One of my favorite movies is Heartbreak Ridge. Today I was reminded of a scene at the end, after Gunny Highway and his men have saved the day, where Major Powers finally gets what’s coming to him:
Highway: We’re Marines, sir. We’re paid to adapt, to improvise.
Lieutenant M.R. Ring: Sir, I gave the order to take this hill.
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Ring, this is going to ruin your career.
Colonel Meyers: Are you new to the infantry, Major?
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Yes, sir. Just came over from supply.
Colonel Meyers: Were you good at that?
Maj. Malcolm A. Powers: Yes, sir!
Colonel Meyers: Well then, stick to it because you’re a walking cluster f*** as an infantry officer.
As much as the current ed reformers would like us to believe otherwise, teaching with technology is not like being in supply. Integrating technology into a classroom and using it on a daily basis is an adaptive and improvisational act. It requires creativity, the ability to try and fail, to adapt and try again. For school districts looking to innovate in the ed tech space, technology should not be seen as a cost/benefit analysis or a return on investment for the bottom line. The only return on investment that should be considered is student learning. A district has to decide, is technology integration in the classroom important and if so then decide what technology makes sense and only then decide how to pay for it. Unfortunately, too often technology decisions start with how to pay for it. These critical decisions are still being made by the supply people where some amount of money (never enough) is allocated for technology as an add on that is usually the first thing to get cut in tough budget times. This is an antiquated view of technology and it cannot continue if districts are serious about embracing 21st Century Learning and harnessing the potential of technology to transform education as we know it.
There is a fixed cost associated with providing core infrastructure and it can be easily budgeted. There is also a relatively fixed cost associated with equipping a classroom and students with technology to create an engaging and interactive learning environment. That too can be budgeted. Yet many of us spend so much energy in ed tech fighting for every penny to keep even basic services running. Most districts don’t want to look at technology from the holistic strategic view it now requires. They still see technology as a cost to be managed. TCO and ROI are great for the supply guys and the businesses that make profits. They work for the big IT systems that sit in rooms dedicated to their well being. But schools aren’t businesses and those systems in rooms don’t really impact student learning. So adapt, improvise and put technology in teacher and student hands, then get out of the way and let them create powerful learning environments. A device in every student’s hand is more powerful than a room full of servers any day.