Luidia, makers of the eBeam interactive whiteboard products (see my glowing review here - the eBeam remains my choice for interactive whiteboard tech and I use one regularly for webinars and demos on WizIQ), recently completed a study of K12 educators regarding adoption, challenges, and other issues surrounding technology in their schools. While some of the findings weren't terribly surprising (budget concerns topped the list of challenges), others suggested a real commitment to the smart purchase and use of tech in classrooms, regardless of budget issues.
I had a chance to talk earlier this week with one of the educators Luidia surveyed. She's a poster child for doing more with less, applying for grants, rallying her parent-teacher organization, and otherwise pulling out all the stops to ensure that students and teachers at her elementary school had access to a wide variety of technology tools. What struck me, though, was not that a school tech coordinator would go above and beyond the call to bring tech into the classroom, but that she talked at length about a staff who embraced the technology and worked together to develop really sound curriculum around the tech. All too often, tech gets thrown at teachers because this is 2012 and students should be learning through technology (or so we hear), rather than teachers and technologists partnering to find the right technologies to meet educational goals. The latter, however, is definitely the case in this suburban Florida elementary school.
Danielle Kazoroski has navigated budget challenges since she first accepted her position as technology associate at Quest Elementary School in Melbourne, Florida. “I cannot ignore the transformative power of technology I have witnessed across my classrooms. Even in light of tighter budgets, School Principal, Elia Lea, and I have made purchasing interactive technologies a high priority,” Kazoroski said. “In addition to going out into the community to do additional personal fundraising, we’ve fundamentally updated our purchasing criteria to ensure we fully maximize investments. We don’t even consider a tool unless it integrates with current technologies and existing environments, as well as demonstrates ability to adapt easily to future potential needs.”
The study actually seemed to point to this as a trend, though, with the majority of educators receiving training on new technology introduced into their schools and most identifying the new tech as student engagement tools, again, despite budget challenges.
Obviously, industry-sponsored studies need to be taken with a grain or three of salt. I handle marketing and business development for an educational software provider by day - I get it. When we publish case studies and white papers, it's because they point (even indirectly) to why users should, are, or will adopt our technologies. So, again, it's not terribly surprising that Luidia concluded that schools were tending to adopt portable, modular, and easily retrofitted technologies like their eBeam products to keep costs down while still bringing interactive technologies to more students and teachers than they could with stationary tools, "proprietary systems that lock users into short-sighted approaches", and "costly rip-and-replace installments."
Marketing cynicism aside, however, I actually agree with their conclusion. Why install interactive whiteboards, for example, in every classroom (or in just the 4 classrooms a school can afford) when totally portable magnetic solutions like the eBeam let the teachers who need them use them? If a school can't afford 1:1 (and most can't), rolling carts of laptops or tablets work just fine. In both cases, equipment can be added as budgets allow but students don't miss out on valuable tools simply because they didn't have Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith (the two lucky hypothetical recipients of media labs with SMART Boards in their rooms) for the year.
Our local tech school is, like many career prep high schools, exceptionally well-funded. Every room has a SMART board and multimedia hardware abounds. And, like many such boards, they make for very nice PowerPoint projection screens and super-shiny dry erase boards. The money that the school could have saved by even deploying a couple of eBeams per department and swapping them among classes as needed could have been spent sending teachers to intensive training on the use if interactive tools in class. And buy a few dozen Chromebooks. And fund a teacher professional day to develop tech-enhanced curriculum. You get the idea.
The takehome messages here? 1) Teachers are ready and willing to engage students using technology if you give them training and time to explore. 2) A variety of useful technologies that resonate with students can be had with the right planning and the time to consider a school's real needs and workflows. 3) Technology implementations don't need to be all or nothing; even partial implementations, if done thoughtfully, can benefit every student. A lab or two (or, of course, a portable interactive projector solution) that can be shared is a perfectly fine and realistic alternative to 1:1 (or to installation of interactive whiteboards in every classroom). Schools, after all, need to do what they can. Focusing on training and professional development means that whatever they can do is fully utilized and that students derive the maximum benefit.