No Longer Optional: Tech that Makes Life A Little Less Difficult

Over at Blue Skunk Blog, dear friend and colleague Doug Johnson points out the following:
I don't always make popular decisions nor try to steer our district down the path of least resistance. Two moves which have drawn some heat this year have been:
  • Supplying classroom teachers with desktop computers (without a DVD drive) and a tablet instead of giving them the option of having a laptop.
  • Not installing Microsoft Office by default on any new computer and not upgrading Office to its latest version.
When I read Doug's reasoning for these two reasons, I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, a part of me says, almost involuntarily, that's my thinking, too. I can read the critique of a Microsoft Defender of Truth, reminiscent of recent advocacy against Chromebook and for iPads in schools:
GREAT Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil…
Not “adequate”, not “ok,” not “mediocre,” not “the cheapest we could buy,” not “good enough,” not “hand me down,” not “hobbled.”
The Office Suite we provide students should be the best we can provide.
It's kinda funny when you replace the debate over Chromebooks vs iPads with MS Office. But the truth is, we don't need Microsoft's flagging flagship product, MS Office, anymore. And, it's silly to think we need to buy the most expensive equipment for classrooms when less expensive will get the job done.  
It does not matter what we in the edtech field think about a new technology. What matters is what the end users think. We cannot force new technology on teachers; we must influence them into adopting it. - Gary Shattuck, Director of Technology, Newton County Schools, EdTech Leader (@edtechleader)
A key aspect of our role is to ensure a base, a foundation of technology that enables individuals to do their jobs, while providing learning experiences that help them transition from technophobes to educators who see how technology can be transformative and is no longer optional. But given the plethora of technologies available, let's avoid the quagmire of one technology to rule them all.
“That emphasis on flexibility also extends to the various devices and platforms in use by districts, he [Lehmann] said. In SLA’s case, students are expected to do video production and other high-powered content creation that is not supported on the Chromebook; through its grant, Dell is paying for desktop and all-in-one stations to be used as supplements.”
I am disappointed in Lehmann here, because it is clear he is pimping himself and his school out to Dell to be some kind of national advertisement for Dell Chromebooks. 
Source: Tim Holt, National EdTech Educators Acting as Useful Idiots
While a low-cost Windows 7 desktop may not be the latest mobile device (e.g. iPad or Android tablet), it does provide teachers with what they need to complete administrative functions. The desktop computer acknowledges that we need "appliance-like" computers that get the job done at minimal cost...they are an appliance. They break down, you replace them. 

My favorite appliance story...I've bought clothes hot irons, paying up to $80. But then I noticed that the same brand and quality as found in hotel rooms I was staying at was available for $15...and did a better job than the $80 model. If I can get my writing done on a Chromebook for $279, why blow $1200 or more on a fancy laptop? If I want to do video editing,  audio, why spend thousands of dollars when I can just get an iPad for about $500? It all depends on the job.

The same goes for technology in classrooms...what is actually being done with the technology as opposed to what we imagine we can make others do with it? 
Long term pilot programs and testing requires collaboration between school IT departments and classroom teachers, and constant contact.... -Scott Welch
Esteemed colleague Tim Holt, a director of instructional technology for a large urban school district, shares these points in his blog entry, Mythbusters: My iPad Can't Do That:
Districts in the same state or schools in the same city might have differing needs. For instance, a school that is an Arts magnet school might have differing needs than say a technical school, or a traditional school. Grade levels have differing needs.
They require a specific tool or tools that binds them to a specific technology. (How many RFP’s have gone out with the phrase “Must run Windows XP or later..?)
They are not aligned to actual curriculum.
They are not aligned to any kind of educational technology standard.
Is technology actually being used to support curriculum? Actually, the answer is "No." In many cases it is not, and where it is, the list I came up with (further below) gets the job done.

Differing needs demand flexibility, which aligns with Lehmann's perspective. Schools do have differing needs and it's foolish to try a "one size fits all" approach.
Some low end device like a Chromebook (formerly netbook, formerly thin clients, formerly OLPC laptop, formerly Linux/Unix refurbs, formerly whatever cheap ass piece of technology de jour was being thrust upon education…) is good for students because it provides XX% of the technology experience that the “real devices” does. This is especially true for students that have NO technology. Hey kid, be glad for what you get, because anything is better than nothing.
Source: Tim Holt, Riding Donkeys in a Horse Race
"Let's buy the most expensive technology available for everyone since that's will present infinite possibilities for teaching and learning!" (my fabricated quote, not Tim's words). That quote sums up my perception of Tim's arguments against Chromebook, netbooks, computers running GNU/Linux. In some ways, I'm reminded of this entry on "edtech solutionism," that expensive hardware (e.g. iPads) can save teachers and wonder edtech missionaries and die-hard converts evoke indifference in their audiences, their "flocks," to the best technologies. 

We need a bit more reality. Must we make sinners of teachers--where sinning is less than exuberant technology use--before they can be saved (where saved is taught to use the myriad tech tools/apps/whatever)? 


