Tuesday, March 03, 2015

It’s the Software Stupid

Computers are magic. Well to a few people they are. To others they are annoying and useless pieces of hardware. At least until you add software. I was reading Audrey Watters’ post on “How Steve Jobs Brought the Apple II to the Classroom” recently. It is a prime example of someone finding the magic in the box and assuming that, if not everyone, a lot of others would also discover the magic. This idea never seems to go away and yet it seldom works out that way.laptops For everyone who teaches themselves there are a great many others who need a teacher.

For some people, I confess I am one of them, discovering that a computer can be programmed and used to do interesting things is enough to get one hooked. This doesn’t seem to be universally the case though. The great majority of people need more out of the software to find the computer useful let alone educational.

This is not limited to computers either. A few years ago it seemed like everyone was buying Flipcams. Workshops and presentations abounded at ed tech conferences on the amazing things that teachers were doing with them. The reality turned out to be boxes and boxes full of unused Flipcams in schools all over the place. It turns out that just giving people the cameras did not make magic happen.

Time after time some new technology is touted as being a sort of silver bullet. Apple computers, digital cameras, Flipcams, iPod and iPads, Chromebooks and tablets of all sorts. Without a doubt some teachers are able to do awesome things with these devices and their students. But they seem to be the exceptions. Some teachers are naturally creative and combine that with a fearlessness that let’s them try out of the box projects.  Other of us need a bit more direction. Some education and sharing of ideas of what works for others is needed to get things started. Teachers also need administrative support even if that support is in the form of benign neglect. :-)

Too often I get the question “we just bought [latest gee-whiz technology] can you tell me how to use it to teach [subject of the day.]” If you have hardware and need to ask about software you have, in my opinion, don’t things backwards. Find the software (be that computer software or curriculum materials) and then find the hardware to run it on.

We shouldn’t start with a solution and go looking for problems to solve with it.


Anonymous said...

Smartboards, anyone? How many times over the past 15 years have we heard that if your school didn't have these things it is falling behind; now it's almost hard to find them (in use) without digging.

Garth said...

It all comes down to professional development. Be it a beginning teacher full of enthusiasm or a hardened 20 year professional. Train them to use a tool and let them see how it will actually help them teach and they will use it. Nail a Smartboard on the wall and say "Here it is. Use it" and there it will hang. My teachers that have Smart training use the heck out of them. I think iPad in schools is the greatest sales gimmick ever conceived by a company sales department. Brilliant! iPads in schools is one of the larger wastes of money ever implemented by the schools that bought them. Buying a gadget then trying to find a way to use it that actually results in an improvement in education is not a good strategy. Looking at a goal, strategizing with your professional teachers in methods to attain that goal, then looking at possible technologies that would enhance the ability to attain that goal is a bit more sensible. But then what would I know. I am just an IT guy that has taught for 30 years.

Mike Zamansky said...

I was talking to a group of EdTech entrepreneurs a while back and was explaining that there's a big difference between what a school or district thinks is PD and what is actually needed.

When they pitch their tech, they've got to pitch the fact that you can't just do an hour session -- a teacher (or a core group of teachers) need to be given time - that is relief from other obligations to become experts and then coaches. This never happens and most of the tech introduced fails.

I'm also of the school that the great ones just need chalk and a board and similar lo tech stuff. Everything else is just gravy. Ok that's a slight exaggeration - having a computer and projector makes my life MUCH easier.

Garth said...

I will agree to the gravy but mashed potatoes are so much better with gravy.

PD should be weekly. Most schools consider 2 days at the beginning of the school year and maybe twice during the year as PD. Or going to a conference as PD. Absolutely ridiculous. Teachers using Smartboards successfully should be meeting at least once a month to compare notes, pro and con. They only way to find out if tech like this is any good is for the users to compare notes then share it with the school in general. It may not be something the school want to jump into feet first. Then again for some teachers it may be the solution they have been looking for to take their lessons to the next level.