Thursday, January 27, 2011

Keeping Up With Technology

I was just informed that a number of our computers were being read their last rites and sent to the recycler.  To sate our need to anthropomorphize things maybe it’s time to start counting “computer years” like we count “dog years” ( 1 actual year=10 computer years ?).  These machines were coming up on 80 years old, ‘they’d had a good life’.  The trouble is we have 20 or 30 more just like them in the school.  They’re in our well used general purpose lab, and scattered in classes throughout the building. The obsolescence and dying of computers is no surprise to anyone.  The problem is that there is no plan, nor budget to replace them.  That’s not an over sight, our Tech Services team does a great job of planning for the future…as best they can.  The problem is simply that there is no more money in the budget to replace these machines.  This is symptomatic of a lack of foresight on behalf of government bean counters.

There’s a lot of talk about “teaching for the future, not the past” and we hear plenty of things like “…the top 10 jobs of 2010 didn’t exist 6 years ago” and other hard to prove or disprove factoids.  But the gist is clear, the world is moving forward in leaps and bounds, technologically speaking.   As educators we hear about and imagine some of the possibilities around blogging, skyping and tweeting, not to mention the simple fact that given some relatively simple equipment, the student of today has access to virtually everything that’s known to humankind.  We read stories about wonderful new software and hardware designed to get students out of the classroom, virtually if not literally.  Increasingly, teachers are genuinely interested in learning and teaching with these exciting new technologies, here's just one example.   Yet the hardware and software infrastructure of our public school system is at best inadequate.   And rumour has it that we here in Richmond are relatively advanced technologically speaking!  The simple question is this, “How can we teach for the future when we simply don’t have the necessary tools to do so?”

From my observations, the situation is not yet dire.  But the harbinger of the dying computer stock does not bode well at all for helping our system get better.   Many students in our system already have an attitude that can best be described as ‘bemused’ when faced with the prospect of using some of the school’s technology.  If the march of obsolescence continues, bemusement will develop into disdain, disinterest and disrespect for what they’re being asked to do, or at least for the equipment and the manner in which they’re asked to do it.  And they’d have a point.

We don’t need the latest and best of everything, outfitting education systems with technology is a multi-billion dollar undertaking.  But we do need a long term vision and a plan to achieve that vision.  We also need to be able to rely on the fact that funding will be available to support the learners of the future on the technology of the future.  Hoping to maintain the status quo is a mug’s game when it comes to hardware and software.

Our district plans for replacement and upgrading of equipment and software as best it can.  But without stable and reliable funding from the government, perhaps even targeted at technological maintenance and advancement, school systems in general risk ending up at a distinct technological disadvantage in numerous ways.  There are some truly amazing things being done these days with technology.  Let’s ensure that we make the necessary investments of both money and time so that educators can incorporate some of these new resources.  Having students engaged with modern technology at school is a far more productive situation than having them snicker at the obsolescence of the hardware and the frustration of the teacher trying to use it.