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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

No new innovations?

Much of what I have written this past week is probably not worth sharing here, but perhaps this is. A classmate of mine, a recently retired school district IT director, actually wrote the sentence below. My reaction follows.

There are no new innovations I would like to see emerge.

This was shocking to read, but I think I see where you are coming from. I'm presuming that you don't mean you don't want to see any new innovations, but that there are no particular innovations you are looking forward to. I wonder if I am right about this.

I know what you mean when you say that the technology industry is always rolling-out innovations yet educational institutions systems have no constructs in their processes to handle change as quickly as the industry is demanding. It is difficult to watch school districts exciting new programs, only to see the programs fail because previous technologies had not been implemented or maintained properly.

For instance, with the handheld grant I managed, the handhelds made one to one computing a reality at two middle schools (a situation with many obvious advantages, not the least of which was the ability for every student to be able word process anytime anywhere), yet the program was plagued by technical frustrations because in order to use the devices to their full potential (and to print out student writing for teachers to grade - since teachers were not comfortable with grading on a handheld), the handhelds had to synchronize with the school's desktop computers. Unfortunately the school networks and computers were already sorely neglected, and without getting into all the details, it will suffice to say that synchronizing was always a major issue (and printing was even worse).

I did work to upgrade the computers and network, which helped, but this generated professional development needs and a host of other compatibility issues. (At the time, we moved from Mac OS 9 to the entirely new Mac OS X.) And as much as I have enjoyed apples new release early and often philosophy personally, it is frustrating to see that all that work is already out of date again.

Still, even though I understand the system wide ramifications of adopting new innovations, especially on a large scale, I would rather see our organizations adapt so that they can more readily adopt beneficial technologies than to see them resist new innovations. To do this, we will have to part with some of our traditional (and competing) ideas about school.

In this respect I agree with some of your other points, such as the pressure is on the teachers to catch up with the students in their comfort level with technology and to the industry demand for quality graduating students with the ability to handle the technology... and such as your final sentence:

The innovation, which would be the most benefit to education, is to solve the equity and access issues, address the total cost of ownership that comes along with such applications, and examination and renovation of the testing requirements for measuring student achievement.

I would add that when we address these issues we do so with the goal of establishing a plan for systematic renewal, such that unforeseen innovations can be easily and efficiently integrated into teaching and learning where appropriate.

-Mark

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