Accelerating Out of Technologic Adolescence

As education technology toils through its turbulent second stage of growth, it’s important to keep in mind its shimmering future.

by Geoffrey H. Fletcher

FRENCH POLITICAL THINKER Baron de Montesquieu once said, “The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed.” Which is a good lesson for policymakers as education technology continues toemerge and evolve.

Last month, I wrote about the hit education technology was taking in the mainstream press and offered a couple of ideas on what to do about it. I also have been trying to work out why the press has turned against us. The answer may help us not only respond intelligently to negative criticism, but also prevent it from happening in the first place. A partialexplanation revolves around expectations.

True believers in technology and education have sometimes raised false expectations or over-promised what technology can bring, and how quickly it can bring it. We all have seen the quotes from “experts” about how first radio, then television, then computers, then the Internet, then all of these technologies together will transform education. And we have all seen the counter quotes from the “techno-skeptics” dismissingtechnology as a waste of money and a distraction.

Stages of Development
One key consideration missing from all of this forecasting is timing. In my November 2003 Editorial column (“Focusing on the Future”), I outlined the key components of a futures perspective. One of those components is an extended timeframe. Unless we are in history class or looking at compound interest in IRAs, we don’t always look very far forward or backward, but we should. For example, a 2 percent increase in air pollution each year means air pollution will double in 34 years. The moral: We must pay attention to the long-term impacts of ourindividual and collective actions.

The importance of a long timeframe and its relationship to technology was brought home at this year’s EdNET conference by futurist David Pearce Snyder. He said that throughout history, technology has always undergone three stages of development:

  • The first 25 years are infancy, when the technology is economically nonproductive.
  • The next 25 years are adolescence, when the technology is economically counterproductive.
  • The third 25 years are maturity, when the technology is economically hyper-productive.

Applying this to computer technology, infancy was 1946- 1971, adolescence was 1971-1996, and maturity is 1996- 2021. Productivity in business has grown enormously in this first decade of maturity, partially because of technology and partially because we have changed the culture of a particular segment of business. Changing the culture is paramount. Snyder quoted Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox, who once said:“Productivity is not embedded in software code! Businessimprovement d'es not come in a box! Technology requireschanges in the way humans work, yet companies continue toinject technology without making any of the necessarychanges. Why? Because it’s easier to write a check than itis to rethink the way you work.”

Turning Students Into Productive Citizens
I believe that education is still in its technologic adolescence. However, because the technology itself is more mature, because educators and technology companies have benefited from the experience of technology in the private sector and the home, and because we are beginning to apply technology to core educational activities such as testing, this adolescence will be shortened significantly. And while productivity in education is more difficult to measure than it is in business, I believe we will show a much greater impact from technology’s use in all aspects of education. But only if we heed Mulcahy’s admonition to rethink the way we work. That rethinking also means investing in people to help them understand the changes needed and how to make them. In his speech at EdNET, Snyder also cited what HP’s Chief Knowledge Officer Craig Samuel said in 2003—namely, that the cost breakdown for successful IT projects was 10 percent for hardware and software, 20 percent for business process change, and 70 percent for cultural change.

I do have a fundamental difference with Mulcahy, however. She seems to imply that we need to either rethink the way we work or write a check for technology. I believe we have to do both simultaneously. We can’t even imagine what changes we’re capable of if we don’t have the technology to understand what it can do. We need to rethink while we invest in order to accelerate out of adolescence. Every day in schools, we see that adolescence is a time of awkwardness, turmoil, wildly vacillating emotions, and blossoming beauty. Technology use in education is in a similar adolescence. Our policymakers want productivity in education, and they are asking hard questions about the value of technology. Only when we accelerate out of this adolescence will we truly help kids learn to their full potential and transform them into productive citizens.

Why Policy and Advocacy?
Beginning this month, my column will focus on policy and advocacy. But before you turn the page, permit me a few lines to explain what I mean by these terms and what they could mean to you. My definitions are simple:

  • Policy is any law, rule, guideline, or cultural habit that governs behavior in a school or district. Please note the term “cultural habit.”
  • Advocacy is any action or activity taken in support of something. It is one approach to getting what you want or what you feel is important for kids.

So this column will be about policies—how to make them, how to understand them, how to use them—and it will be about interpreting policies from a variety of sources. This column will also be about advocacy. We intend to notify you when key policies may need a push forward or need to be stopped, and how you can influence those policies. Finally, this column will be about factors that affect policy and advocacy. My hope is that with advocacy, we can help policymakers consider alternatives and keep an eye on the long term, and ultimately make quality decisions. And I hope this column helps you as you advocate for technology at the district, state, or federal level. Let us hear of your successes by e-mailing:editorial@thejournal.com.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is editor-at-large of T.H.E. Journal and executive director of T.H.E. Institute.

