engaging, and impactful for students and teachers alike.
Perhaps it is time for all schools or school districts to examine how much they are spending on education technology and to discuss whether that money is having the impact on student learning that they hoped or expected. It’s time for schools and districts to stop looking for quick-fix programs that are costly and promise much but don’t necessarily deliver.
After all, ed tech can supplement, but never replace, quality teaching and learning in the classroom.