I am not an early adopter.
I used to be cutting edge. I’d download and install beta software. I would pine for the latest gadgets. I was firmly in the camp that believed in the latest AND greatest. Newer is always better. That’s what we mean by “progress.”
But the new thing almost always has a dark side. The new version of Microsoft Office has no new features that you actually care about, but you have to upgrade so people stop complaining that you’re running a ten-year-old program. So you upgrade, knowing full well that you have to double the system resources needed to do the same things you’ve always done. Next month, we’re killing Windows XP in our district. It’s not that XP doesn’t do what we need. It’s not even that XP is hopelessly insecure or unreliable. The problem is that we need to have a limit on the number of configurations we support at a time, and we can’t start getting ready for Windows 10 until we stop using XP and can deprecate the eight servers we currently have supporting it.
Sometimes “new” can be very bad. When iOS 8 was released last fall, hundreds of iPads in our district got notices that there was a new, fancy, pretty software update. Some of our users updated and immediately found that they couldn’t use some of their apps, they couldn’t access the wireless network, and they couldn’t go back to the version they had before. The 8.0.1 update released a week later made things worse, and both 8.2 and 8.3 subsequently introduced new problems.
This spring, we have been evaluating Chromebooks. They’ve been around for a few years, and most of the initial problems with them have been worked out. We looked at all of the available models, and identified five that we wanted to evaluate. We bought three of each in mid-February, and went through a fairly extensive evaluation process, where each sixth grade teacher tried each Chromebook model for a week while we also solicited feedback from administrators, parents, and students. Midway through the process, we found that one of them had been completely redesigned. So we bought the new model. By the time we were ready to get quotes for a purchase, we found that all of the devices we had been evaluating were discontinued. In at least two cases, the replacements had slower processors and shorter battery life. Sometimes “better” means “more profitable.”
Technology makes amazing things possible. I really do believe that we can leverage technology to meet the individual needs of each learner, and to provide a relevant curriculum that fosters innovation, problem solving, communication skills, and collaboration. I am confident that technology can make school relevant again, and that it’s probably our only hope for saving public education.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to jump on the latest bandwagon or gulp down the snake oil. We have to be careful, methodical, and measured. We just have to do all of that very quickly, because an upgrade is coming.
Image credit: Famartin on Wikimedia Commons.