Prospecting for Digital Riches

Article excerpt

From Now On--The Educational Technology Journal

Bellingham, Waishington

Not so long ago, it was fashionable to speak about students surfing the Net. Schools rushed to connect classrooms to the Internet as if mere connectivity might work wonders. Many proponents of new technologies promised revolutionary shifts in the kinds of learning that would occur if schools bought the right equipment. The proponents also predicted impressive gains in student performance-claims rarely substantiated by credible research findings.

But then the Internet and the dotcom bubbles burst. Many ventures proved unworthy. Others turned into dot-compost. Some schools awoke with empty hands and bankrupt business partners. Some digital emperors even paraded without clothes. At about this same time, the rush to wire classrooms was criticized by The Alliance for Children as a rush for "fool's gold."

For a response to these charges, take a look at MultiMedia Schools editor Ferdi Serim's article, "Gold into Straw: Alliance Report Misses Mark" at http:// www.cosn.org/resources/113000.htm. Ferdi writes, "Fool's Gold is the perfect snooze alarm for people who have yet to wake up to the idea that educational improvement requires change. And change is about more than velocity; it is also about direction. The debate today is about more than technology or school choice; it centers on whether your model for learning is based on transmission or construction of knowledge."

Riding the Curl of Innovation

Given this recent history of speculation followed by skepticism, criticism, and doubt, schools now face a menu of apparent opportunities seemingly laced with risks.

How can schools maximize a return on technology investments, backing mostly winners while avoiding losers? How can schools ride the curl of innovation without tumbling into heavy surf? How can they escape failure and a vicious undertow?

I'd like to present in this article a strategic approach to the selection of innovative educational practices and tools, an approach designed to protect staff and students from "toolishness"-- a fondness for tools that transcends purpose and utility. (See the article in the September 2001 issue of my educational technology journal From Now On at http://fno.org/sept01/toolishness. html.) The goal is to improve schools without falling prey to bandwagons or train wrecks.

Teachers and administrators may select from a dozen strategies to help make discerning use of new technologies (see Figure 1 on page 16). These strategies make it possible to sort through the noise of conflicting marketing claims to focus upon value, reliability, and authenticity.

This article explores the first strategy, prospecting, in depth. For those wishing to learn all 12 strategies, I'll be presenting them as a keynote address for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) conference [http:// www.k12schoolnetworking.org in late February/early March, and the address will subsequently be available online at http://www infotoday.com/MMSchools/ prospecting.html in April.

Classic Prospecting for Oil-Convergence

We all have television-inspired images of aging prospectors with long beards who crisscrossed the desert with pack horses and little success. They may not have known enough science or applied enough strategy to the challenge. Effective prospecting is a blend of art, science, and skill, not simply a matter of wandering around with a divining rod in your hands hoping to find the gold, water, or oil below the surface.

Chevron offers the following information on its Web site [http://www. chevroncars.com/know/primer] describing the search for oil:

People have used petroleum products for nearly 5,000 years. The Babylonians caulked their ships with asphalt, and the ancient Chinese lit their imperial palaces with natural gas. For these early users, finding petroleum was a matter of guesswork and good luck. …