It’s no secret that people have a hard time critically evaluating technology. Our tiny mammalian brains are powerless to resist the charms of a thin, sleek, colorful bauble that promises to revolutionize the way we teach and learn.
Whether it’s iPads, eBooks, LMSes, Twitter, or Khan Academy, we edtechies have a tendency to hop on the newest trend to see what it’s all about. It seems like the technology itself rewards the hyper-enthusiastic, unfocused mindstate the Buddha called “Monkey Mind“. And when those tools also come with multi-million dollar marketing budgets, it’s amazing how “today’s new thing” starts to look like the answer to all of our educational problems.
However, when you’re looking at spending money on new technology, ask yourself “what problem am I trying to solve”? This exercise should draw your attention back to the challenges your school is facing so you can critically evaluate whether that new bauble is capable of solving them.
As a concrete example of this phenomenon, let’s discuss the iPad. The iPad is the biggest trend sweeping education in early 2013, and I have deep reservations that all the attention it’s getting from schools is going to translate into improved student outcomes. When it came out in 2010, many schools rushed to implement 1:1 iPad programs with little clear vision about how specifically iPads were going to improve instruction. Sure, iPads bring the promise of replacing textbooks with eBooks, encouraging collaborative learning, and the touchscreen interface makes creative projects like drawing, music, and video editing more immediate and intuitive for students.
Is your school’s biggest problem that students don’t have access to technology? Are the existing textbooks too heavy, or too expensive, or not up-to-date enough for our ever changing world? Or maybe you’re struggling with the fact that students don’t have enough tools to help them collaborate? Or maybe using a keyboard and mouse is just too darn confusing?
If you start thinking this way, you may find that your school’s biggest problems could be better solved by a more cost-effective solution. In many cases, the problems that an iPad can solve can be addressed with your existing legion of laptops, netbooks, and cloud applications. Or if you do need newer devices, maybe the much cheaper Chromebooks and Nexus 10 could solve the same problems as the top-dollar iPad? Whatever you choose, thinking critically about new technology acquisitions can help you save money and choose the best tools for your specific needs.