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Which Comes First, Curriculum or Technology?

by Dr. Bruce Ellis
balance scales with curriculum and technology

As I work with leaders (technology directors, curriculum directors, and administrators) around the state, I find it interesting to hear their answer to the question, “Which comes first, the curriculum or the technology?” Sometimes the answer I get is a reflection of the role they play. Sometimes I’m likely to get someone trying to straddle the fence and give a non-committal answer. More interesting than the actual answer (“curriculum” or “technology”) are the reasons that are shared to justify the positions. So, which do you think comes first: the curriculum or the technology?…and why?

When the Technology Comes First

There is no argument that a robust infrastructure is a necessity for today’s work. With everything and everyone needing to do something online as part of their job duties, bandwidth is always a growing need. But, for our argument, let’s consider that infrastructure is a given. What happens when all the other technology comes before curriculum?

Technology plans are made, many times in isolation of the curriculum department, so that quotas are met, refresh cycles can continue, and a better student-to-computer (or student-to-device) ratio can be touted. In and of themselves, these are not bad. But, in light of relevant student use, administrators may be frustrated to find that these processes lead to distributing dust collectors – expensive dust collectors – that are proudly put out of sight by meaningful educators who have either not been trained in their use or see no value in the learning curve that may need to be invested to make use of the technology.

I can count too many districts that have made aggressive efforts to increase their technology without considering curriculum goals and outcomes; many times making use of bond funds specifically designated for technology. “Designated for technology” shouldn’t mean “divorced from the curriculum.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that technology isn’t important. But it should be identified after the curriculum goals and outcomes have been clarified.

When Curriculum Comes First

Curriculum directors and administrators need to have discussions to determine what the outcomes of the curriculum should be. I’m not talking about stats for the district improvement plan or the latest stakeholder newsletter. I’m talking about what it should, or could, look like for students to demonstrate mastery. When we take the time to identify those possibilities and think about how students may have to demonstrate mastery (communicate, produce, collaborate, etc.) as working adults, it becomes very easy to identify which technologies should follow these outcomes.

Identifying the curriculum outcomes also provides a framework as to what professional development should look like. We are quick to demand more than just “seat work” from students, but don’t carry those same expectations to teachers. This dichotomy hinders our teachers’ growth and reinforces the notion to other teachers that technology is “just a fad” or is unimportant.

A Close Second

When I say that curriculum should come first, I should probably follow that up by saying that relevant technology should be a very close second. When district leaders, specifically technology and curriculum directors, work together, a more robust curriculum and relevant technology integration is likely to occur. This can be easily seen in districts where the technology director and curriculum director are having continuous robust discussions and planning how to best utilize their budgets, including IMA funds.

So where do you stand? Which do you think should come first, the curriculum or the technology? And, more importantly, are you able to justify your position in a way that promotes student learning and prepares them for their future?

If you would like to know more about how we structure authentic training that emphasizes curriculum over the technology or details on having TCEA provide professional development in your district or at your campus, contact me at bellis@tcea.org. I’d love to talk with you and discuss how we can create amazement with your teachers and/or staff.


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