Friday, June 18, 2010

Tech Tools Don't Transform Learning - Teachers Do!

A recent article in the Washington Post by Stephanie McCrumman questions the value of the expensive technology being installed in classrooms all over the world, particularly interactive whiteboards. While I agree with a lot of what she is saying, she misses the key point. Unless teaching and learning activities change to more learner-centered experiences, technology will not revolutionize our schools. And this depends on teachers knowing how to change their approach.

In 1975 I had a wonderful technology in my kindergarten class - a machine with a monitor, speaker, keyboard, and early stage interactive disk which the kids would sit at to learn to read. A word would come on the screen and a voice would say "cat" and then the student would type the word "c-a-t" and if successful, they got to see the word, hear "cat," and see a picture of a cat. WOW! For 35 years ago that was pretty amazing technology. Everyone wanted to be on the machine - but after only a few weeks, most found it boring, and the expensive toy was abandoned. I learned to design more engaging activities, like having the kids dictate experience stories into a tape recorder (technology), transcribe them with our parent volunteers, illustrate them, then read them to their peers.

Fast forward to today and the New York City  School of One, in which differentiated learning is the philosophy and approach (this came first) and the technology is the enabler. A similar school in South Carolina, Forest Lake Elementary School created a self-directed curriculum in which students as young as five interact with each other to learn, create, and publish their work in a variety of ways. Teachers are designers of engaging work and facilitators. In both schools there is a tremendous amount and variety of technology, but the curriculum design came first. Wouldn't you love to teach in these schools? Why can't every school adopt this approach in which the students thrive? Vision, strategy, plan, is an enabler and essential to today's educational landscape, but the educational vision comes first.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Keep It Simple Using Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

School leaders and their technology experts take months to decide which technologies to buy and how to integrate them into their curriculum. The first step is always determining the results you expect by integrating the technology. And the second step is determining the best technology for the goals you are trying to reach.

This process doesn't need to take months to decide if a 'total cost of ownership' approach is used. Total Cost of Ownership is a principle that says when you are considering investing in a change, or if you want to adopt a new technology, you should consider all of the costs to adopting that change. Total cost includes not just the purchase of the technology, licenses, and warranties, but also facility upgrades and installation costs. To be thorough, you also need to consider related software, customization and configuration, and integration into data systems. Social and human costs also must be calculated (not as easy but just as important) such as change management, curriculum design, and ongoing technical and professional support. Even public relations and organizational communication activities should be considered.

Once all of the associated costs are calculated, two things need to happen. First, you need to decide if you can really afford the "total" change and second, you need to assess whether you will see a return on your investment.  Decisions can become pretty 'black and white' when TCO is employed.

A good application for TCO is when selecting high end solutions like interactive whiteboards. A series of opinion pieces in  ISTE's Learning and Leading magazine highlights why TCO is so important. Several people make good cases for and against adopting whiteboards, and all of them, on both sides of the argument, point to the adoption process as keys to success or failure. The integration into existing best practices, ongoing training and support, incentives for innovation all are critical and all cost money if done correctly. And more than that they cost emotional and professional capital as well.

The biggest mistake school leaders can make is to invest in new technologies without considering TCO - the financial and human costs of implementing the change. Because of this tens of thousands of scarce dollars are wasted every year. In contrast, considering TCO helps school leaders make solid decisions and wise investments, with corresponding customer results, that is, more engaged and successful students!