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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

And, Not Or

Believe it or not, a lot of people maintain very strongly held opinions about educational technology. Too many controversies come down to either/or type of thinking

  • Do we plan for a separate or integrated technology curriculum in our school?
  • Should students be allowed or not allowed to use Wikipedia as a research source?
  • Should curricular emphasis be placed on content knowledge or higher order thinking skills?
  • Should students be allowed or not allowed to use their iPods, cell phones, personal laptops, and do on?
  • Do we buy Macs or PCs?
  • Should we be grouping computers in labs or placing some in each classroom?
  • Is it better for schools to purchase print or online support materials?
  • Should every teacher be required to use technology or should it remain a personal choice?

Its that sort of black-and-white thinking that engenders fiery blog posts and outrageous editorials; makes for very stimulating reading; and produces outpourings of love or hate from readers. But does such polar thinking ever lead to actual change?

Too often, diametrically opposed opinions delay or even prevent change efforts. Even when the advocate of one position is in a position of power and can force his/her will, those left on the losing" side often resist and undermine the effort. When a victory is one-sided, nobody really wins.

I'd encourage you to read library guru Walt Crawfords column The Dangers of Uniformity" (American Libraries, September 2004). He writes:

...why do so many of us look for single solutions to current problems, single technologies, single media? Why do so many writers, futurists, and speakers tout X as the future" rather than a part of the future?" Ive used the slogan And, not Or" for more than a decade. Theres another slogan that goes along with it, one that I believe to be at least partly true in most walks of life: The answer to most multiple-choice questions is Yes."

If you look at all the questions above, the best answer to each of them might plausibly be yes." But how do we get to and" solutions -- especially when it comes to technology issues?

 


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The key is to make sure the voices of a wide-range of stakeholders are heard when planning and policy-making is done. That means having a technology advisory committee that actually works; that meets regularly; that includes not just educators, but parents, students, and community members; that communicates effectively; and has clearly defined responsibilities.

Our district tech committee meets four times a year. Its responsible for the long-range tech plan and annual objectives, budget recommendations, program evaluation, and policy-making. It is at policy-making that the committee really shines.

For example, we recently examined the either/or question of should YouTube be blocked or allowed in our school?" Many teachers wanted access to the videos for instructional purposes; our technicians worried that its use would strain our bandwidth and denigrate network speeds for other, mission-critical applications. The committees recommendation? Allow YouTube, but use a device on the network called a packet shaper, which gives YouTube traffic the lowest priority of all data sent and received. An and" solution that everyone can live with. And one that no single individual might have reached alone.

Such solutions -- the third" way; the win-win"; the and, not or" solutions -- are those we need to do a better job of finding and creating if we genuinely want to move forward in our schools. They might not be as exciting as hot debate and fomenting revolution, but change actually happens.

So this school year, when asked if something should be x or y, try answering, "Yes -- x and y."

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