This is the sixth in a series of eight posts devoted to illuminating the factors that determine the “right size” for a school technology department.
Between the years of 1998-2000 I worked at Netscape Communications, the one-time giant of the Internet. Jim Barksdale was CEO while I was there, and in a memorable speech to employees, he extolled us with these words: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
The most profound messages are often the simplest. It would be easy to dismiss this message as restrictive, non-innovative, “stick to you knitting,” heads down and shoulder to the wheel storyline. But to me it is just the opposite. To me it means to be flexible and nimble, adjusting to circumstance as needed, keeping your goals in sight. For example, teaching the same way or conducting your business in 2010 as you were in 2000 ignores how students and business has changed in the last ten years.
When it comes to technology in schools, the technology should not be there for it’s own sake, but to support the academic and operational goals of the school, your “main thing.”
While some scholars and pundits such as Larry Cuban (Oversold and Underused-Computers in the Classroom) including Clifford Stoll (High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don’t Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian) question whether computers have any business schools, most educators beg to differ. For the vast majority of teachers and administrators, the relevant questions about technology are not “if” but “when, how, and how much.”
Readers of this blog know my personal views on the intersection of academic and technology. In sum, I propose that technology can and should be deeply integrated into the curriculum, and that the curriculum itself should be re-examined in the light of 21st century teaching and learning goals.
Several years ago, when I was ridding my school of what I think may be the very last of our IBM Selectrics, I had them sitting in the hallway outside my office and asked a number of students if they knew what they were. Most did not. They keyboard was of course familiar, but not much else. Even schools left the age of the typewriter over a decade ago.
But the relative absence of typewrites in schools does not mean that a school’s operations are optimally computerized. There are still dozens of forms employees, students, and parents complete by hand. (Perhaps they would complete them on a typewriter if they could find one!) While many businesses have become less-paper, most schools lag in this area. The same human factors that can slow the adoption of technology among faculty can play a similar role in the pace of adoption on the operations of the school.
Place on the Continuum Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Equally important as the academic and operational goals of a school is its practices regarding adopting new technologies. The Technology Adoption Life Cycle is a brilliant means of depicting the stages innovations progress through as they become mainstream. As a general rule, K-12 education lags business in its adoption of new technology. The model still applies to schools, however, as some will undoubtedly be less risk-averse and more experimental, representing the innovators and early adopters within their market segment.
The more ambitious the academic and operation goals of the school, and the more that a school edges towards the early markets end of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle, the greater the demand on the support staff.
Next up: Seasonality.