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Education IT and Change

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Information technology changes very rapidly, educational practices tend to change very slowly. The result is a great deal of tension. Many of us have learned how to handle that tension creatively, to use it to help bring about change. However, few of us have a good theoretical understanding of technology driven change. This page is a start at developing such an understanding.

A Theory of Information Technology Driven Change in SchoolsEdit

  1. The adoption of almost any new technology will create winners and losers within a school.
  2. Losers may see a decline in status, income, and/or comfort. Winners may see the opposite. The decline or increase may not be large but may loom large in the minds of those experiencing the change.
  3. If the potential big losers from a new technology can block adoption of the technology they probably will.
  4. If the potential big winners from a new technology can force adoption of the technology they probably will.
  5. Ideally a utilitarian approach, which compares the overall costs and benefits to all members of the community, will drive adoption decisions.
  6. Organizational change is likely to occur much more easily if all members of the organization feel that benefits resulting from change will be equitably shared by all participants.
  7. Organizational change is likely to occur in a top-down fashion (dictates) in organizations where change benefits flow inequitably to the few.
  8. Determining overall costs and benefits of adopting any new technology can be extremely difficult if not impossible.
  9. Therefore, there is great interest in gathering as much information as possible about new developments in technology use.
  10. Information technology directors tend to be voracious gathers of information about both new information technology and the use of new technology in other schools.
  11. Hearing from and visiting schools that are early adopters of a new technology is one major way that information is gathered.
  12. However, it is often difficult to arrange such visits except through the people who are the advocates of the technology, and those speaking out about the new technology's impact are often advocates as well.
  13. Therefore it is incumbent for IT directors to get to know each other quite well, both to facilitate the sharing of information, and to be able to filter information based upon knowledge of the source.
  14. Those governing a school tend to be very attuned to developments in competing schools. There is often a desire not to get too out-of-sync with technology use in these reference group schools.
  15. Schools may attempt to gain a competitive advantage by jumping ahead of competitors with their use of technology. This may lead to other schools in the reference group matching the technology investment (and trying to learn from the pioneer's mistakes) or it may lead to competing schools denigrating and downplaying the new technology use. ("We do things the tried and true traditional way.")
  16. Adoption of information technology is likely to go much more rapidly if it is presented as building on an existing strength rather than fixing an existing weakness.

