We had a great conveners meeting for the K-12 Online Conference early this morning, and I was struck by how much I am starting to take newer communication technologies like Skype for granted. We were going to meet on Thursday morning this past week, but an authentication issue actually made the entire Skype network unavailable for a while that day and cancelled our meeting. That was a bummer.

Technology is great when it works. I’m glad Skype was up and functioning today. I love to use technology in a seamless, transparent way where it is not the focus of my attention but rather an amplifier and powerful funnel for it. Sometimes, however, it can be alarming when the technology doesn’t work! As someone who can probably be classified as an innovator on a diffusions of innovations for technology use continuum, I recognize that my patience with technology glitches is likely greater than others who may be late majority or laggard adopters:

Diffusion of Innovation

What do you do when technology you’re expecting to work fails? Failure, or more sensitively stated, a “challenge” or “setback” to technology uses, happen quite frequently when we are using new technologies and trying new things. That can be true of technological and non-technological tasks. This is one reason IT departments in schools need to have a VERY different attitude toward problem/trouble tickets than IT departments in businesses. I heard Sylvia Martinez address this at TCEA last year.

The typical business IT department measures “success” in one basic way: Its ability to minimize problem/trouble tickets called in by users. If no one has called with an IT problem, the day is likely to be regarded as a success! In an attempt to support this metric, most IT departments now lock down computer desktops and significantly impair users’ abilities to install new applications, make changes to their computer systems, etc. They also tend to lock down the computer network, again as an attempt to both protect users from themselves as well as protect network resources from harmful malware which proliferates online for Windows-based computers.

When administrators and IT technicians with this same mindset work in schools, problems immediately surface when teachers are attempting (as they should be) to creatively use technologies and digital resources in new ways to engage students. This dynamic was, in part, behind many of the thoughts I wrote about in the 1998 TechEdge article, “Wagging the Dog in Educational Technology: Elevating ‘IT’ Into the Classroom.” I received some VERY negative push-back from my own school district because of that published article, incidentally, including a negative meeting with our district superintendent and my campus principal. That was not a fun experience to have as a second year, fourth grade teacher. Schools and school leaders do NOT like to be publicly criticized, and that was an instructional phase of my teaching career for me on several fronts.

How supportive is the IT department in your school district for creative uses of educational technologies? How supportive is your school district administration in general for innovative teaching approaches?

If we really want to implement the ISTE NETS for Students standards, which explicitly focus on creativity, our school leaders (in IT departments and elsewhere) may need some attitude and perspective “adjustments.” Student standard 3, under the heading “Technology productivity tools,” states that students should:

…use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

I’m glad to see the word “creativity” explicitly included in the standards. Getting school leaders to make the changes which are supportive of creativity, both in policies as well as fuzzier attitudes and dispositions, is a more challenging proposition.

It’s also quite challenging to help teachers who fall in all groups across the diffusions of innovations graph when it comes to technology integration. Some teachers may be ready to throw their hands up at the first sign of technology trouble, while others are willing to be more persistent and troubleshoot a problem until a resolution is discovered. Toward this end, technology integration coaches who can “hand hold” other teachers in their uses of educational technologies are essential. The video “Technology Integration Done Right: Lewisville ISD” which I produced for the Texas Technology Leadership Academy initiative in the spring of 2003 (along with other videos) makes this point well, I think. Of course this comes down to the school’s BUDGET, but that is closely related to the VISION (or lack of vision) of the district’s leaders.

Good leadership matters. A willingness to “persevere despite frustrations” when it comes to uses of new technologies also helps, too!

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3 Responses to Relying on technologies and attitudes toward creativity

  1. John Kain says:

    This is a big issue in our district and many others, and it’s getting bigger. I did a training in another district last year where no user (from the students on up to the superintendent) was allowed to save a file to their hard drive. Fundamental changes will have to occur before we make much progress. In most school districts, the IT director reports to the assistant superintendent for business (mirroring the chain of command in the private sector). So the IT department’s priorities reflect the district’s business priorities, i.e., making money and saving money. Using technology for teaching and learning is not at the top of the list.

  2. […] Relying on Technologies and Attitudes Toward Creativity – Wes Fryer reflects on the recent Skype outage and includes an ever-useful image in his post […]

  3. […] The trouble is that this takes time. And we get frustrated. By the time we get to 2.0 (via revisions 2.1, 2.2, etc.), things will have moved on to 3.0. But is that really so bad? Remember the (almost) bell-shaped curve of technology adoption (thanks Wes!): […]

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