But, almost inevitably, the “presenting problem,” or the presumed solution I was there to provide, was based on:
- How am I going to help fix their youth? (the correct assumption was always that I couldn’t and wouldn’t so I was generally met with understandably severe skepticism), OR
- What new “program” would I show them that was better than theirs? (surely I had a curriculum they could just implement), OR
- How can I help them prove to their youth that they should be more engaged in what the adults are already offering? (OK, out-of-town-youth-guy, show us your magic!)
In other words, the adults were often looking either to do what they were already doing, perhaps just a little better, or, more cynically, keep doing exactly what they were already doing but have the young people receive it better.
I was interested in neither of these. What I was interested in, and still am, is: what do we really want for our young people? And, who can lead us there? Forget what we know, or think we know, about education, school, leadership, content, teen behavior, community, family, and so forth.
What does success look like for a young person?
If we start with this picture in mind, we all have the opportunity to step back and assess whether the strategies we are employing are going to get us to that vision.
So, now, as I have just begun exploring the landscape of education technology, I am struck by how similar some of the assumptions, questions, and challenges are. Just as any ideas or strategies I could offer as a consultant were only as good as their implementation and ownership by the staff I worked with, so the potential impact of technology is only as good as its implementation and ownership by school staff.
So, when we look at the multitude of education technology success stories circulating in the blogosphere, we need to remember to look not merely at the technology but the leadership that implemented and the conditions that facilitated it.
That being said, the ed tech field still feels largely dominated by technologies that don’t actually require changing conditions or even that much leadership (or at least not transformational leadership). Instead, many are technologies that offer incremental change or, at worst, facilitate business-as-usual.
For example, we are still implementing elaborate tools for content delivery at a time when content can be Googled and the skills of sorting, editing, and making meaning are most critical.
We are building platforms to manage a traditional classroom model that keeps the adult as the sole point person, leader, and expert in the class when students’ lives (and the economy) are increasingly driven by models of open sourcing, crowd sourcing, content creation, online collaboration, individual choice, voice, customization, and so on.
We are investing in large data and indicator systems that increase our ability to talk ABOUT students and identify their problems from a spreadsheet, when talking WITH students, engaging them, and knowing them personally is at more of a premium than ever.
This is not an indictment of these technologies, just an observation given my personal motivation for reform. And, there is clearly much to celebrate in the current trials and future possibilities of education technology.
But, even in the hands of great leadership, a tool designed for the status quo will likely deliver just that.