Sunday, November 7, 2010

Innovation is in the use

Andy Rathbun's article on innovative technology in Snohomish county classrooms gets the front page treatment in today's Everett Herald. Andy highlights a number of new gadgets in use including interactive white boards, document cameras, sound systems and clickers.

I had a chance to see the the white board in use last week at the kick-off meeting for the Mukilteo school district's professional advisory committee for business and technology. As if a teacher's job isn't difficult enough, the white board wasn't working right.  But then, which of us hasn't been in that position before?

While I am really happy to see these tools making their way into the classroom, slowly breaking down barriers to technology adoption, I find it hard to consider this innovative. It feels like the early 90's adoption of information technology in business. Putting leading edge technology to use cutting paychecks was automation, not innovation.

Real innovation comes with changes to the system, to decision making, afforded by the technology. Take the use of the clicker described in the article. Automation of assessment has been going on for decades: multiple choice tests, mark sense forms, learning management systems. In a sense, the clicker is just one more step in that automation path. What's innovative about that scenario is that the teacher will adjust the instruction based upon that real-time feedback.  Similarly, we saw the Everett school district's remarkable turn around in graduations rates as a result of the innovative, real-time use of student grade and attendance data.  The collection and consolidation of data isn't innovative, but the personalized intervention based upon that data is.

I don't mean to discourage or disparage the adoption of technology as described in the article. Instead I hope we can lift up our vision of innovation in education.  Let's use the Flat Classroom Project as an example of this bigger goal.  Founded in 2006 by Vicki Davis (aka Cool Cat Teacher) and Julie Lindsay, it uses web 2.0 tools to break down the classroom walls. Students across the globe work together on learning projects. Realize, however, that the technology didn't change the learning environment, Vicki and Julie did.

The lesson education can draw from business is that information technology affords you the opportunity to change, but it does not compel you to change.