I recently finished reading Milton Chen’s latest book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools. The whole premise behind Chen’s book is that the United States can once again become the “Education Nation” if the American education system would find a way to capture the pockets of innovation that are occurring at the edges of that system, and bring them to scale. Chen describes six of these “edges of innovation” in his book, and one of the most interesting is what he calls the technology edge.
As Chen points out, when discussions begin about whether to equip every student with a computer, “many buts enter into that discussion.” Any administrator who has been a part of discussions on one-to-one initiatives, or about placing hand-held devices into students’ hands hears that same time-worn arguments. “We can’t afford to pay for all those devices.” “We don’t have the support personnel to keep that many devices running.” Or, “The devices will only get stolen or damaged, and we can’t afford to keep replacing them.” Excuse after excuse is given as to “why” it should not happen. In his book Chen makes a unique response we might want to pose to the technology naysayers in our system. He poses three questions to them:
- Do you use a computer?
- Would you give up your computer?
- Would you share your computer with three other people?
Chen states that if you answered “yes” to the first question and “no” to the last two, “why would we deny our students the same tools we rely on?” “Until we provide students their own computers, the benefits of using them on a regular, ongoing basis is undercut.”
For 21st century administrators to take advantage of the “technology edge of innovation” we need to move beyond the excuse-making, and find ways to get technology into our students’ hands, and equip our teachers with the pedagogical know-how to use these tools effectively. While we all are experiencing tight budgets, failure to take advantage of technology’s promise is not just making our schools irrelevant. In some ways, our failure to make technology a seamless part of our teaching and learning is malpractice.