Everybody loves a list, or so I’ve heard. Most are happy, top of the charts list. Slipping into my devil’s advocate outfit for a bit, I would like to take the opposite route today and give you my Bottom 5 list of educational technologies. All of these, incidentally, are extremely popular and have made their respective companies more money than some countries. For each, however, I would assert that there are better, wiser, or less expensive alternatives. The list:
5. Microsoft Office. I really do consider myself an Office fan, at least for my own, personal use. I love the bells and the whistles and all that comes with Office. However, the question needs to be asked, “Do our teachers and students need all of those bells and whistles at that price?” Office licenses can cost schools and districts easily tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for each new adoption. Free alternatives such as Open Office or Libre Office get more Office-like with each new release. Google Apps for Education, also free, has significantly fewer features, but the core tools are there, it can be accessed anywhere a computer meets an internet connection, and it is a collaboration godsend. The more we look at how our teachers and students use these productivity apps, the harder it is to justify the expense of full-blown Office. (Note: I understand that moving to a free alternative incurs some initial costs, particularly related to professional development on the new tools. Long-term, though, it pales by comparison.)
4.Desktop Computers. In the past, desktops were the most common and attractive classroom computer option. This was largely due to the very significant expense associated with laptops. Today, however, there are very affordable laptop and tablet devices all over the market. Not only do thse give students and teachers largely the same capabilities, they can move with the student. This promotes a modern learning environment, where students can engage in projects and problem solving in flexible arrangements that are determined by the demands of the task, not the location of the desk/table. They are also much easier to take home in a backpack.
3. Document Cameras. I know teachers whose document cameras are easily the most cherished piece of technology they’ve ever had. Many of them say the cameras, teamed with their digital projectors, of course, have revolutionized the way they teach. I could get into the generally VERY teacher-centric practices I’ve witnessed involving teaching with document cameras, and probably should. However, I’ll just offer for now that there are better alternatives that accomplish the same things and much more. A teacher equipped with an iPad, display software such as Reflector, and an iPad display stand, such as a Juststand, can use their device as a document camera. They can easily record, show websites, display apps, and more. And, of course, they can disconnect the iPad from the stand and take it across the campus, out of the building, or place it into a student’s hands. All of this is possible at a price generally less than most document cameras models out there.
2. Interactive Whiteboards. IWB critics are not hard to find. One of the most vocal, Gary Stager, famously describes IWBs as “a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices.” He criticized the boards for their support of a teacher-focused teaching style and IWB curriculum that centers “on low-level repetition, memorization, and discrete skills devoid of any meaningful content.” His main argument, though, and the one that I have come to appreciate most, is that these devices are insanely pricy and take away dollars that could (and should) be used in a way that directly benefits students, such as the purchase of student laptops. When we focus on student needs over teacher needs (wants, in this case), IWBs cannot be the choice.
1. Student Response Systems. Perhaps no other device offers as little power and educational value for the dollar as the student response system, or “clicker”. Clickers save teachers from the arduous, tedious tasks of counting raised hands or actually listening to student thoughts and responses. They provide detailed insights into almost exclusively superficial questions and low-level understanding. Meanwhile, they set back campuses thousands of dollars per classroom set. As alternatives, schools might consider investing in tablets such as iPads and feedback apps like Socrative, Nearpod, even the Forms tool in Google Drive. They’d be able to get the outcomes they wanted from the clickers but also have the potential to use the devices for endless, more powerful applications. Of course, feedback could come via direct observation or conversations with students, but that’s probably just crazy talk.
What are your thoughts? Am I way off? Are there other technologies that deserve less respect and less money?