Larry Cuban, one of the best critics of the way we use technology for K12 instruction, has a great post about how companies market technology to schools, an $18 billion industry and growing, and why their products are usually out of touch with teacher and student needs.
The largest part of the problem is the big gap between the people who write the purchase orders, “school district IT professionals, district office administrators, and superintendents”, and the students and teachers who actually use the products.
That is where the money is. School officers are the ones who recommend to boards of education what to buy and how to deploy devices and software. From start-ups to established companies, high-tech representatives rarely involve teachers or students in their pitches to district officers or school boards. So the paradox is that the end-users (teachers and students) have little to do with purchasing decisions.
Cuban also notes that the companies rarely observe actual classrooms to see how their products might be used. Instead they depend on surveys, focus groups, and occasionally academic research (but only when it fits their approach).
So what can be done?
Cuban offers two great suggestions. First, companies need to talk to teacher and students and spend some money on learning about what happens in real classrooms. And second, dial back the “over-the-top claims” promising to provide solutions appropriate to every school everywhere.
But that doesn’t address the other part of this situation, the people buying this stuff. The folks on our end making the purchasing decisions who don’t teach (and may never have taught), rarely if ever work with kids, and, in the case of the IT department, are more concerned with password management and how the technology works on “their” network than whether it is instructionally sound or even useful.
Last Friday I had the occasion to speak with someone from the IT service desk here in the overly-large school district.
My problem had to do with the email system (we are saddled with Outlook) and the fact that it was not finding someone in the global address book who I know should be there. Â In the course of the conversation I happened to mention that I was using Outlook 2011 on a Mac, something that should have had no relevance to the matter
I thought the person on the other end of the phone was going to collapse as he anxiously recited the standard IT script about “unsupported technology” and “cannot be responsible” and began trying to extract himself from the conversation.
I wonder how IT is going to handle the shock this fall when students in some of our schools are allowed and encouraged to bring their own devices, some (maybe many) of which will carry the dredded Apple logo and run an OS not named Windows, but all of which will need to connect to our network and work with various elements on it.
Kinda puts a kink in the concept of only supporting a “standard platform”.
Remember back not too long ago when many web sites you visited had a disclaimer somewhere on their main page declaring their site worked best with Internet Explorer (or Netscape)?
Or you got a generic, text-only page informing you that the site would only function with IE?
The IT department here in the overly-large school district certainly feels the nostalgia for those olden days.
Case in point, today I sent a note to the “service” desk to let them know that the server hosting their intranet pages was down, and included a shot of the error message from Firefox.
It’s working fine, they told me a few minutes later*, and that our “resources are compatible with Internet Explorer, and not guaranteed to work at all times with any other browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari)”.
Welcome to 1999.
* It wasn’t, BTW.