The Sad State of Digital Innovation

The National School Boards Association’s Center for Digital Education recently posted their annual national survey recognizing “school districts for innovative uses of technology”. More specifically,

The Digital School Districts Survey top-ten rankings are awarded to the school boards/districts that most fully implement technology benchmarks in the evolution of digital education, as represented in the survey questions.

Well, that’s pretty vague. So what “innovative uses of technology” did the winners exhibit?

For large districts, which is 12,000 students or more,1 the top ranked system “uses technology to encourage student and teacher engagement”.

In addition to Web-streaming their board meetings and producing a variety of podcasts for parents, teachers and students during the school year, HCS also provides digital literacy training for parents, including Internet safety and privacy, acceptable use policies and more.

A top smaller district was top rated for “using e-textbooks, online collaboration, quiz tools, instructional games, simulations, films, TV programs, YouTube segments, music, lectures and podcasts for instruction”. In another “data analysis is used to inform instruction, personnel and budgeting”.

Reading through this article and another posted by the Center about the awards, one major point stuck out: all of this technological “innovation” was being done by adults, and very little of it was really new.

E-textbooks, YouTube videos, and internet safety training don’t represent much in the way of innovation. Schools have had textbooks for centuries and were showing classroom movies long before I started teaching. Acceptable use policies are relatively recent but not really different from the long list of rules schools have always imposed on kids.

There was very little mention of kids actually using all this tech themselves. Nothing about students leveraging the power of devices and networks to direct their own learning. Almost everything highlighted is the digital equivalent of the traditional teacher-directed instruction process from the pre-digital era of schooling.

It’s pretty sad that this is what represents “digital innovation” in the eyes of the board members who are supposed to be leading our school districts.

News Flash: The Internet’s Not That Bad

The internet isn’t as dangerous as people think, and teachers should let students use social networks at school.

No, that’s not me talking. That’s one recommendation from the National School Boards Association!


Their conclusion is drawn from a study (pdf) recently released by the organization that found a big disconnect between the perceived problems with students using social networking sites and reality.

An example of the findings:

Only 20% said they’d seen “inappropriate” pictures on social networking sites in the last 3 months. (And only 11% of parents concur, even for the last 6 months.) Only 18% of the students said they’d seen “inappropriate” language, and just 7% reported they’d been “cyberbullied,” or asked about their personal identity on a social networking site.

However, as I’ve said before when it comes to studies, surveys and polls, look at who is paying the bills.

In this case it’s Microsoft, NewsCorp (parent company of MySpace) and Verizon. Certainly none of them have a stake in any of this. :-)

But putting that aside, positive statements about the read/write web coming from an organization representing many of the groups that set policy for schools could be a very good thing.

At the very least, maybe this can trigger a serious discussion between teachers, administrators, students, and parents about the possible instructional use of a wide range of communications tools.

Instead of the over-hyped, news-at-11, Dateline/tabloid stories that politicians love and that seem to crowd out other rational conversation.

As the study notes, it’s still important to teach students about safely and responsibly working online.

But, the report continues, “students may learn these lessons better while they’re actually using social networking tools”.

Double wow!