Ready, Fire, Aim is not the way to buy computers

I have to admit that from time to time I like to toss an observation or a question out on Twitter and see what sort of response I get. last night I noticed that a teacher was looking for software to teach computer science on Macs. This struck me as odd. After all for most of my 35 years in the computer field I looked for software to solve my problems and then looked for computers that ran the software. This was the other way around. Unfortunately I see/hear of this often. So the question I sent out on Twitter was “why do schools buy computers first, software second, and figure out how to use them third?” And I received a number of answers and a large (for me) number of retweets (people passing the question on to their followers. Some of the comments are below. Some pessimistic views were expressed.

  • seankalahar@alfredtwo and it isn't just schools...

  • seankalahar@alfredtwo because schools are not where the real intelligent people money in it! capitalism!

  • BeckyFisher73@alfredtwo Uh, because that's what we have always done?

  • scottlum@alfredtwo Absolutely, they sometimes promote technology for technology sake. From danah boyd:

  • kstevens77@alfredtwo b/c to schools spending money means progress. that's why fed gov cant properly fix edu. they just throw money

  • jonbecker@alfredtwo it's also due to the horserace mentality that exists in education; gotta keep up with the others and they have lots of computers!

  • kathweaverRT @alfredtwo: why do schools buy computers first, software second, and figure out how to use them third? -> Sounds like our new attend sys

  • jonbecker@alfredtwo I call it the Field of Dreams mentality "If you build it [tech. infrastructure] they will come..."

  • rverzub@alfredtwo Yeah I've always felt if you don't know how to use the software don't buy it - figure it out, then consider purchase...

For some I think computers are seen as a sort of “silver bullet” that cures things. They don’t know how computers will cure things but they believe they will. Just spend the money and install the computers and magic will happen. The problem with silver bullets though is that they need the right firearm to use them. That is the missing piece. Bullets work as part of a system. The right surrounding hardware and a well trained person to use it all. So if you have a computer but no one trained to use it, no software system to run on it, not support to keep it going, and not plan for how to use it then it becomes useless.

That’s the problem with all “silver bullet” solutions though. The Gates Foundation is spending large sums to find out what makes the best teachers be the best teachers. Great idea. But if those teachers don’t have the right system to work in much of their value will be lost. I like this quote by Dean Kamen on Education " I’m not so sure the problem is our education system. It’s the rest of our culture." Culture has a lot to do with how schools work. No teacher or computer or textbook or what not can truly work outside of a culture that values learning and knowledge. Maybe we need to fix the “pistol” before we go looking to load up with “silver bullets?”

Comments (1)

  1. Tim I. says:

    For most school districts, the teacher doesn’t have the luxury of choice.  The district or school buys the computers without regard to how they are intended to be used.  They buy computers because they are expected to have computers, not because of their utility.  It is then up to the teacher to figure out how to make use of them.  Is this an ideal situation?  Definitely not, but schools that actually listen to the teachers’ needs are few and far between.  Pessimistic? Probably. Realistic? Certainly.  

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