The excellent blog Teachers with Apps has a thought-provoking write-up on the timeless and eternal question of why teachers don’t use technology in education better. The reasons they list, pulled from an Education Week survey, are varied, and true to my own experience: lack of time, lack of training, lack of access and so on. But when all is aid and done, they boil down to one thing:
Technology is not an instant fix.
That’s it. That is the simple truth right there. People see the new and shiny and they get seduced by the idea that it’s the better way which will solve all of our problems, and that is simply not true. All new technology requires time to set up; to train staff; to train students; to monitor both student usage and student progress; to update and fine-tune; to find new apps and content and programs to run, and then to train and teach those; and so on, and so on.
When I wrote a series for Teleread last year chronicling my own school’s experience with an iPad roll-out, the best commentary I’ve seen on the whole ‘technology in schools’ debate come from our loyal reader Frank, who commented thusly:
“This is the “tar baby” that technology in schools quickly becomes. The anointed technologist plays the role of Br’er Rabbit.”
That sums it up right there. It’s hard. Work goes into this. And if you don’t have people who are both properly trained to do this work, and who have the time allotted to them in their schedules to do it, you’ll find your students spending the year using the same handful of apps or websites, with bystanders scratching their heads and wondering why the ‘teachers’ don’t do more.
Putting apps on your one home iPad for your one home kid is not the same at all as managing a fleet of them for an entire school. I had a co-worker confront me once when an app he wanted wasn’t ready on every iPad we had—he thought it was as simple as just pressing a button and didn’t understand how much work it was. I had our school’s iPad updating and maintenance down to about 10 minutes a week per iPad—which seems manageable until you multiply that by 15 iPads! I ended the conversation by holding my timetable out to him and asking him to show me where he thought I could schedule in the extra two and a half hours given my full teaching load and recess/lunchtime responsibilities. He came to me the next day and apologized.
I’d love for things to be easier. I would love for Apple to do as Amazon does and give those with multiple devices the option to go through a web interface and with one click, push updates and content to the whole fleet. But they don’t have that yet. Even once you set up the few automated options there are, you still need at least a little bit of hands-on time to keep everything running smoothly.
One day, it will all move to the cloud and students will be able to open up a school iPad, log in and see everything they have permission for, all updated and ready to go. That day is not yet here. As my own school’s designated technology person, I spend too much time just keeping up; adding new technology is less of a priority.