19 November 2009

That Was (Too) Easy

A few weeks ago, I listened to several different people from around the country share some ideas about educational technology programs. The most frequent words used by presenters were "simple" and "easy." I suppose that there is some appeal in that; but, I kept wondering when someone was going to say "meaningful." I would have even settled for "effective."

I understand that there needs to be some room for both. When I buy a can opener, I want one that does the job, but isn't difficult to use. The most important part is that the can opens---I get the result I want from the tool I have in my hand. Someone who sells me a can opener based on how simple it is to use without showing that the tool is able to remove a lid from a can will get no future business from me.

It may be an unfair comparison between a can opener and software for collecting and managing data in schools. I still can't help but think that the bottom line is the same: the tool needs to do the job it was designed for. If it's easy to use, that is a definite bonus---but that aspect should not be the first words out of the mouths of presenters.

It also means that as buyers, we also need to be careful about the questions we ask and the values we communicate. I remember a sign that used to hang in a local store. It had a short list: Cheap, Fast, Good. Underneath that was the instruction for the customer to "Pick Two." I am wondering if our pursuit of Cheap and Fast (Easy), has led to our neglect of Good in education. It would seem well past time for us to insist on quality in our programs instead of taking the easy way out.


Roger Sweeny said...

How to explain this? A neutral explanation might be that all the products are equally "effective" so the only way to differentiate your product is to make it "simpler" and "easier."

A more cynical explanation says that administrators know technology won't work unless teachers actually use it. Since there is a limited time for training, it makes no sense to buy a program that can't be mastered in a limited amount of time. A mediocre program that can be learned quickly will be preferred to a good program that takes more time to be good at.

A very cynical explanation says this business is too much about inputs (what people are doing) and too little about output (what students are actually learning). A system that adopts a crappy but easy to learn program can brag about how much new technology it's using. The lack of positive results? Well, that hasn't stopped lots of innovations in education.

(And who's even going to know there aren't positive results? Who's going to run controlled experiments? Students don't seem to be learning more? Hey, without the program, they might be learning less.)

The Science Goddess said...

When I was in DC a few weeks ago, Marzano was presenting his research on the use of Interactive White Boards in the classroom.

What he found was that in ~20% of the classrooms, teachers actually did a poorer job of teaching while using the technology. This is par for the course, apparently, with nearly any mass instructional change...but it is not often talked about. When something is billed as being "effective," there is an assumption that it works in more than 80% of the cases.