ICT4ED: A solution in search of a problem? (introduction)

I remember the first personal computer I purchased. It was an IBM-compatible or “clone” as they were called in those days. It ran Windows 3.1, had minesweeper, and had both a 3.5” and 5.25” disk drive. It was cutting edge! Even though I paid almost a quarter of my salary for it, I felt that it was worth it. Our school was one of the first to integrate technology in The Bahamas, and I had to be sure I had the latest greatest machine to make that possible. Even in the DOS days, we were the first school to adopt a school information system. Shortly after that, our guidance counselor built an electronic transcript system in First Choice, a DOS based early productivity suite. Not to be outdone, I saw the potential classroom impact for computers, and built a test question bank and a lesson plan database indexed by topic, subtopic, and objectives. The SIS and the electronic transcript systems were both blockbuster hits! Although there was a big front-end data input investment, everyone could see how both these systems made life so much easier: no more handwritten report cards or transcripts!!!

Not quite the same enthusiasm for the question bank and the lesson plan database though. I couldn’t understand why not – to me the benefits were obvious. The truth is I was approaching the tech in education thing from exactly the wrong perspective. I had this wonderful powerful machine in my hands that could do so much! Surely there were ways it could help me in the classroom. So I thought up ways that my new toy could change how we did things. The World Wide Web had not really taken off at the time, so I had to come up with my own ideas. I had the solution. All I needed to do was to find the problem. Of course, the question bank and automated lesson plan systems faded away soon after – as did many other tech innovations I had introduced. They solved “problems” that didn’t really exist, weren’t FELT needs.

The automated student management systems continued to gain traction, even though they were much more difficult to learn and implement (can you imagine a DOS-based student information system?). The school system still uses an SIS that had its origins in DOS. Teachers and administrators were and still are committed to making it work, even though it meant a bit more effort for the first few years implementation and they hated having to learn new routines. Everyone could see right away the how it helped – the problems it solved were a much bigger headache than the implementation challenges. It all comes down to understanding the nature of your problems, and the attributes of technology. If the two match then technology is a good fit. Over the next five posts, I’m going to examine five ways that we as ed-techers must challenge ourselves to ensure that our tech solutions really are the answers to our educational problems. –> part 1: the e-learning paradox (available 16 July)

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