Why Some Technology Initiatives Transform Learning Environments and Others Don’t

As I look at the growing number of BYOD and other 1-to-1 school initiatives, it is tempting to focus upon the physical hardware, the software, or apps.  When you interview people about how these initiatives are going, you get a variety of responses.  It is not uncommon to find one teacher in a school praise the effort and the one next door describe it as a “nightmare.”  How can this be?  The answer to that question is what I consider among the most critical and exciting parts of these initiatives.  It can also be the most saddening.  These initiatives, when driven broadly and simply by a goal of being more high-tech or staying up with the times, are not especially impactful.  The reason for this is because the most powerful, effective and engaging learning environments are not driven by technology but by a compelling and shared vision for teaching and learning.

  • Perhaps the vision is to create truly individualized, customized, and differentiated learning that helps every student thrive.
  • It might be a vision for self-directed or project-based learning where students discover the value of depth over breadth in their studies.
  • It might be a vision for highly collaborative and connected learning, where groups of learners use traditional and emerging digital tools to explore critical issues, solve real-world problems, and discover answers to compelling questions.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Vision gives life to learning organizations and the design of high-impact schools and classrooms.  Technology has a valuable, even a powerful role to play, but technology itself is not a worthwhile vision (as argued in Neil Postman’s Technopoly).  I contend that there is a need to persistently pose and collectively answer (and re-answer) the following question. “What is our clear and compelling vision for learning environments?” This can jump-start educational innovation that has promise to transform otherwise mundane classrooms into vibrant digital age learning communities.