Turnover as Barriers to Implementing Technologies in Classrooms
by M. O. Thirunarayanan - October 28, 2015
A number of changes, shifts, or 'turnovers' are responsible for the lack of sustained use of tools of technology in classrooms. The commentary identifies various turnovers that have an impact on the productive use of technology in schools.
Turnover is one of the main reasons for technology not being implemented on a wider scale and more consistent basis in across American classrooms. The term turnover refers not just to changes in technology, but other kinds of shifts involving people as well. This turnover is responsible for millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on technology tools by elementary, middle, and high schools across the country. Technology is bought and forgotten well before the investment on them starts paying returns in terms of higher quality teaching and improved student learning. Moreover, this turnover is also a huge barrier to the sustained and productive implementation of technology in the classroom.
Turnover in Software and Hardware
Technology constantly changes at an increasingly rapid pace. New software and hardware emerges before educators become familiar and comfortable with, and adept at using, current versions of existing products. Software is upgraded frequently, requiring additional training and time, thus making it difficult for teachers to continue using it without learning different interfaces of newer software that they have used in the past. Teachers often have to learn the interfaces and features on their own time, without much support from technology vendors or their school districts. The same is true in the case of hardware, with new tools emerging constantly, making it difficult for even the tech savvy to keep pace. This also requires additional valuable teacher time during the day that they cannot spare.
Turnover of Hype
Almost every new tech product is accompanied by hype. This hype is responsible for selling millions of tech products to schools. Overburdened administrators make quick and often uninformed decisions to buy without asking questions about research that ideally supports the use of these products in their classrooms. When a new feature is introduced, more hype trumpets its learning potential. Turnover in hype is responsible for substantial amounts of taxpayer money being spent on unproven technology tools. The use of older tech tools inevitably gives way to the use of the newly hyped tools. This is often done in the guise of being at the cutting edge. The continued purchase of these new products is good public relations for promoting the school to parents and other stakeholders.
Teacher turnover also has an impact on the continuity and consistency of technology use. When a teacher is assigned a different grade, she normally has to move to another classroom. The technology that teacher was using in the previous classroom, especially items that are fixed, stay behind. Wall mounted interactive white boards and ceiling mounted projection devices are examples of technology that cannot be moved without spending substantial funds. Another teacher who moves into the old classroom with the installed technology already in place may not necessarily be trained in using these tools. In these cases, teacher turnover negatively impacts the consistent use of technology from year to year. Teachers moving from one grade level, and classroom, to another every year leave behind the tools they once used on a regular basis.
Administrative change also exacts a toll on technology use. A new principal may have different priorities. Technology use may not be of importance. She may instead wish to focus on other things, such as improving test scores, repairing crumbling infrastructure, cutting costs, etc. The same is true of superintendents, and other district level administrators. Changes at different levels of the administrative hierarchy and corresponding changes in pedagogical priorities could adversely impact technology use by teachers.
Turnover in Technology Acquisition Keeping Up With the Trend
Advances in technology also affect their acquisition, maintenance and use. As new technologies emerge, a few early adopter schools often jump on the bandwagon, purchase these tools and discard currently installed technologies although there may not be proven research regarding their efficacy in the classroom. Other schools who do not wish to be left behind, correspondingly buy new technology to keep pace with this emerging trend. Another reason why schools spend money on technology is the fear that future budgetary funding will be jeopardized if currently allocated funds are not spent. Technology comes and goes, and schools keep spending on new tools. This constant technological turnover minimizes the impact that currently used tools could have in the classrooms.
Many students often use technology at home even before they are enrolled in schools. Even after they are in school, the technology they use at home continues to change. As these technologies change, so do student preferences. Tools they recently started using become things of the past as students start preferring newer tools that are currently popular among their peers. Because student preference and usage changes, well-resourced schools also change the tools they use in attempts to maintain student interests. But such turnover is never ending. Trying to keep pace with the turnover in student interests and preferences is bound to be a losing cause.
I have a pet theory that many large schools have a technology graveyard where older and sparingly used technology is stored. Perhaps a custodial staff member who has been employed at the school for many years will know the secret of the graveyard. Maybe there is some way educators can rescue older technology that has been dismissed as being dead, resuscitate those that are still usable, and start using them to educate students.