Tech or Textbooks?

This week, Eric Patnoudes posted a link to a list from the Harvard Business Review about being a change leader and pointed out that tech was nowhere to be found. In the education context it got me thinking about why #edTech.

At a most basic level, Technology = Information Access. I think when we talk about edTech, we sometimes forget this simple truth. We are comfortable handing every student a textbook so that they can access information for learning and yet we still debate the value of handing every student an Internet connected device for accessing information for learning. We hold edtech to a higher standard, as if simply using it to access information is no better (and possibly quite a bit more cumbersome) then accessing information in a textbook.

When was the last time a working professional or personally curious individual put down their smart phone and looked for a piece of information or an answer to a question in an encyclopedia or a textbook? (referencing the TE doesn’t count!) In the modern world, people simply don’t do it that way anymore and yet that’s how many think information access should continue to look in classrooms.

And more telling, schools that have deployed technology into classrooms expect edTech to look like something more than just information access or tech integration is considered a failure. In fact, classrooms were kids are accessing information on the Internet using devices are often said to be doing the same thing, the same way, or labeled at Substitution, the lowest level of the SAMR model. But accessing information on the Internet via a connected device is not the same as accessing information from a textbook (or a worksheet). Not if we’ve replaced textbooks with the World Wide Web as the primary information source in the classroom. Not if we’ve taught kids how to find, assess and utilize information from the web. Not even if we’ve scaffolded that experience with curated resources and links. Accessing information on a device is only substitution if we’ve substituted an analog textbook (or worksheet) for a “digital” version. Otherwise, it’s embracing a new tool to access information in a new way. A way that was not possible before the device and the Internet were available in the classroom.

Today, the World Wide Web is the textbook. Information is everywhere; in blog posts, youtube videos, scanned documents, websites, podcasts and personal learning networks (PLNs). The Web is an infinite, multi-media rich, multi-dimensional massively online textbook and it’s messy because it’s constantly evolving, updating and changing. The real challenge might just be that nobody has written a Teacher’s Edition (TE) for it yet.

Getting back to Eric’s original tweet, change leaders in education should be moving the vision forward for what learning looks like in our classrooms. For me, at a foundational level, that includes using technology to access information.