Thursday, March 13, 2008

Techno Lust

I have been wrestling lately with the topic of technology over indulgence. Do we really always need the latest and greatest? At what point does a technology reach its point of maximum potential? Do I really need a pocket knife with 36 different blades, a place to hold a tooth pick, and silverware? At what point do we look at our televisions and say, "Do I really need 900 channels? I never watch more than 10 of them." At what point do we say, "This latest version of Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Windows, etc has cool features but I still only use the ones my old version had." Do we really need a faster processor when a Pentium 4 still does everything I NEED it to do? Does our school really need to have SMARTboards in EVERY classroom? Should we spend our money on one totally awesome gadget with ten million incredible features that also does your laundry for you and tells you when to use the rest room or could we take that gadget money and buy 5 slightly inferior products that do all that but only has nine million incredible features?

Sure, if I worked at Pixar and had the task of rendering the next blockbuster animated feature and had to include special effects that are more advanced than the last film I think I would take the one machine that folds laundry for me but I work in a school district. Our processing needs will never rival those of power users that exist in big business. Often the skills necessary to operate and utilize those obscure power options in most commercial software require study of the software beyond k-12 education. In fact, if we get too much into teaching kids how to utilize these power features we risk neglecting our primary goal as k-12 educators. Is our goal to teach technology or use technology to teach content? If our goal is to teach technology maybe we should invest in the high power machine and superfluous commercial software. However, we will have to have students work in large groups and have to find something else for them to do while others in the class have their turn at the nice machine. If, however, we are trying to utilize technology to better teach content our needs are better served with more simple solutions.

Enter open source and online apps. I have been playing around this year with both of these kids of applications and have fallen in love with both. I think they are perfect for education, at least k-12 education. Most open source software nearly mimics the look, feel, and functionality of commercial brand counterparts and whatever tech skills are necessary to operate one platform are also necessary to operate the other so skills are transferable. Online apps. answer another problem that I see all the time in schools. That problem is compatibility. If we encourage our students to use online apps. for their assignments then it won't matter what kind of machine they are using, everything is compatible. My goal is never again to hear, "I can't show you my PowerPoint because your version is incompatible with the one I have at home." or, "I couldn't work on my PowerPoint at home because I couldn't open the file."

If we decide not to renew our licenses with Microsoft, Adobe, and other commercial software providers we can save tons of money to reinvest in our network and hardware. If we replace it with a fully functioning, easy to use platform we can focus more on how it can be used to make learning reading, writing, science, art, social studies, math, physical education, etc. more engaging, authentic, and learner centered. We take that saved money and invest it in hardware that will serve our needs, not hardware that far exceeds our needs and we will be happy. I think I choose to do my laundry myself.

No comments: