Technology will absolutely change K12 learning. 

By:Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway
District Administration, Nov/Dec 2011Wed, 11/16/2011 - 10:39am Going Mobile

Computing technologies have profoundly transformed just about every major organization and field of human endeavor. To take just two examples, Apple is the largest distributor of music in the world, and manufacturing and surgery are the province of robots, not humans. 

But K12 still relies on textbooks and pencil pouches. Why have computing technologies failed to transform K12? Here are our 10 barriers to technology adoption. 

Barrier #1: Lack of Vision. There is no shortage of excuses for not taking the time to look into the future. The first barrier to technology adoption is not looking past one’s proboscis and seeing that “the future is here already; it is just not evenly distributed” (William Gibson).

Barrier #2: Lack of Leadership. If the superintendent or the principal says, “Teachers, we are going to use technology in our school, but you decide how and when,” then failure to adopt is assured. There is no shortage of excuses for not taking the time to integrate technology into one’s classroom. It takes leadership to say, “Teachers, we are going to use technology in our school—and this is not optional.”

Barrier #3: Lack of Money. If something is considered important—surprise, surprise—school administrators find the money for that something. Technology must be considered important (see barrier #1). Yes, there is no new money. So what are schools doing now that they need to stop doing in order to pay for the technology? See barrier #2.

Barriers #4, #5, #6: Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum. When “New Math” came into classrooms in the late 1970s, math teachers were provided with professionally generated curriculum materials. When graphing calculators came into classrooms in the 1990s, Texas Instruments was there with professionally generated curriculum materials.

There is a lesson here! As schools now move to one-to-one via BYOD—bring your own device—administrators can’t expect to be successful on the backs of teacher-generated curriculum materials. Teachers are not curriculum producers; teachers are, well, teachers.

Where are the digitally based curriculum materials to come from? Digital textbooks are not the answer; they are a costly problem. Perhaps free OER (open education resources) is a partial answer. Curriculum—that is, the lack thereof—is three barriers wide.

Barrier #7: Infrastructure—Tech and Human. Just as America’s roads and bridges need refurbishing, K12’s infrastructure needs refurbishing. Providing robust wi-fi to support one-to-one learning is a significant financial challenge. We like cellular, since it is 24/7 and everywhere, not just in the classroom. But the telcos are less than cooperative. Come on, guys—give schools a break! Which telco will be the first to provide a $10 per month per student plan for a mobile device and connectivity?

Professional development, the human infrastructure, needs refurbishing; it shouldn’t consist of random workshops or lectures that teachers suffer through on specific PD days. Rather, just as professionals in other industries are constantly honing their skills, PD needs to be an ongoing activity that is focused on helping teachers adopt essential one-to-one technology.

Barrier #8: Parents Resisting 21st-Century Methods. Frankly, we have been surprised that some parents are resistant to having their children learn with 21st-century methods. These parents see technology as just so much newfangled, irrelevant stuff. The way through this barrier, though, is clear: communication, communication, communication.

Barrier #9: It Takes Time to Change. Computing technology is not another innovation du jour. Technology is here to stay. Student achievement may not go up after eight weeks of technology use; in fact, it probably won’t. Patience is the way through this barrier.

Barrier #10: The 800-Pound Gorilla—Assessment. Contrary to the claims made in a recent spate of technology-bashing articles in The New York Times, there is clear empirical evidence that when technology is used appropriately as an essential tool for teaching and learning, student achievement experiences a significant boost. See barrier #9.

Computing technologies, and mobile technologies in particular—will still inevitably and profoundly change K12.

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and a past ISTE President. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and Chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning (SIGML). For the past 10 years, Cathie and Elliot have been circumnavigating the globe, advocating for the use of mobile technologies in classrooms.