Stop Wasting My Tax Dollars on Screens!

elementary school kids on laptops
This is a guest post from author and edtech educator Dawn Casey-Rowe.


Never before have students had such uninhibited access to technology in the classroom. However, when technology is underused or misused, it’s not only students who suffer, it’s taxpayers, too. 

 

There are a number of reasons technology isn’t properly used.  
 

“Do you guys use those things at all?” I asked students. We were looking at some desktop icons on the student stations. I never once saw anyone click them. 


“No,” they said. 
 

“Why?”


The school had spent good money on these programs, which were designed to help students practice certain skills. 


“Because they’re bad.”  


“What’s bad?” I asked.  


“They’re boring. They’re like, so ten years ago. Boring. I don’t want to use this.”


One kid clicked on the programs and gave me a play-by-play of everything I already knew to be true: The programs were simply not catching the students' interest.  
 

When I choose technology for my classes, I make sure it’s intuitive, purposeful, and mobile. I want students to want to use the technology to achieve their academic goals, but I also want it to be mainstream so students will make use of it in the real world. There are some amazing edtech apps and programs in the marketplace, but I have found that the best keep pace with the times. 
 

One of the No. 1 reasons technology isn’t properly used is something we don’t like to admit—that nobody wanted it to begin with. Schools often make top-down decisions regarding technology and procurement without asking for input. Teachers and students are never brought into the loop even though they’re the end users. While this isn’t the case at every school, I’ve seen it many times in my teaching career.


The school procurement process goes one of two ways. First, someone approaches teachers who want a product to fulfil a need. The teachers are excited but unable to cut through the red tape at the district level. As a result, the product never gets purchased. Alternatively, school leaders who are just learning about edtech will go to a conference or hear a pitch about a particular product, buy it, then scratch their heads when nobody uses it.  
 

“I have a $7,000 smartboard that never worked when all I wanted was Chromebooks,” said one teacher. “It’s a glorified whiteboard. Useless.”
 

“Why don’t you get it fixed?” she was asked. 
 

“I tried for a few years, then I finally gave up. I just wanted a projector.” 
 

Ultimately, we get rooms full of unused technology funded by the taxpayer dime. This technology graveyard covers schools across the nation, representing a ton of waste that never needed to happen in the first place if efficient purchasing and communication channels were in place.  
 

Another reason for waste and underutilization is lack of training. Teachers get excited about new technology, but if they are beginners in blended learning, they may experience an overwhelming culture shock. Technology is simply a tool to get things accomplished, so before a single item is requested, all stakeholders in the decision-making process should be able to answer this question: “What do you want to accomplish with this tool?” 

If you’re not quite sure, you should bring someone experienced with edtech on board. This will prevent waste, save money, and create an in-house expert for ongoing training. If the people approving purchases aren’t edtech experts, it’s best to include someone who is. I’ve seen schools purchase platforms only to discover they aren’t compatible with existing systems, or put great tech into junkpiles when they don’t have the bandwidth to keep the technology upgraded and properly maintained.  
 

At a time when technology changes frequently, it takes a great deal of work to keep an entire organization operational. When teachers can’t get a station repaired or even update Google Chrome without an admin password, tech can become more of a burden than blessing. Teachers need to be able to get things fixed and questions answered without logging tickets and waiting, or they lose faith very quickly. 
 

What does this mean? Waste. The tech goes into the graveyard or sits collecting dust. 
 

The U.S. Department of Education is starting to put data-driven systems in place to measure the effectiveness of certain tech apps and tools via Rapid Cycle Technology Evaluations. RCTE will quickly measure the effectiveness of the tech being used in classrooms across America. 
 

Rhode Island has already taken major steps to support every school that wants to develop better strategies for blended learning by training and deploying free “FUSE fellows”—classroom teachers and blended learning experts—to schools that request one. Launched by the Highlander Institute and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FUSE strives to share, implement, evaluate, and scale blended learning by working with educators and districts across the state of Rhode Island. FUSE fellows apply and agree to serve for two years in a school other than their own. Schools allow fellows a certain number of days out of the classroom to serve, giving teachers opportunities to help the district where they are stationed. 
 

It may not be easy to change a school’s culture, but if schools rethink their approach to tech procurement, open up the conversation to end-users, commit resources to keep tech updated and in good repair, provide appropriate training, and bring in edtech experts as implementation advisors, they will have a much higher likelihood of achieving technology integration success. 

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