Monday, May 31, 2010

Accounting for the billion - G20 or Alberta Education

Last week I found a copy of Using Technology to Support Real Learning First in Alberta Schools via Joe Bower's blog. I see other Saskatoon bloggers like Tim Comfort are blogging about it, too. I think the report looks at the problem through one specific lens, but is generally an interesting read. On page 5, it lays out Somekh's technology senarios as a framework for understanding technology uses in schools.
  • Scenario 1: Policymakers at empt to “shoehorn” technology into the existing regulatory framework governing curriculum and assessment, thereby augmenting the government’s bureaucratic, centralized control over schools.
  • Scenario 2: Policymakers and educators acknowledge that infusing technology into schools is a complex and uncertain process. To encourage innovation and research at the school level, they relax controls and accountability mechanisms.
  • Scenario 3: Schools deploy technology as a way of reconceptualizing the curriculum. For example, teachers may use technology to help students understand how their community fits into the global context and what it means to be a responsible citizen.
  • Scenario 4: Policymakers undertake a series of initiatives to integrate technology into schools, all of which fail. In the end, the teaching–learning process largely reverts to what it was before.

The report argues that Alberta has taken a largely Senario 1 approach. I contend that Saskatchewan would also fall into that category, in that choices outlined on page 8 are virtually identical in Saskatchewan although there is less funding to support them. The remainder of the report argues that Alberta needs to move towards Senarios 2 and 3, and that provicial accountability measures get in the way of that.
According to the report, Alberta $1.5 billion on technology in last 15 years (that's enough to fund a whole second G20 summit). Like the Summit, which has a million a minute price tag for the leaders meeting, it is unclear what great gains are being made for the dollars invested. The loaded language of the report places Alberta technology spending in the same category as G 20 security - way too much money for the difference in makes in real terms.
I think the issue rests with a lack of alingnment about what we are trying to do. If the focus is efficency and augmenting trantional education with additional but similar options, Alberta has done what it has intended. If the goal is using technology to transform student learning, Alberta's investment would be the subject of a scathing report by the Auditor General. Mind you, so would the technology practices in most schools throughout the continent.
If our goal is to use schools to prepare students for a knowldge economy and to be 21st Century citizens, we need to change how we teach, not just add Smartboards. If our goal is prosumers of learnign instead on consumers, then we need to also change how schools are structured. Both of these are massive changes that are virtually imposible to create centrally, and require massive investments beyond infastructure.
Ultimately we need to ask ourselves why we are spending the money in the first place. If the latest G-20 yields what other meetings have, the million a minute price tag is indulgent, offensive and wrong. But if it were actually to yield say lasting environmental change (yes, I know it won't) the price tag is a spectacular investment.  So the question is, what is the goal? Safety and efficency or a changing world?
Once we have the goal in place and everyone actually agrees it is the goal, technology to support learning becomes possible. Before that, it can never move beyond what it is now. A report like this comes out and we bloggers champion the need for change. That's not enough. We need agreement from all parties to actually move forward.


  1. Wendy,

    I really appreciate the way you write. Your passion, knowledge and skill as a writer are evident. Must have been an English teacher! I especially appreciate the smart board reference. I would love one but they are not in themselves transformative.

  2. You have outed me - I was teaching both English and Drama last year. Explains the writing.

    Smartboards are a tough issue for me. Lots of teachers want them because they really do make drill and practice more interesting. The problem is, we want to do less drill and practice. I have been trying to find examples of use of Smartboards that actually is transformative. Hopefully I will see some soon.

  3. On the other hand, you recently had a long comment from Brad on here that was insightful and well written. And he's a physicist!