Tim Holt goes on to cite specific learning objectives...we should be using technology, for which Chromebooks are apparently worthless because he perceives them as inexpensive garbage (I wonder how a 3rd world country feels about that label). The implication is that the list I created to address the 90% ignores the points that Tim makes in this paragraph:
Word processing, creating spreadsheets, create original products, use proper graphic design, research topics, pick appropriate tools to do digital work, evaluate appropriate tools, create multimedia products, use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create, as well as of course use digital citizenship skills and basic computer skills, manipulate audio and video files, use models, simulations communicate results of data analysis, create collaborative work and more.
But if we align the main points of that paragraph above, you will find, as I did, that they align fairly well to my list of 10 items, and, in fact, exceed the specifics Tim alludes to:
  1. "code" or program.
    1. use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create
  2. engage in desktop publishing.
    1. use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create
    2. create collaborative work
  3. use GoogleApps for Education tools.**
    1. Word processing, 
    2. creating spreadsheets, 
    3. create original products, 
    4. pick appropriate tools to do digital work
    5. use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create
    6. basic computer skills
    7. create collaborative work
  4. engage in advanced image editing.
    1. use proper graphic design
    2. create collaborative work
  5. do video recording, editing and remixing.
    1. create multimedia products
    2. use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create
    3. basic computer skills, manipulate audio and video files
  6. complete Pearson compatible state assessments*
  7. complete drill-n-practice and/or tutorial programs like the TexasSuccess program activities (e.g. iStation, Think Through Math), as well as others like Scholastic Math and Reading Intervention Programs, Adobe Flash-heavy projects*, etc.
  8. create a variety of rich multimedia products using multiple media-rich web sites and/or apps
    1. use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create
    2. basic computer skills, manipulate audio and video files
    3. create collaborative work
  9. participate in video/audio-enhanced conferencing using web-based or app-based tools (e.g. Skype, Google Hangout, Adobe Connect, etc.).
    1. create collaborative work
  10. Provides on-board or easy access to cloud storage to facilitate saving and sharing with others.
    1. create collaborative work
Tim points out that overlooked aspects of technology (e.g. iPad) include it's ability to do more than one thing well. For example, I often counsel campuses to invest in an iPad because it can replace an audio/video recorder, as well as document camera. It does this quite easily and that makes it suited for the classroom environment. However, while it serves as a raw way to capture and process information, a device like a Chromebook provides more general usage that schools are often looking for. 
Chromebook Challenge: I challenge Chromebook users to write the blog entry I want to but, I admit, I'm too tired to do right now--fill in the blanks with the apps for each of the items on the list above.
Update: Ok, here's my response to Chromebook Challenge. 

While we might wish to redesign/reform schools, it's worth considering the perspective that they must first be transformed PRIOR to investing in technology. By investing in technology that "doesn't fit" schools today, we are simply throwing good money after bad. That's why buying a workhorse desktop computer and an iPad for a classroom teacher works, while dropping any one technology--no matter how excellent--into a classroom can be potentially catastrophic without an environmental scan.

Again, I must ask these questions prior to purchase:

  1. Does the technology do what we--classroom (teacher+students), campus, and district stakeholders--need it to?
  2. Once we've determined what technology is needed, what's the least expensive equipment to get the job done? 
  3. Where will this equipment be placed?
Like Doug, I'd say, "The reality is that we have enough to do to without making change just for the sake of change." Now, I am less interested in reforming classroom technology use and more interested in meeting the actual needs of people in classrooms.
How can I influence technology use in teaching and learning situations that that empower stakeholders?
As I consider the right question to consider, I still find myself reflecting on the critical importance of the following advice:
If you are in the position to make policies that impact educators, you better get into their classrooms, learn, and understand their world. — George Couros (@gcouros) January 4, 2014 (Source: A Closer View)
Again, I come back to different needs necessitate a variety of solutions. Tim's perspective, as captured in a variety of blog entries, seem inflexible because they demand the best technology as determined by cost for schools. When I visit classrooms, chat with teachers, I don't hear them clamoring for the most expensive. Rather, they are looking for technology that will make their reality a little less difficult.

Wouldn't that be a combination?

No longer optional--technology that makes your life a little less difficult.

Here's a tip...any technology that the end user didn't choose makes their life more difficult, and lowers chances of adoption.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Okay. real life, right now. How many of these things could be done using a Chromebook? Now reverse that, and ask how many things on a Chromebook could be done on an iPad?

Watch this little video:
TIm Holt said…
Gary Stager left this comment on my blog about using Chromebooks at SLA: "I would hate for Chris Lehmann to be used as a pawn in an "Austerity is Cool" narrative used to further erode support for public education. SLA has already made way too many other sacrifices - lack of gym, auditorium, music program, etc..."

doug0077 said…
Hi Miguel,

Well, I wouldn't take much comfort in agreeing with me! I'm too often wrong.

As a school leader, I recognize that there a lot of really good ways to spend money in our district that don't involve technology. Despite Stager's rants about underfunding, the reality is that schools operate under a zero-sum budget and to get more for your program you have to take it from somebody else.

While I think good technology is certainly important, I also think small class sizes, good support staff, good libraries, excellement PD, exciting co-curricular opportunities etc. are also a part of any educational system I want my own grandchildren to attend.

I am not cheap - but I hope - balanced. It's not a game about who can get the biggest budget. it's about getting the biggest learning bang for the buck.


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