Trying to Understand Technology Driven ChangeEdit

  • Thoughts from Victorian Internet
  1. Chronacity - the tendency of seeing changes in one's own time as being more dramatic/revolutionary than changes in other times.
  2. Advocates of new information technology tend to overstate the benefits and downplay the negative consequences. For example, telegraph advocates waxed poetical about how the telegraph would lead to world peace through improved communication.
  3. New information technologies, in their early stages, may be perceived as curiousities because they need network effects to become useful. Samual Morse had difficulty getting funding for a telegraph network because until a telegraph network existed most people had trouble seeing the benefit. Once networks started to be built the benefits became obvious and telegraph usage took off.
  4. There are always winners and losers with major new information technologies. Not necessarily in an absolute sense, but relative gains and losses. For example, diplomats lost autonomy as telegraph technology allowed communication with the central government to become immediate. Diplomats perceived this as a loss, something that made their jobs less enjoyable. Many business people perceived the speeding up of information flows brought about by the telegraph to have a negative impact on their personal lives.
  5. New technologies tend to get used the way people want to use them, which may be different from how the technology providers want the technology to be used. For example, the early telegraph providers tried to outlaw coded messages as these tended to be harder for telegraph operators to transmit and receive. Users wanted to be able to send coded messages and kept pushing until they achieved this capability.
  6. Whole job categories come into existence, or are destroyed, by rapidly changing information technology. The job of telegraph operator sprang into existence with the spread of telegraph networks, had a 30 or so year period of being a good highly-skilled occupation, and then disappeared with the development of teletype machines and telephones.
  • Thoughts from Faster
  1. When we get older time seems to go faster.
  2. Newer faster technologies make older technologies seem painfully slow - even though they didn't feel slow when they were the latest and greatest.
  3. Rapid developments in information technology cause people to feel they have less time for reflection, pondering, consideration, etc.. This is associated with a feeling of being overwhelmed by new more rapid information flows. There is some evidence that the actual quantity of information coming in has little impact on this feeling. If a person new to using email gets 10 emails they may feel they need to respond in depth to each of the emails so they feel as swamped as the person getting 100 emails a day who fires off brief responses.
  4. People seem to really want to feel connected, and exchanging information can make people feel connected.
  5. It is important to learn to disconnect from rapid information flows for periods of quiet contemplation and reflection. Just as we need to consciously exercise our bodies in a world of physical abundance and labor saving devices, we need to take time to reflect, ponder and contemplate in a world of information super-abundance and networked digital communication devices.
  • Thoughts from The Axemaker's GIFT
  1. Burke and Ornstein use the term "Axemaker" for those who thoughout history have created new technological tools, processes, and approaches.
  2. They use the term "cut and control" frequently to convey what they believe the "axes" made by the axemakers have done to human societies. In other words, technological developments have brought about steadily increasing specialization in communities, and increasingly sophisticated control structures for coordinating and controlling the specialized components.
  3. They believe the computer and computer networks may provide an opportunity to build new connections between isolated knowledge domains, and in the process diminish the power of existing control and coordination structures.
  4. In 1455 there were no printed books in Europe. In 1500 there 20 million books in 35,000 editions.
  5. In 1455 there was only 1 printing press. In 1500 there were presses in 245 cities.
  6. Books helped break down papal authority. Protestants, from Luther on, used vernacular works to support nationalist and protestant religious movements.
  7. Once a population of book writers, editors and publishers developed they kept pushing open new frontiers of knowledge. "Print engendered a fever for novelty."
  8. The discovery of America helped to call into question many inherited assumptions, both from the Bible and the Greek/Roman classics. (Are new virtual digital worlds calling into question assumptions in the analog world?)
  9. At one time "atheism" was the catch-phrase for anti-Establishment behavior (pg. 158)
  10. The motto of the British Royal Society, formed in 1660, is essentially "Take nobody's word for it."
  11. The printed book helped cut Europe up into nation states and in turn helped elites within those states exert control. The process kept going, books helped develop and support growing numbers of specialists. These specialists gained control over small domains of information and the development of knowledge in each of these domains. The newly developed knowledge, and technology and products flowing from the knowledge, have pushed at our ability to adopt and adapt to new possibilities and practices. It may be that the computer and the Internet, ironically, are developing ways to reconnect us, and perhaps give us a little more control over change.
  12. As individuals we are designed to be MUCH better at short term decision making than long term planning.
  13. pg. 216-217 "It was William Morris in particular who spread the vision of a society where labor would be pleasurable and education the right of all. According to Morris, to achieve a true humanity, people should take pleasure in labor, and this was impossible when the division of labor tied each laborer to a single, detailed operation."
" For Moris, work was the primary source of human activity, enjoyment, and self-development, so in a socialist society the factory should be a primary educational center. He developed this idea in the article "A Factory As It Might Be," describing a community "where we shall work for livelihood and pleasure and not for profit." Marx had considered this combination of learning and labor as key to the education of the future; Morris took up the idea in the context of his concept of a communal, free society of artists and scientists, where factories would be surrounded by gardens, the buildings would be beautiful, and the workers engaged in honorable and honored labor."
" In this way, the socialist factory would provide "work light in duration and not oppressive in kind, education in childhood and youth, serious occupation, amusing relaxation, and more rest for the leisure of the workers...[and] that beauty of surroundings, and the power of producing beauty which are sure to be claimed by those who have leisure, education, and a serious occupation."
" So in the second half of the nineteenth century, axemaker industrialization had generated two parallel "truths" --socialism and capitalism--and these ideological gifts would cut and control the entire world, dividing it between them for nearly a hundred years."
" In 1703, the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz wrote in a letter to reverend Bouvet that he dreamt there would one day be: ...a universal type of writing that would have the advantages of the Chinese system, since each could understand it in his own language, but would infinitely surpass the Chinese since it would be learned in a few weeks, since its characters are well related according to the order and connection of things.
" From Meopotamian cuneiform, then through the Greeek alphabet, Gutenberg, and especially through the representation of the world in modern computers, we have begun to realize Leibniz's dream. As a result, each person today grows up to master a world that is far more complex and heterogenous than what might otherwise have been their biological destiny. Since Meopotamia and Greece we have learned to represent the world abstractly into strings of letters to be read in one direction. We use mathematics to predict the movement of stars and space vehicles, as well as to run the computing world we live in. In the process the basic skills of the mind, moving in space, listening and speaking, have become of secondary importance."