As education technology toils through its turbulent second stage of growth, it’s important to keep in mind its shimmering future.

by Geoffrey H. Fletcher

FRENCH POLITICAL THINKER Baron de Montesquieu once said, “The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed.” Which is a good lesson for policymakers as education technology continues toemerge and evolve.

Last month, I wrote about the hit education technology was taking in the mainstream press and offered a couple of ideas on what to do about it. I also have been trying to work out why the press has turned against us. The answer may help us not only respond intelligently to negative criticism, but also prevent it from happening in the first place. A partialexplanation revolves around expectations.

True believers in technology and education have sometimes raised false expectations or over-promised what technology can bring, and how quickly it can bring it. We all have seen the quotes from “experts” about how first radio, then television, then computers, then the Internet, then all of these technologies together will transform education. And we have all seen the counter quotes from the “techno-skeptics” dismissingtechnology as a waste of money and a distraction.

Stages of Development
One key consideration missing from all of this forecasting is timing. In my November 2003 Editorial column (“Focusing on the Future”), I outlined the key components of a futures perspective. One of those components is an extended timeframe. Unless we are in history class or looking at compound interest in IRAs, we don’t always look very far forward or backward, but we should. For example, a 2 percent increase in air pollution each year means air pollution will double in 34 years. The moral: We must pay attention to the long-term impacts of ourindividual and collective actions.

The importance of a long timeframe and its relationship to technology was brought home at this year’s EdNET conference by futurist David Pearce Snyder. He said that throughout history, technology has always undergone three stages of development:

  • The first 25 years are infancy, when the technology is economically nonproductive.
  • The next 25 years are adolescence, when the technology is economically counterproductive.
  • The third 25 years are maturity, when the technology is economically hyper-productive.

Applying this to computer technology, infancy was 1946- 1971, adolescence was 1971-1996, and maturity is 1996- 2021. Productivity in business has grown enormously in this first decade of maturity, partially because of technology and partially because we have changed the culture of a particular segment of business. Changing the culture is paramount. Snyder quoted Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox, who once said:“Productivity is not embedded in software code! Businessimprovement d'es not come in a box! Technology requireschanges in the way humans work, yet companies continue toinject technology without making any of the necessarychanges. Why? Because it’s easier to write a check than itis to rethink the way you work.”

Turning Students Into Productive Citizens
I believe that education is still in its technologic adolescence. However, because the technology itself is more mature, because educators and technology companies have benefited from the experience of technology in the private sector and the home, and because we are beginning to apply technology to core educational activities such as testing, this adolescence will be shortened significantly. And while productivity in education is more difficult to measure than it is in business, I believe we will show a much greater impact from technology’s use in all aspects of education. But only if we heed Mulcahy’s admonition to rethink the way we work. That rethinking also means investing in people to help them understand the changes needed and how to make them. In his speech at EdNET, Snyder also cited what HP’s Chief Knowledge Officer Craig Samuel said in 2003—namely, that the cost breakdown for successful IT projects was 10 percent for hardware and software, 20 percent for business process change, and 70 percent for cultural change.

I do have a fundamental difference with Mulcahy, however. She seems to imply that we need to either rethink the way we work or write a check for technology. I believe we have to do both simultaneously. We can’t even imagine what changes we’re capable of if we don’t have the technology to understand what it can do. We need to rethink while we invest in order to accelerate out of adolescence. Every day in schools, we see that adolescence is a time of awkwardness, turmoil, wildly vacillating emotions, and blossoming beauty. Technology use in education is in a similar adolescence. Our policymakers want productivity in education, and they are asking hard questions about the value of technology. Only when we accelerate out of this adolescence will we truly help kids learn to their full potential and transform them into productive citizens.

Why Policy and Advocacy?
Beginning this month, my column will focus on policy and advocacy. But before you turn the page, permit me a few lines to explain what I mean by these terms and what they could mean to you. My definitions are simple:

  • Policy is any law, rule, guideline, or cultural habit that governs behavior in a school or district. Please note the term “cultural habit.”
  • Advocacy is any action or activity taken in support of something. It is one approach to getting what you want or what you feel is important for kids.

So this column will be about policies—how to make them, how to understand them, how to use them—and it will be about interpreting policies from a variety of sources. This column will also be about advocacy. We intend to notify you when key policies may need a push forward or need to be stopped, and how you can influence those policies. Finally, this column will be about factors that affect policy and advocacy. My hope is that with advocacy, we can help policymakers consider alternatives and keep an eye on the long term, and ultimately make quality decisions. And I hope this column helps you as you advocate for technology at the district, state, or federal level. Let us hear of your successes by e-mailing:editorial@thejournal.com.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is editor-at-large of T.H.E. Journal and executive director of T.H.E. Institute.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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