Shawn Douglas

Monday - May 3, 2010

Breaking the technology facade

Michael Leiboff, a writer for Campus Technology, recently wrote a thought-provoking article about how advanced technology classrooms fail. Leiboff believes that while most have a measurable level of success, they also have flaws which originate during the planning stages.

“Unfortunately, many of the seeds of future problems are inadvertently planted during the early planning stages of the classroom design process and in large measure could have been avoided,” said Leiboff.

He expounded on a number of problems like focusing too much on flexibility or having insufficient support staff to address technical problems quickly and efficiently. However, one of the most important issues he addressed is how schools and universities build a technological classroom merely for the sake of doing it.

“[T]here seems to be the implicit assumption that building a smart classroom can be a goal unto itself,” said Leiboff. “If you build it, it will be used and add value. It will add a competitive advantage to our institution.”

Leiboff reasons that such thought often leads to underutilized and unsupported equipment that fails to become integrated into a teacher’s curriculum. Throw in a general complacency that many teachers have experimenting with and adapting their teaching style to modern tech, and you have the recipe for a true technology facade in the classroom.

Such facades are everywhere and are often perpetuated by teachers who use tech in the classroom without having a good reason to do so. Sure, students are increasingly savvy with their Web-ready mobile devices, but does using them during a classroom activity advance the topic under discussion? Do the installed projectors and Internet devices contribute to the curriculum or are they being used for the sake of being used?

As Leiboff mentions in his article, there are many ways to protect against such technology facades. One important method is ensuring that teachers are given support with the creation and modification of classroom curriculum that intertwines traditional methodologies with tech-based approaches to learning. The award-winning Technology Across the Curriculum program utilized at George Mason University is one early example of teachers and university staff working together to form a robust curriculum that incorporates technology and its utilization. Others like teacher Lisa Stevens go it alone, creating their own curriculum that is tailored specifically to them and their students’ needs.

Another way to combat against tech facades is to integrate aggressive training and reliable tech support with any technology rollout. If teachers aren’t given a minimum level of mandatory training in the use of classroom technology, the tech is often ignored or underutilized. And if teachers aren’t quickly supported when something unexpected occurs, opinion will often turn sour. Often all it takes is one bad experience with a malfunctioning projector or a complex program to turn a teacher — and the technology — off.

Does your school or university have technology merely for the sake of it? What else can you or education staff do to kill the dreaded tech facade?