Op-Ed: Expectation Of Use: Isn’t Just About Devices, It’s Getting Educators To Use Them Properly

Anyone watching the education technology news this week probably heard that Apple had an “Education Event” in Chicago, where the company rolled out their vision of education for the future. (You can watch the event here).

Along with the shiny new products, the tone of the event is what struck me most: Apple looks to creativity and the ability to be creative as the future of education and hence the workplace. Others, including Google with their inexpensive Chromebooks look to productivity as the future of education.

It is quite a contrast, and a debate that won’t be settled soon.

Personally, I am all for the creativity side of the house, where Technology and Humanities intersect, having been a teacher for gifted students and an acolyte to Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” idea that creative, problem solving employees will be more important in the future workforce than those that just can recite facts and compute figures.

You can see Apple’s view here in this short video:


which harkens back to the iconic “Crazy Ones” commercial, where those that are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.

But what struck me also during the event was not so much the new iPads, or the tools, or the philosophy. I kept going back to the school itself. It does not matter what tools are being purchased by schools and districts, if the tools are not being used. There has to be an expectation of use for the devices.

Every school or district that purchases equipment has an associated unwritten expectation of use. If a copy machine is purchased and placed in the teacher’s workroom, there is an expectation that there are going to be copies made on it. If books are purchased and placed in the school library, there is an unwritten expectation of use that the books will be checked out and read.

Same for texts, football uniforms, desks and pretty much anything that a district might want to purchase. In fact, it would be unusual to not have an expectation of use, otherwise, why purchase them?

However, for education technology, there seems to be a different dynamic in play. It is not unusual for one to walk into schools across the country where district 1:1 initiatives are taking place (where each student is checked out a laptop or tablet to keep like a textbook) and find students that are not bringing their devices to school, left them in their lockers or cars, are using their smartphones to do academic work instead, or simply are not using technology at all.

Teachers and students using alternatives to purchased district equipment or software are also common. One wonders what other organization would allow that kind of mindset where company purchased materials are disregarded in favor of random “other” materials.

Imagine an FAA flight controller wanting to use her cool flight tracking app to control arriving airplanes because she “just likes it more” than that old air traffic control software. Surely a UPS driver that decides his Dodge Caravan would make a better delivery van than the company one because he was “more familiar with it” would quickly find himself looking for employment elsewhere.

Imagine your dental hygienist deciding that the tools she had purchased on eBay at a bargain were better to clean your teeth than the ones provided by the dentist that hired her.

One would think, that at the very least, the minimal expectation of use would be that students would bring their devices to class every day, whether they are used or not, just like a notebook, a text, or a pen, yet, for some reason, that connection, that expectation is lacking in many cases.

Teachers should have a minimal expectation to use the tools provided by the district. If there are additions that teachers feel should be included, then so be it. But at least start with what is being provided.

I recently asked a high school student how often she is expected to use her district-issued laptop. Her answer was “Our teachers told us we could use our smartphones if we wanted to.” Expectation of use = 0.

An assistant principal I was speaking to recently told me that her students “Do all their work on smartphones, so we don’t ask them to bring their laptops to class if they don’t want to.” Expectation of use = 0.

That unwritten expectation of use, implied in almost everything else, is nowhere to be seen for some reason with ed tech, be it educator unfamiliarity with technology, simply ignoring the benefits and training, or tradition.

Unlike the copier, textbooks, or the football field, the purchased educational technology expectation of use is, in many cases, left up to the student, not the teacher or the campus. Like water, the student will take the path of least resistance, and defer to not bring their devices to class.

Some districts do a better job than others of having written expectations of classroom use of technology. Wichita Falls ISD has a written expectation of use that spell out for teachers and administrators what they are expected to do on a weekly basis with the classroom technology provided. The “Mindset” section of the document states “Teachers should support the District’s mission and vision regarding the use of technology in the classroom.”

The document then goes on to specifically explain how that support is demonstrated.

Districts hold responsibility when instructional technology is not used as planned. Deep professional development that is tied directly to how the devices should be used in the classroom needs to be provided and repeated. District leaders must expect campus leaders to put into place expectations of use that are enforceable, not merely suggestions that happen during annual appraisals.

Digital tools should never be dumped only a classroom or campus with some kind of wishful thinking that the tools will magically be used.

Hope is not a strategy.

As Leslie Wilson from the 1:1 Institute said:

“”There’s nothing transformative about every kid having an technology unless you’re able to reach higher-order teaching and learning. If schools take all this technology, and use it like a textbook, or just have teachers show PowerPoint [presentations] or use drill-and-kill software, they might as well not even have it.”

Schools can purchase the latest best set of technology tools anywhere or the cheapest lowest end ones, but if there is no expectation that the tools will be used in the classroom, it really doesn’t matter. Each campus must set a high expectation of use, using the tools for much more than simple electronic replacement for pen and paper assignments, otherwise we are just throwing our money away.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.