wasting bandwidth since 1999

Not What It Says on the Door

According to the title of the office in which I work here in the overly-large school district, we do instructional technology integration.  Which is good, something I really want to do.

Except that much of what we actually do has nothing with either “instructional technology” or instruction.

The major project that involves the most people and time in our office is an “assessment resource tool”, basically a large database of questions that teachers use to create tests for their students.

But none of that is “instructional” technology.

We also have a parallel database that is being loaded with “curriculum and resources for planning and delivering instruction”, allowing teachers to search for and download activities and lessons create under the auspices of our curriculum specialists. It’s the kind of stuff that used to be packaged in large binders (or in more recent years on CD) and shipped to schools.

And that’s still not instructional technology.

We are also involved with the multi-year rollout of a new student information system, another big database which will include an online gradebook, attendance records, and other information teachers need.

Not instructional technology.

Online standardized tests? Data analysis? IWBs? Student response systems (aka clickers)?

No. Nope. Normally not. Hell no.

So what is my definition of instructional technology?

Simple. It’s anything that students use to develop and enhance their learning.  Or, in the words of our school board, students should “use technology to access, communicate, and apply knowledge and to foster creativity”.

Whatever the specific language, the key point here is that to be instructional, all this technology we’ve spent tens of millions on over the past decade – the hardware, software, networks – should be in the hands of, and to some degree controlled by, the kids to build their knowledge and experience.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening around here, certainly not this time of year when every resource (including technology) for almost every student in almost every school is completely focused on getting the right bubbles in the right places.

And it’s not just the six to eight weeks around the SOLs (gotta practice, remember). All of that stuff above, especially that “assessment resource tool”, is sucking up all of the available computing devices in many schools during most of the year.

Which means students have fewer and fewer tools for all that creating, communicating, and collaborating we say we want the kids to be doing.

However, I’m not saying those resources that are the primary focus of our office aren’t important.* Teachers and schools certainly need good administrative tools to better manage the increasingly complicated learning process.

Just don’t call any of it “instructional” unless it’s in the hands of kids.

*I would argue that clickers and IWBs, however you classify them, are a waste of money… but that’s another post.


  1. digiteacher

    Let’s allow any digital device in the school during testing time with the exception of the testing rooms. Let students bring any “i” or “e” device, any laptop or phone and rather than showing movies, allow them to be creative, inquisitive and enhance instruction and problem solve. For two weeks only, let the students have their “normal” internet connected device at school. It would be such a great experiment.

  2. Karen

    Continue the good fight….even though it feels like a losing battle somedays–because you are ABSOLUTELY correct

  3. Chad Lemon


    Wearing a similar hat, I’ve seen the same patterns which you describe. The administrative tools, such as student information systems, data collection, and grade books, get a lot of the focus and an expectation of near 100% adoption, while more student-centric tools are essentially elective. This is concerning in that the emphasis on a technology skill-set that our students can take with them when they walk out the door is relatively minor.

    I’ve started framing discussions on instructional technology in three categories – administrative, teacher, student – to help guide the discussion around balance in the way instructional tech is approached.

    Here’s a link to the a post where I finally wrote it out a couple months ago: A Framework for Approaching Instructional Technology.

    Happy reading.

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