"I am the entertainer,
the idol of my age
I make all kinds of money
when I go on the stage
You see me in the papers,
I’ve been in the magazines
But if I go cold, I won’t get sold
I get put in the back in the discount rack
Like another can of beans” —Billy Joel “The Entertainer”
Ever get the idea that education practices are sort of how the singer in Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer” feels? Things that are hot get cold really fast. What have you done for me lately? Anyone that has been around education knows the drill and knows the phrase “This too shall pass.”
The other day, I was in a meeting and the educators were discussing some new technology initiative. One of the teachers said in a semi-serious, semi-comical way “This is going to be short lived.”
The implication was, of course, that this whatever it is, will only last a short time before we move on to something else. Of course, as educators, we have all seen that: today’s exciting best practice is tomorrow’s has been practice that no one uses anymore.
This is especially true in the world of ed tech, which follows technology in general. Products have the educational lifespan equivalent of a fruit fly. Today’s hit is tomorrow’s miss.
"I get put in the back of the discount rack like another can of beans."
Think of some of the “Products to end all products” in ed tech in the last few years that are now relegated to the discount rack of technology beans:
- Second Life
- Interactive White Boards
- Class Clickers
- 3D Projectors
- Oregon Trail
Everything changes quickly. Everything. Education Technology is no exception. Perhaps technology more than anything else in education. How often are smartphones updated?
Technology of course, is not the only thing. Cars are updated each year. Have you ever gotten used to a particular product at the grocery store only to find it “discontinued” after a year or so? Loved that 3 Cheese Ragu sauce? Sorry, it is now 4 Cheese Ragu sauce.
The difference is however, that technology rarely moves backwards. Things like cars and foodstuffs are typically very incremental in their development. This year’s Ford Focus is not TOO much different than last year’s. The 4 Cheese Ragu is not TOO much different than 3 cheese version form last year. (Can you bet there will be a 5 Cheese soon?) Stuff changes really quickly but most often not dramatically. That is called evolutionary change.
Education technology is different however. Ed tech changes much more rapidly and is much more revolutionary in the way it changes than other educational aspects. Textbooks have not changed in decades, maybe centuries. Technology is not that way. Consider the iPad for instance. Before 2010, there were no iPads on any campuses anywhere. Now, there are over 13,000,000 in schools by the summer of 2014. By 2020, we will not even know what iPads are in school rooms. They will be replaced with something else.
Educational institutions and personnel are stuck in product life cycle (that ended years ago) need to readjust. Schools mentally, are on the product cycle of the textbook: get once, expect it to last 10 years.
We are no longer in the last century. We no longer have to use the textbook as the arbiter for how long we keep equipment.
We need to adjust the way that we look at equipment. Consider this example:
In the past, software was considered something that was to last a long time: Buy Adobe Photoshop for $600 and it was expected to last as long as the computer it was installed on, if not longer. Now, many school districts look at software more as a consumable product rather than as something that should last forever. That 99 cent app? Toss it when done.
How do we make the mind shift to make educational institutions and teachers understand that technology adoption cycles should not be the same as other educational materials product cycles?
I can think of at least these:
- Assume that technology will change rapidly.
- Don’t become emotionally attached to devices or applications.
- Assume that technology purchases are meant to have an upgrade cycle that is shorter than almost any other educational institutional purpose.
- Be willing to make the shift to the idea that some technology is disposable. Especially apps.
- Have people (or follow people online) that are constantly looking for the trends in technology so you can keep informed.
- Be able differentiate between fads, trends, and actual movements in ed tech.
Can you think of some other ways that institutions can start rethinking the technology in schools arraign to align with new tech as it comes along so we don’t have a whole bunch of stuff that ends up in the discount rack.