Business-like, isn't he?



Vesta News logo

    We've done 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 what?”

    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 technology.

    Doing the Internet1. 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. What 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 learning.

    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. Emphasize quality over speed or quantity. More computers does not necessarily translate into better learning, or even better use of technology.

    11. Shelter. McKenzie proposed 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. Put 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 classroom:

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan