Prospecting for Digital Riches: From Now On-The Educational Technology Journal Bellingham, Washington

By McKenzie, Jamie | Multimedia Schools, January-February 2002 | Go to article overview
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Prospecting for Digital Riches: From Now On-The Educational Technology Journal Bellingham, Washington


McKenzie, Jamie, Multimedia Schools


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 dot-com 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.

A Dozen Strategies for Making Discerning Choices

   Life's but a walking shadow, a
   poor player

   That struts and frets his hour
   upon the stage,

   And then is heard no more; it is
   a tale

   Told by an idiot, full of sound
   and fury,

   Signifying nothing.
Macbeth,
by William Shakespeare

How can we avoid what Shakespeare warned about some 500 years ago?

"Discernment" is the answer. We approach the adoption of new tools and practices with discernment.

discernment

1. The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.

2. Keenness of insight and judgment.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the

English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

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.

Figure 1

 1. Prospecting          Looking for the right combination of
                         promising program elements and indicators.

 2. Focusing             Keeping an eye on major philosophical
                         commitments and program purposes.

 3. Challenging          Demanding evidence, data, results, and
                         substantive theoretical underpinnings.
                         Considering the risks, the costs, and the
                         dangers.

 4. Testing              Setting up small, low-risk pilot programs
                         and reviewing the results of others' pilot
                         tests. 

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