Are we asking the right questions?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Horia Varlan

Pernille Ripp, an avid blogger, asked a question that many educators have been thinking about in relation to SmartBoards.  She was asking for feedback on the technology and was asking for evidence that they were a valuable way to spend money with increasingly tight budgets in schools.  The comments were intriguing and shared comments both for and against their implementation.

Obviously from her writing, you could see that this was a division initiative and that perhaps the conversation was not had in the first place with some teachers.  This is not to say that the ideas from the leaders were not well intentioned as I am 100% sure they were.  If anything is ever implemented on a division basis, there is obviously a belief that whatever it may be will be beneficial to students and no child should be missing out.  The intention is not what I am questioning, but the process is (although again I am not certain of how it was rolled out.)

We are seeing more schools going to 1-1 environments, massive implementation of SmartBoards, iPads, etc., yet what is the vision behind this?   Derek Hatch on Connected Principals wrote about this same idea and stated, “We need to spend some time examining what is important and what role technology will play.”

Shouldn’t the first question we ask be something similar to, “what opportunities and environment are we trying to create for our students?”, and then move from that point?  We need to ask more what the purpose of school is and move from there.

I am reminded of this Prensky quote about the failure of some “tech” initiatives in schools:

“Just adding technology, however, will not make this (success) happen. In fact, in some cases, laptops have already been added and removed for having “failed.” But the failure in those cases was neither of the students nor of the technology, but rather of the pedagogy.” Prensky, Teaching Digital Natives

For example, if we are wanting students to be able to collaborate more with one another, is the SmartBoard the best way to facilitate that objective?  If we are trying to  have the students create more, is this the tool that will open that door?  As my own school division moves forward, these are some of the questions we will need to answer.

And let’s make sure that the questions we ask impact our students first as that is who we serve.

I wish that every decision I have made as a leader has focused on these ideas first, but I would be lying if I said that was true.  I remember pushing my own principal to purchase a few class sets of Senteo Clickers for our school and I still could not justify that purchase five years later.

As I have gained experience though, I am realizing that we have to start with questions first, instead of answers.  Find the “why” of what you are doing, make sure that you can clearly articulate this to whoever is asking, and then start putting the pieces in place. Doing the reverse of that process is not best for our kids, could waste a lot of money, while also losing the confidence of those you serve.

Doesn’t sound like a good way of doing the business of school.



  1. Awesome post, George. It is great to have your support, and very flattering to be quoted. I explained to our Tech committee that before any purchase is made, we need to ask some difficult questions. I love your question (above)…I think I will bounce that one at our next meeting.
    We definitely need to look down the road and form a vision for technology…student learning needs to be at the heart of that vision.

    • Thanks for sharing buddy :) We all get better when we talk about what is and isn't working in our schools. Hope you are having a great year!

  2. Purpose must always be the central question. How you know if you have or are achieving that purpose can be next. The last question you ask is relates to the strategy that will help you achieve that purpose. It is better to use this approach than an "ready, fire, aim" approach

  3. It is extraordinarily frustrating when new tools, equipment, and/or platforms are thrust into schools and classrooms without any regard given to the needs of the administrators, teachers, and students therein. This year alone, there were at least four different tools that the tech dept. subscribed to for student and teacher use, none of which are simple to implement. These tools are great, or rather, they have the potential to be, however no administrator or teacher was consulted and asked any of the questions you mention. Would this be of use to you? How can we best provide account setups and train teachers? How can we make this an effective part of the learning process for students? How will we will know if this is making a positive impact on learning and/or communication? Yes, I agree they are well-intentioned purchasing decisions, but it is still incredibly frustrating to have to now try to pick up the pieces of plans that were not well-thought out. So, what will I do? I will continue to advocate for our voices and needs to be heard and acknowledged before major purchasing decisions are made. I will continue to work to communicate more effectively with my teachers, students, and tech leaders. I will contlnue to support my teachers with implementation and to help them develop as teacher leaders and help one another.

  4. I so agree with this post. I am a math consultant and as I travel around the country and see interactive boards in classrooms, I ask these same questions. I love technology. I always wonder is it underutilized – sometimes I see interactive boards used as "glorified chalkboards." What opportunities do they really offer and are we taking full advantage of them. I think that interactive boards in math can allow us to do some amazing things, with games for engagement and virtual tools and manipulatives to build conceptual understanding, procedural fluency and adaptive reasoning. I think this has to be framed within a context of building mathematical proficiency. Why have them if we are not going to optimize their use? Thanks for writing about this.

    Dr. Nicki

  5. As I was reading through discussion threads of Mike Schmoker's book _Focus_, one of the major points of criticism was his statement that technology should not be the main focus – schools should first focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

    In my mind, focus on technology without a strong curriculum, assessment, and instructional foundation is like learning to pop a wheelie before learning to ride the bike. Technology is a tool – an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of good educators.

    Hence, I think we are asking the wrong question if the question is about technology. The question should be about how technology can enhance instruction for the purposes of increased student learning.

    Janet |

  6. I do believe things are getting much better, but it's still happening too often. Again, all well-intentioned actions, I'm sure, and our technicians work really hard day in and day out to make things work smoothly for us. But so much is happening in the reactive- if we were more proactive about decisions, there wouldn't be so much frustrating "clean up" to do after the fact.

    I have a few theories about why things still happen this way. There are mechanisms in place to "hear" teacher voices- tech steering committees, etc., but in the end, 2-3 people are making the decisions anyway. It's one thing when decisions are made after hearing others' thoughts, and then explanations are given as to why the decision was made. I'm fine with that. The issue lies when things just pop up out of the blue and teachers/students bear the brunt of it. "We're putting IWBs in all Gr. 3-6. No choices as to how to spend the money otherwise. We're going WordPress K-12. But we haven't really asked you how you need that to be set-up at the elementary level." (So now we're a month in and the system still isn't ready for kids). Perhaps it's because the tech leaders were never teachers or administrators. Perhaps it's because the tech leadership prior to this was non-existent, and we're so very grateful to have the support we do have.

    In my opinion, this is a communication issue. It's a relationships issue. It's working through situations and trying to find the best way to share new ideas, garner input, and make decisions. That doesn't happen in one year, or two years, and, I agree- more teachers have a desire to integrate these technologies, and there are a lot of different voices shouting at one time. We need to wrap our heads around how to steer purchasing decisions around learning, while respecting the needs of everyone. My most recent meeting with tech leadership was the best one yet. We discussed the needs of my school for the next three years, and mapped out a plan as best we could, considering the rapidly changing nature of technologies. This conversation needed to happen a) because we're on the verge of a building renovation project and b) technology plan goals are due. I wonder if it would have been less likely to happen had this not been the case.

    I am surprised that you are surprised this still happens. If you could write a post about how these teacher-led systems run in smooth partnerships with the district tech leaders, I'd love to read it!

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