This one idea will make you an instant EdTech genius

Nov. 24, 2015    |    Hal Friedlander

Ok I am about to reveal the most shocking edtech idea you have ever read and yes this one idea will make you an instant edtech genius. You will astound your friends and colleagues.

Before I reveal this one shocking idea, I need you to go do something and then comeback. I know this breaks all the rules by sending you away but hey no risk no reward. Click this link, read the intro and then click your browsers’ back button. Ok I want to double down. Try this link and look around and then click back. Ok I’m going for blackjack. Now try this link. Look at the first few search results and click back

I know you didn’t click. It doesn’t matter since you’re still reading.

I’ll sum it up for you. Even though there are insanely easy ways for people to use both Google and 365, much of the chatter is about picking one. Now at places where 365 and Google cost money, I can understand the dilemma. From a schools context where both Google and 365 are free (at least for kids and teachers) why would we want to limit the available tools? Now every time I mention this option some people go berserk. My question to them is why would we impose limits on the use of technology in schools when different software and devices can be pretty easily combined to solve so many specific and complex problems? When each classroom is made complex by uniquely complicated kids, why not take advantage of the potentially endless combinations technology offers?

How often would you go to a pizza place that offered only one topping?

Have you heard the expression, “If all you have is a hammer everything is a nail”? It’s funny right? Funny and reveals total hardware ignorance. We all know that there are many types of hammers. Framing hammers, sledge hammers, ball-peen hammers to name a few. If there is significant specialization of hammers then why would we expect or even want limited choices in technology? I can hear the IT crew yelling about support and training and cost. My fellow propeller heads, that’s a bad reason not to leverage the best that technology has to offer. Remember we all got into tech because it solved problems. Let’s try to hold on to that feeling.

So speaking of hammers, have you been in a Home Depot lately? Ok forget hammers, have you been in one of those giant suburban supermarkets? Wow that’s a lot of choice. For me these places totally break any of those ideas about being overwhelmed by choice. People thrive in places where there is a ton of choice. People are choice machines, choice animals. Anyone who thinks otherwise clearly disagrees with me and in doing so proves my point. Thank you very much.

I am almost ready to reveal the most shocking edtech idea ever. Just to finish up on the supermarket theme here is a thought. How about putting a clock on those tooth paste bottles so you can make sure you are brushing your teeth long enough? Or how about a dial-your-own toothpaste bottle. That way each family member can pick their own color or flavor? How come there isn’t a website for custom flavored toothpaste? I just looked for one. No dice. My guess for why these things don’t exist is that people really don’t mind having a few different toothpastes in the medicine cabinet. Same is true for technology. People don’t mind having different apps for different things and different people will pick different apps to solve similar problems. No one really wants a single toothpaste bottle with 10 different flavors. And no one really wants to spend time choosing a custom toothpaste flavor. No one really wants one app that does everything. And they don’t want an app with endless customization.

Ok before I reveal the most shocking edtech idea you have ever read, I want to review my points above which I am now worried may have been too minty. First there are many simple technical ways to have different types of software and devices work together. Even the deadly foes Microsoft and Google seem ready to cooperate. The second point is that people like choices and can thrive in complex environments where there is clearly more choice than can be seemingly comprehended. Third the IT departments really want to help. They really do. They are grumpy but sincere. The fourth point is simply that the world is a complicated place with complicated problems. Trying to solve those problems with one kind of hammer is just plain silly. Adding a clock to that hammer is equally silly.

Technology doesn’t make life easier or simpler. Technology doesn’t improve old stuff or old ways of doing things. It replaces old stuff and ways with more complicated new stuff and ways. I could make a huge list of examples but I’ll control myself and just mention one. You are spending time reading this post. You probably read a lot of other online stuff. Before the internet all this stuff wasn’t available. Now you spend hours every week online. Where is this time coming from? Are days longer than they were in 1995? Or do we just pack a lot more into our days? Is technology to blame? Or is life getting more complicated and technology just reflects it?

From my perspective life is always getting more complex and so we always need more tools to help manage that complexity. We are not in a world that’s getting simpler. Education, along for the ride, is also becoming more and more complex. Education needs more tools to manage that complexity. Of course in most classrooms I would recommend technology over hammers.

So here is the most shocking edtech idea you have ever read. Get ready. Brace yourself. Maybe check the emergency exits.

When it comes to technology in schools, more is better. More tools are needed to address all the unique problems out there. We shouldn’t try to keep some technology out. It’s not about picking the best. It’s about offering choice. We should try to bring more in. Technology in schools shouldn’t be thought of as a Swiss army knife or a tool box. What we really need is more like a Home Depot or a Kroger.

That’s it, really a pretty simple idea after all.

Yes things need to work together. So I’m looking for ideas that combine technology in new helpful ways. Anyone have any suggestions?

Hal Friedlander, CIO NYC DOE

More about hammers for those who dare.