More Now: Robust Infrastructure
This is an excerpt from the sixth chapter of More Now: A Message From The Future for The Educators of Today by Mark Wagner, Ph.D., our founder and CEO. These philosophies have inspired his work, and ours at EdTechTeam, for years. Get your copy today.
Robust Infrastructure is the technology, networks, hardware, and other resources (including policy) that make deeper experiences possible without detracting from the learning.
Just as inspiring spaces shape and support a school’s culture, a robust infrastructure supports the learning that happens in the school. Technology and the infrastructure that enables it—from the devices to the networks to the cloud—are vital to modern education. But it’s something that few educators ponder on a daily basis unless something isn’t working in their classrooms or schools. And to some extent, that’s okay. If the job of technology is to support learning, it should seamlessly support instruction. Teachers should not have to think about whether the internet is going to work in their classroom or wonder if the computer or program they want to use will start on command. Nor should an educator have to spend time logging in, putting a password in the filter, calling the IT technician, or fiddling with the projector. When those things happen during instructional time, technology becomes a distraction (just like that pencil sharpener grinding in the background). Students and teachers should be able to open their devices and get to work—without “technical difficulties.” The only thing teachers should have to think or wonder about concerning technology is how to use it to amplify their lessons, make learning experiences meaningful, and make student thinking visible. The technology itself should simply work, and that doesn’t happen by accident.
All too often, the infrastructure and the people who are responsible for it act as barriers to the learning that should be happening in the school. It’s not like they’re stealing textbooks out of kids’ hands, but they sometimes make it harder for students to access and use the most important resources and tools. Case in point:
A few years ago, EdTechTeam donated a class set of Chromebooks to a middle school where a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio wasn’t yet a reality. After a great deal of resistance from the district’s IT department, they finally agreed that the teacher and students could use the Chromebooks—but not for Google Docs! This was a largely (but by no means entirely) Windows-based district and the blatant obstructionism was driven by fear and a territorial response rather than what was best for the students in the classroom. Eventually, with additional pressure from the teacher and school leaders, the IT department relented. But even then, the hoops they made the teacher jump through (for student usernames and for Wi-Fi access) were unnecessary obstacles to learning on a daily basis. This sort of scenario is still surprisingly common in schools.
To be fair, I have seen and can empathize with both sides of these conflicts. I understand why IT departments want to standardize and scale their operations on a limited budget. I also know many IT professionals who work heroically to make technology seamless and reliable for students. Some heroic technology directors, like Mark Garrison and Jennie Magiera, even appear in this book.
Technical support personnel must prioritize the needs of students. They must also be willing to consider the needs, skills, and abilities of the educators they are serving because when you make changes without thinking, progress can feel like a step backward. Just before I took a position as a district level education technology coordinator at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (in 2004), the district applied for and received a grant to put 1,200 handheld devices (Palm Pilots) into the hands of middle schoolers. The idea was that having students use these devices in their language arts and social studies classes would allow teachers to measure and show growth as the students wrote on the devices. But when administrators applied for the grant, they gave little thought to the teachers who were going to be involved.
When I came on board, part of my job was to roll out the implementation of these handhelds. In the two schools where the grant was implemented, the most resistant and least tech-savvy teachers happened to be in the language arts and social studies departments. Regardless of the goals of the grant, these were the wrong people for an early 1:1 pilot. My biggest takeaway from this project was realizing how little thought was given to the individuals involved. Many of them were nearing retirement and wanted nothing to do with the program. One woman, in particular, happened to have only one hand—and the devices had a stylus requiring two-handed use. There was no consideration given to the fact that she was one of the language arts teachers identified for the focus of the grant. She felt unseen (and insulted) and wanted nothing to do with the devices.
When it comes to integrating technology into education, teachers may not share the same vision for learning as their leaders; they may not even know what the vision is. Not everyone understands how to use technology in ways that move education forward. Fearful parents and stretched IT coordinators fight one-to-one devices or internet access. Furthermore, antiquated programs and infrastructure can’t keep pace with current technology and learning demands. Funding, policies and people can make it challenging to integrate technology in schools. That’s where a clear vision, a well-developed plan, and good communication come into play.
Mark Wagner is a former high school English teacher that has since served as educational technology coordinator at the site, district, and county levels. He is now President and CEO of the EdTechTeam, a global network of educational technologists that provide professional development and consulting services to learning institutions, nonprofits, and for-profit education companies. The EdTechTeam is a California Benefit Corporation with a mission to improve the world’s education systems using the best technology and pedagogy available and aims to inspire and empower other educators to do the same. Wagner earned a Ph.D. in Educational Technology with doctoral research focused on video game use in education, specifically massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) as constructive learning environments. He also holds a master’s degree in cross-cultural education. Outside of work, Wagner plays hockey, practices martial arts, and obsesses over his ’62 Beetle. He enjoys songwriting, nature, and exploring the world. He lives in Irvine, California with his wife, Eva, and boys, Clark and Finn. Naturally, he’s a U2 fan.