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Why do you want technology?

Posted on: September 2, 2015

Audrey Watters rarely fails to provoke thought, even among thought leaders.

I tweeted what I thought was her central question and argument in her quest to convince her audience that they should rethink why they want to use or integrate technology in education.

In her article, Watters asked and answered questions that people in the field of educational technology should be dealing with first. Instead of asking WHY first (and thus questioning their fundamental assumptions), most people jump into WHAT and HOW.

For example:

  • We have a new consignment of devices for a 1:1 programme. What shall we do with them? How do we deploy the devices? How do we control their use?
  • We need a learning management system (LMS). What is it going to cost? How do we transfer what we already have to the LMS? How do we control its use?

Policymakers, administrators, and even teachers forget to let the WHY questions run their course. Why do we want a 1:1 programme? Why do we think we need an LMS?

Suppose they come up with some answers. Now they should ask another round of questions. Why do we believe that? Why do we think that is true? Why does that help (or hinder)?

Even though this line of questioning is necessary, it is often ideal because the decision to buy and use technology is already made. What gets communicated and enforced is WHAT and HOW. For example, this is the platform you will use and this is how much of the curriculum must be online. What is not communicated is WHY.

The quota for how much of the curriculum must be online is common among institutes here because very few share how ineffective this practice is. Even if they do, people that hear the advice do not listen. They will set quotas because that is the obvious and easiest thing to do.

Administrators and policymakers often drive change, not from the classroom but from the boardroom. In god-mode, they make decisions on outcomes that are visible to them. That is why we STILL have policies in place like: In the first year, 10% of syllabi or curricula must be technology-based or online. In the second year, 20%… and so on.

I have noticed that policies worded like this tend to stop at 30%. Then after three or fewer years, the efforts die due to 1) a change in leadership, 2) a lack of sustainability, or 3) another change effort or policy.

This numbers game is easy to play on paper. Different departments or schools can document this whether they actually do it or not. Then if asked to show evidence of “change”, it is easy to showcase an exemplary 1% that is not representative of the rest of the 29%. It is also easy to say that “our” technology use is different from “their” technology use.

It is also a source of pride to be able to document and publicize such change. We have interactive classrooms. We have mobile devices. We have MOOCs. But we will not mention how just three of our 1000 teaching faculty actually run the MOOCs. Nor will we admit how the 997 instructors still think that interaction means tapping on an interactive white board and dissuading learners from actively using their own devices.

It is these 997 instructors that we need to reach. To do that, we must ask and answer WHY and WHY again.

2 Responses to "Why do you want technology?"

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