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Shiny New Thing Syndrome

by Guest Blogger
expectations of use

Your district has the shiny new thing (SNT). You have received the training on SNT. The students and parents are aware of SNT. SNT is at every campus. Everyone can access SNT. Yet, after a few months, you feel that fewer and fewer users are using SNT. The analytics back up your feelings. No one is using SNT. What gives? Your district may be suffering from Shiny New Thing Syndrome (a.k.a. Magpie Syndrome).

Shiny New Thing, or Magpie, Syndrome

An irrational affinity for shiny objects. When a highly shiny object is seen by the sufferer it often may induce a compulsive need to claim it and several minutes of staring at said object in the sun. This will later end in the sufferer pocketing the object to add to his/her collection by a sunny windowsill at home. If a shiny object is outside of a sufferer’s grasp it will usually result in an strong, though usually short-lived obsession over it (source: Urban Dictionary).

Ready to overcome magpie syndrome? While this blog entry isn’t a medical journal with a prescription for your diagnosis, it does offer some suggestions. Every district that purchases equipment has an associated expectation of use. Buy a new copy machine, you expect people to make copies. Stock new books in the library, you hope people will read them.  Same for textbooks, football uniforms, desks, and anything else. In fact, it would be unusual to not have an expectation of use.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

For ed tech, there seems to be a different dynamic in play. Walk into a school across the country with a 1:1 program and you won’t see what you expect. Instead of school-provided equipment in use, staff and students rely on alternatives. What other organization allows that kind of mindset? That is, the option to use what is best for the user. Forget about using what the organization has purchased for them to use. Picture a UPS driver. Instead of using the brown delivery van, he decides to use his 1985 Dodge Caravan. Why? The driver decided his Caravan worked better than the UPS van. Why? He is more familiar with the former than the latter.

What should minimal expectation for technology be? The logical thought might be  that students should bring their devices to class every day, but this is not the rule in many districts.

“How often are you expected to use your district laptop?” I asked a high school student. Her response was, “Our teachers told us we could use our smartphones if we wanted to.” Expectation of use = 0. An assistant principal I spoke with underscored this point. “[They] do all their work on smartphones, so we don’t ask them to bring their laptops to class if they don’t want to,” she said. This shows that expectations for use have not been clearly articulated by the district leadership.

Articulating Expectations

Some districts fail the test of outlining expectations. They are unable to articulate their expectations of use for educational technology devices. Some excel, such as Wichita Falls ISD.

Wichita Falls ISD has a written expectation of use. District documents sayswhat should happen with classroom technology. Teachers and administrators know what they must do with classroom technology. “Teachers should support the district’s mission and vision,” says the district’s mission.

Connect Professional Development to Expectations

When ed tech is not used, we sometimes think that more professional development may work. Instead, make the effort to align professional development to the district expectations. Only then can the investment in the shiny new thing be worthwhile.

“There’s nothing transformative about every kid having a technology unless you’re able to reach higher-order teaching and learning. If schools take all this technology and use it like a textbook, or just have teachers show PowerPoint [presentations] or use drill-and-kill software, they might as well not even have it,” says Leslie Wilson from the 1:1 Institute. Schools can purchase the latest best set of technology tools anywhere or the cheapest lowest end ones, but if there is no expectation that the tools will be used in the classroom for learning, it doesn’t matter.

Each campus must set a high expectation of use, using the tools for much more than simple electronic replacement for pen and paper assignments. Otherwise, we are just throwing our money away.

About the Author

Tim Holt is the Director of Technology Pilots and Innovation in the El Paso ISD. He is a 33 year educator and has help lead many innovative technology programs, including a 38,000 1:1 Macbook program, an OER digital textbook program, and various instructional technology training initiatives. You can contact him at [email protected], @timholt2007, or read his blog at holtthink.tumblr.com

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