Let’s stop misspending education technology dollars

by Kelly Walsh on June 16, 2010

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A lot of schools have over spent on, and under supported, interactive white boards and other education technologies.

I was fascinated by this article yesterday in the Washington Post. The article is a follow up on a prior piece in the Post that explained that “a view is emerging that the large amounts of money schools are spending on instructional gadgets are not necessarily improving student performance.”

The article also has good things to say about education technology and how it often engages students (even if only due to the “gee whiz” factor), and it cites the “thousands of teachers who have made excellent, creative use of whiteboards and other ‘gadgets’”, but it also discusses how “enormous sums of money are being spent on this (and other) technologies without correspondingly thorough and thoughtful professional development.”

As an advocate of Education Technology, some readers might be surprised to hear me agree with some of the thoughts expressed in this article, but frankly, when money is used poorly in the name of education technology, it’s a step backwards for everyone, not an improvement.

Obviously I agree with the idea that education technology can make a difference in education, but I also agree that technology is by no means a solution in and of itself. I worked for over 20 years implementing, supporting, and managing Information Technology in businesses in the manufacturing, sales, and distribution sectors before moving to education. Successful technology expenditures in well run businesses are commonly measured by their Return On Investment. Why is this same type of measure so often not applied in education? Of course, in education, the “return” should be measured first by improved learning outcomes, as opposed to financial gains, but the underlying concept is sound and it is essential to managing education expenditures well.

In the private education sector, there seems to be a higher tendency to apply best practices from the business world to management fundamentals such as those involving investments and expenditures, but it seems that in the public education sector, proven techniques from the business world are often overlooked or discarded. While we can all agree that it is important that education never take a back seat to profits, surely that doesn’t mean that educational institutions can’t leverage successful, sound management concepts.

Investments in technologies such as interactive white boards, student response systems, and lecture capture systems should be managed using commonly accepted practices known to help facilitate such efforts through to successful implementation and impactful results. These investments must be vetted, stakeholders must be bought in to the process, goals need to be clearly defined and communicated, training and support allocated for and provided, and so on.

Without these fundamentals in place, we’re throwing away tax dollars (or private school tuition fees), misdirecting teacher’s efforts, and wasting opportunities to position students for success. Enough already.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Education Technology – Don’t Lean On It, Leverage It!
8 Engaging Videos Advocating Better Integration of Technology in Education
5 Reasons Why Educators Need To Embrace Internet Technologies

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen Nicole Cardon September 7, 2010 at 12:12 am

You’ve hit on one of the key problems of educational technology here, which is the volume of available materials versus real time. Certainly, with unlimited time, I could peruse the companion websites for my textbooks and drill myself on the virtual flashcards regularly. However, realistically, I am a student, and my time is precious to me. No matter how high the “gee whiz” factor of classroom technology, I will likely not use it unless I must. It is simply impractical. I cannot spend time lazily exploring the educational possibilities of a class web page when I have invested in so many people and responsibilities. In the end, even when I have constant access to the endless wealth of online knowledge, I have time for only that which matters most to me–those technologies that are crucial to success in my classes.

However, when a teacher truly incorporates technology into the classroom and uses it properly, it can be an indispensable tool for me. The key is to make it a part of the class, not an afterthought.

K. Walsh June 27, 2010 at 7:16 am

Yes, absolutely – TCO is another traditional measurement to help businesses and organizations work to get the most out of investments, and understand which investments are most productive. Thanks for this excellent feedback Kristin! Education can surely benefit from application of these tools and techniques.

Kristin Zurovitch June 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Agreed. ROI as a measurement of the success of ed tech expenditures is a valuable measurement process frequently overlooked in the education sector – often due to the challenge of quantifying learning outcomes and other results. However a related measurement that tends to be bypassed before ed tech expenditures are even committed is total cost of ownership (TCO). Without calculating and tracking multi-year TCO (which includes not only the initial tech spend, but also implementation, training, staffing requirements, recurring license fees, ongoing support/maintenance, etc.), ROI will remain challenging. Actual, comprehensive expenditures need to be calculated as a companion to outcomes for an accurate ROI.

In a recent webinar (http://sofo.com/c6769), the University of Toledo shared how they incorporated TCO into their evaluation and decision process for selecting a lecture capture platform. Correlating their TCO to learning outcomes over time would be an interesting next step toward measuring ROI.

K. Walsh June 21, 2010 at 8:11 am

Thanks, Michael for these excellent supporting points. “Technology is not a substitute for good teaching. In the right hands, it is a phenomenal tool” – this really nails one of the primary reasons I have this site and write about education technology. And your final sentence, “This underscores the need for dialogue among all stakeholders in the educational process”, expresses one of the fundamental challenges in today’s educational institutions (as well as many business organizations).

Michael Leventhal June 18, 2010 at 11:57 am

Because technology can be so engaging to students, I see the potential for misuse and (even worse) abuse by those who do not fully appreciate its potential. Technology is not a substitute for good teaching. In the right hands, it is a phenomenal tool. Therefore, I applaud efforts, like yours, to help educators and parents understand what technology can and cannot do. Also remember that a great deal of technology is purchased by agents who have no contact with students in support of educational programs they know little about. This underscores the need for dialogue among all stakeholders in the educational process.

Michael Bolton June 17, 2010 at 12:31 am

I completely agree with you about the best practice from the business world and management fundamentals. I really think that this is because a very large majority of university academics and school teachers have only every known and worked in education. They have never worked in any other industry and have not see how these best practices and management fundamentals work. In business a good manager has generally got to that position because they are good at managing and generally trained to do so. At universities academics become mangers because they have a good publishing record. Teachers in school are promoted because that teacher works hard and people don’t dislike them.

Mark Rogge June 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

Many universities track their “success” with Lecture Capture Solutions (like Qumu’s) and have very consistently seen increases in grades, class attendance and other metrics. Many of those studies have been published and a simple internet search will provide you with more than you would probably want to read.

Hence from a Lecture Capture solution, there are very positive results on ROI.

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