Is ‘Technology Expert’ an Oxymoron?

By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: The following article was first published by Harry Keller as a comment on John Adsit‘s “Administrators Don’t Have Time to Keep Up with Ed Tech” on 13 August 2010. -js]

John makes several excellent points. The one that resonates with me focuses on technologists, whatever they are. Because I began working with computers when they used vacuum tubes and have been constantly doing so since, I used to be really up on computer technology. But the field has expanded horizontally to the point where no one can know everything anymore. An example: I just discovered that the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader has two screens, one with e-ink and one with color LCD.

Because we have no standards or certificates for technologists, anyone could be one. One school I worked with had an ex-firefighter as one. He took a Cisco course (really an indoctrination) and so was an “expert technologist.”

Because no technologist can know everything and because many are just barely able to do their support jobs, principals should not be relying on them for crucial advice on using technology in education. What’s the solution? They certainly cannot rely on vendors. As John so clearly enunciates, they can’t do it by themselves. You can hardly expect the teachers to understand technology at the depth required for the many decisions.

I really don’t have an answer. In larger districts, experts are available to principals and administrators make sure that they really are expert. As you look at smaller districts, that level of support simply cannot be maintained these days.

This entire subject resonates with me because I’ve lived in this environment for over ten years. In the beginning, I was showing principals, superintendents, and their staffs one of the first cloud computing applications and, possibly, the first in student learning. It also made some pedagogical advances. Almost no one understood what we were doing and how it could transform education to have a completely web-delivered learning application that stored all student results for review. Occasionally, someone would recognize that we were saving lots of technician time. I could go on with a litany of things that weren’t recognized, sometimes even when we carefully explained them.

I’m sure that many schools have the same problems today. Is the iPad really a new wave in education? Will IWBs (interactive whiteboards) transform classrooms? Can smart phones be used in classrooms to improve learning, or will they add to distractions? Should more classes be using blended learning? Should social media be injected into our schools, or will it hinder learning important content? You get the idea.

You see why John’s comments are so important. We’re entering a period of extreme change. The leaders should take the lead but don’t have the expertise and may not even have access to it. Something must be done. If only we weren’t so untrusting of government, the states and federal governments could provide useful guidance.

I’d like to see the ideas that others have for solving the technology expertise problem for all schools.

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