Schools can only ever embrace yesterday’s technology

In Education, Educational Technology

The pace at which technology is moving forward is technology's worst enemy when it comes to its adoption in schools

Those of us who champion the adoption of new and emerging technologies to help improve and transform how teaching and learning is conducted in our schools are, by definition, doomed to failure.

And it has nothing to do with luddite colleagues, old-fashioned pedagogical views, unsympathetic management teams or misinformed parents, which are the usual reasons I always hear from those frustrated by seeming lack of progress in this respect. It’s all to do the very nature of what we espouse: technology itself.

The pace at which technology is moving forward is technology’s worst enemy when it comes to its adoption in schools. No sooner schools realise the learning potential of VHS video players, DVDs come out, leaving all those VHS tapes gathering dust in a cupboard. Once schools finally buy their first computers, complete with floppy disks drives, CD-ROMs become ubiquitous.

This is why many schools have hybrid VHS/DVD players and computers with both floppy disk and CD ROM drives. In many classrooms I’ve visited you can still watch a VHS video one minute, a DVD the next and then stream a video on demand from the school’s network or the internet. In the very same classroom you may be presented with the options of saving a document in a floppy disk, burning it onto a CD ROM, saving it on a portable flash drive or sending it directly to the cloud.

Schools are forever catching up… and the whole business is very, very expensive – both in terms of effort and money. No wonder then teachers and schools in general prefer the safe ground provided by the old instead of the shaky and insecure ground on which new technologies stand.

Now that some schools are taking the very brave step of rolling out tablets to all their pupils, it may be that touch-screen technology has already had its day. As Steve Wheeler points out, the future of computing is voice control, as anyone with an iPhone 4s is finding out.

So schools are doomed to only being able to embrace yesterday’s technology, because when they finally come round to doing the embracing… it’s too late.

Just a thought.

What do you think?

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8 Comments

  1. It’s no different for home users like me. I have a Kenwood hifi system dating back to the 1990s that can play vinyl 45rpm and 33rpm records, audiocassettes and audio CDs – and I can also connect my laptop or iPod to it to play MP3 files. There is no reason to replace it as it produces fantastic sound. I have a combined VCR/DVD player/recorder, and I have a TV that can receive an analogue signal, Freeview and Sky. Being able to receive an analogue or Freeview signal via the aerial in our loft is useful during heavy rain or snowstorms as the Sky satellite signal either hiccups or dies in such weather. I connect to the Internet via a home LAN of three computers and via my iPhone or laptop when I am on the move.
     
    As for voice control, it has a long way to go. Speech technology has moved on in leaps and bounds during the last 30 years, but speech recognition is still a long way behind speech synthesis. See Section of Module 3.5 (Human Language Technologies) at the ICT4LT website:
    http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_mod3-5.htm#speechtech
     
    I try to move with the times, but I also need flexibility. Transferring my huge collection of vinyl records, audiocassettes and videocassettes to newer media would take hundreds of hours. I am sure that most schools would have a similar problem. As head of a language centre in the 1990s I had to decide what to do with my college’s reel-to-reel listening library of thousands of tapes. We had a couple of machines that could transfer recordings from reel-to-reel tapes to audiocassettes at a very fast rate, but in the end we had to be highly selective and transfer only those tapes that were frequently used. Most of the library was dumped.

    Above all, one must be wary of jumping into the acceptance of new technologies too soon. CDI never caught on, but it looked good when it first appeared. The videodisc died too – look what happened to the BBC Domesday videodisc project (1986); its life was much shorter than the manuscript (1086) that inspired it. Rescuing the data and making it available in a new form (“reverse engineering”) was a major task. At last, BBC Domesday now lives on in a new guise: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday
     
    This phenomenon is known as “disruptive technology” or “disruptive innovation” – terms that appear in Christensen C. (1997) The innovator’s dilemma and Christensen C. & Raynor M. (2003) The innovator’s solution, both published by Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology
     
    RegardsGraham Davies

    • Disruptive innovation. I like that. You really do put me to shame when your comment is more informative that the blog post that elicited it. Thanks for that Graham.

  2. It can certainly feel like that Jose but you always have a few brave souls in schools who manage to ‘wing’ it with new technology on the cheap by being very inventive with devices which students already use and own, rather than relying on what the school can buy.  With web apps being a growing area, it should matter less and less what hardware schools actually provide.

    • Indeed. Allowing students to use their own devices is an area that many schools – mine included – are beginning to consider. Here’s to the brave souls!

      Thanks for your comment Noreen.

    • Noreen, you still need to consider the hardware – and the software that is installed on it – when using a Web app. Older hardware and older operating systems and browsers cannot run many of the Web apps that are around nowadays. Then there is the issue of many schools blocking certain Web 2.0 sites, e.g. YouTube and Facebook – which I consider very short-sighted.

      By the way, coming back to my point about disruptive technology and disruptive innnovation, there is a Wikipedia article on this topic – with many examples – at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology

  3. Interesting thoughts…but the question comes spontaneous: so, what shall we do? Not consider these new innovations at all? Practically, if I was a school headteacher: should l update my ICT classroom every two years or not?

    • The solution is two-fold: firstly champion early adoption, schools need to dither less and be more embracing of new technologies as they arise, especially if -like the web – they provide huge educational potential. Too often do schools buy into technology as it is about to become obsolete when they should have enjoying the benefits of said technology for years. 
      Secondly, schools must encourage and support a bring-your-own-device philosophy. Students often bring to school in their pockets technology which is much more advanced than anything they school can offer them. Make the most of this fact where it applies.Utopian? I don’t think so. Idealistic? Definitely. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Just need to find the will.

      Thanks for your comment Matteo.

  4. One problem is that many school invest in technology that isn’t used… So may be reluctant to buy until its proven elsewhere. Smartboards are a good example. There is one in our dept that has been used 3times in last two years. I would prefer a move away from ‘technology for all’ to a more tailored approach. Investing relevant tech for the right teachers. Making use of frees services would help as well. Facebook and Twitter,although not perfect, have a lot of potential uses for example.

Your feedback is always welcome