" And since this is take for granted, we don't often realize that each child goes through a radical shift in development when they learn to master this artifical world. But it could well be that, given the success of the program Leibniz outlined, mastering the world of informatin in the twenty-first century will for most people be easier because there will be new, less-exclusive ways to express ourselves. The abilty to see relationships and move things around in space may be intellectually as valuable with iconic computers as learning quadratic equations or remembering the table of elements was once with print. When much of the routine drudge-work of the mind is automated, the spatial, intuitive, "navigational" talents may well be much better adapted to accessing knowledge that is structured more like the natural world rather than being reduced to alpha-numeric codes. Reading and writing may well become less important."
...
" As long as the "information superhighways" and the webs to which they would link us are not hijacked by the most powerful-ever information elite in history (and this is a big "if"), they might help return us in some ways to where we were before the axemakers' gifts took the first slice at the world and began applying the process of cut-and-control to both human nature and the nature from which we sprang."
" For such communities, the most valuable skills would be generalist rather than specialist. They would prize the ability to connect, to think imaginatively, to understand how data are related, to see patterns in machine-generated innovation, and to assess its social effect before releasing it on society."
" These are skills that brains already possess in every community from the brokers of Wall Street to the mud-men of New Guinea. Each human brain has the potential to express many idiosyncratic talents, so in a way each brain is itself an entire culture. Since the time of the first axe the means to make that culture manifest have been suppressed by a relentless pressure to conform that reduced the natural diversity of human self-expression and kept the axemaker mind preeminent."
" Today, however, billions of human talents could be on the verge of self-expression if we are willing to take new views and see where they might lead us. And, more than any time before, we have the means to make sure that we all "see"--perceive in a new way. Up to now, when faced with change, we have always been presented with few options. ..."
" But with the new information technologies, it may be possible easily and swiftly for the community to visualize the pattern of change, to play out the effect of one or other option, and decide which to choose on the basis of more foreknowledge than our ancestors ever had. ... "
David Cavallo co-directs the MIT Media Lab's Future of Learning Group.
The key piece of information (for me) in this article was idea that institutional change is a kind of learning, and that just as constructivist learning is efficacious for individual learning, it is efficacious for institutional learning. In other words, each school should go through experiential learning in order to change. How does one place an entire school in a constructivist environment? Interesting question. I think laptop schools have done something like this. Without there being any really clear evidence that 1 to 1 computing improves learning, some schools went ahead anyway with laptop programs using a philosophy something like "If you build it then the learning will happen." We were thinking that the learning would happen with the kids, and not really thinking about the learning that the institution would be forced to do. So doing a laptop program can put your institution into the "zone of proximal development", which can be an uncomfortable place to be at first, but a place which fosters very rapid learning (aka change). Institutional participants are going to be very reluctant to enter an uncomfortable place if they don't feel that they individually will benefit along with the institution. Much resistance to change occurs, I believe, because the benefits the organization achieves from change are not equitably distributed among the participants. When power relationships/structures within the organization allow some to benefit much more than others from change then resistance to organizational change is likely to be strong.
  • Thoughts from Family Matters by Robert Evans
  • Evans goes on a 4 page rant about technology in a section titled "Technology versus Childhood." In this section he writes:
Childhood and society both have always depended...on "managed information and sequential learning." ... This staging has always been the province of parents and teachers. But communications technology has intervened pervasively, usurping their control over the dissemination of information. This transformation actually begins with the invention of the printing press... It has accelerated steadily since then, especially since the birth of computers and the Internet. A hallmark of both is their ability to undercut and circumvent authority, to empower individuals by distributing information widely and quickly. They flatten out organization hierarchy by disempowering (and often replacing) those whose status depends on transferring information-corporate middle managers, for example. Within the family and the school, the new technology operates similarly, but it is parents and teachers who end up disempowered. (pgs 92-93)
  • Evans is probably correct that many teachers (and parents) feel threatened by computers and the Internet. Teachers threatened by information technology are hardly likely to be actively looking for ways to effectively integrate computers into their teaching. They are also unlikely to admit that they feel threatened, but will instead most likely exhibit some form of passive aggressive behavior.
  • Evans has written a book titled The Human Side of School Change. I haven't read it but he provides a brief summary in Family Matters. He makes some interesting points: 1) People are naturally resistant to change because we are pattern seeking animals and once we get caught up in a pattern of behavior, even if it isn't optimal, we are often reluctant to change. We seem to prefer the devil we know to the possible devil that change may bring. 2) When we seek change we often want other people in our lives to change, or ourselves to change quickly and easily rather than through an arduous process. 3) Change that involves giving up existing competencies is likely to be perceived as loss rather than progress, at least at first. 4) Educators tend to be conservators not entreneurs. Education draws those interested in stability and safety, not high risk and the resultant big rewards or losses. 5) Teachers tend to be conflict avoidant. 6) Education itself, in its focus on "enduring truths and established traditions," tends to lean toward continuity instead of innovation.
  • Evans has a number of suggestions on how leaders can promote change. These include: 1) be honest about weaknesses but try to build from strengths 2) make as clear as possible why a change is necessary 3) present the change as a systemic need and avoid demonizing any of the involved parties 4) lead from the front, make sure you go through whatever you are asking others to go through.

Books on Technology Driven ChangeEdit

  • "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman
  • "The Axemaker's Gift" by James Burke and Robert Ornstein
  • "Empowering Students With Technology" by Alan November
  • "The Victorian Internet" by Tom Standage
  • "Longitude" by Dava Sobel
  • "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything" by James Gleick
  • "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink
  • "Teachers and Machines" by Larry Cuban
  • "Hidden History: Exploring Our Secret Past" by Daniel J. Boorstien
  • "Windows on the Future" by Jukes and McCain's

Books on Currulum Design and Research that Support Technology UseEdit

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