the Internet. Now what?
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in VESTA News
December 2003 Technotes column
All the schools in Vancouver have high-speed (on a good day)
connections to the Internet. Our schools are full of computers. But at
the October 24th conference of the BC Business Educators’ Association
and the Computer Using Educators of BC former teacher, principal, and
superintendent Jamie McKenzie asked, “We’ve done the Internet. Now
McKenzie pointed out that there’s a mix of appreciation and
disappointment to technology in our schools. “70% if US teachers”, he
said, “say they hardly use the Internet”, finding it a distraction.
He proposes a 12 step program to maximize educational return from
1. Consider the true cost of ownership
Corporate salespeople often talk about TCO, the total cost of
ownership. McKenzie suggests their model fails to reflect the realities
of the education community, leaving out the real costs to school
culture, like program and professional development. He suggests that in
far too many cases educational planners deliberately ignore these
costs. “The main planning process is the strategy used by the three
monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”.
2. Introduce assessment
Without real data, it is hard to know what works, or to resist the
inflated promises of vendors. Recently, the US state of Maine purchased
new laptops for every student in Grade 7. McKenzie showed data compiled
a year later comparing the attitudes and activities of the grade 7
students (with laptops) to the grade 8s (without laptops). Differences
were minimal even in computer-using activities like using email to get
information from experts. He suggested that often we don’t see
assessment because we don’t want to know the answers.
3. Identify needs
. Look back
at the technology plans. What’s worked, what hasn’t? Address the
particulars, realizing no single plan fits everyone.
4. Stress best practices
are our local models of success?
5. Weed ineffective strategies
McKenzie derides ‘PowerPointlessness’ and ‘Toolishness’, along with
plagiarism, and ‘glib, flashy nonsense’. Too often, we reward students
for spending hours on special effects in place of analysis and
interpretation. Just using technology tools doesn’t imply better
6. Stress profession development
McKenzie suggests districts reserve at least 25% of their technology
budgets for professional development. He suggests this is best done
over the summer. As well, faced with demands (as is proposed here) that
teachers be continually taking courses, he suggests we need a mechanism
to credit teachers for informal learning like becoming familiar with a
new computer program.
7. Stress program development.
Teachers are more likely to use computers and the Internet if they have
easy access to lesson and unit plans that clearly fit into the
curriculum that we are expected to deliver. Pair teachers who are
comfortable with teachers who avoid technology to build curriculum
units ‘that can be used on Monday morning’.
8. Stress organizational development.
In contrast to the business-model, schools have cultures built around
collaboration. McKenzie urges us to reject calls for ‘unhealthy
competition, blame, and punitive accountability’.
9. Pilot tools and programs.
Limit risk by testing new programs before adopting them on a wide-scale
basis. ‘No program before it’s time’.
10. Slow down.
quality over speed or quantity. More computers does not necessarily
translate into better learning, or even better use of technology.
the concept of ‘churn': continual change without time to stop, catch a
breath, and access where we’ve been. Instead, teachers need to count on
reasonable levels of support and continuity. McKenzie urges us to be
cautious about advice from the business world, always urging us to buy
into ‘the new new thing’. Instead, schools should be a place of shelter
from the fad.
12. Focus on the locus.
new tools where they will do the most good; move them, share them,
learn to do better with fewer. Perhaps students in Maine would have
been better served if the laptops were available to all the students
when they needed them. Similarly, McKenzie derided spreading limited
resources equally throughout schools by giving each classroom one or
two computers. While some teachers didn’t need or want them, this
results in too few computers to make a difference for the ones who did
want to use them. Instead, ‘put the resources where they will be used’.
Questioned afterwards whether there was a ‘model district’, McKenzie
bluntly responded “No”, expanding that no one is adequately funding
professional and program development.
Vancouver is looking to refocus its approach to using technology in its
schools. Maybe it’s time to adopt this 12-step program.
McKenzie edits a free
email newsletter, ‘From Now On’,
aimed at teachers interested in best-using technology in their