Reflections on Instructional Technology and Media

Blame it on the software February 7, 2007


I find that as we adopt an increasing number of technology based solutions to address problems to support school or district based educational initiatives, when teachers are unhappy with the initiative itself, they often blame the technology solution as a proxy. For instance, in our district this year, we have begun Professional Learning Communities (PLC) in all of our schools. One of the concepts central to PLC is that teachers will create common assessments that are aligned to standards. In other words, all of the Alg 1 teachers in a school will get together to create a common assesssment and each item on the test will be matched to a standard in the NC Standard Course of Study.

Now stop and think about this for a moment, how may teachers so you know that match each item on a test with a standard? That is a very time consuming process and one that most teachers are not accostomed to doing. Why do this? The thought is that after students take the test, data can be collected about what students know against the standards thus informing teachers about how to focus their instruction.

Now, let’s add in a does of technology here. Remember that we want to collect and analyze data from these assessments? Doing it by hand would be painful, so our district decided to invest in a product, we went with Scantron’s Achievement Series, that will allow teachers to create an assessment, print out an answer sheet, administer the test, scan the answer sheets in, and then instantly have all of the results and a myriad of reports about the results. The beauty part of this is that the product will allow (not require) each item on the test to be aligned to a standard. What we have here is a product that is supporting a new initiative.

What do I hear from teachers? It takes too long to create a test in Achievement Series because  they have to align each item to a standard. Therefore the product is worthless and they don’t want to use it anymore. In reality, it is not the product that is the bottleneck here – it is the process of aligning the standard that takes so long. However, rather than completing that task before sitting down at the computer, most teachers are creating the test and aligning at the same time – no wonder it seems like it takes forever!

My task is now to go back and help teachers and administrators understand that it is not the technology – but the process and help them separate the two. This is a pretty difficult task! Sadly, it is not likely to be the last time I have to do this.


2 Responses to “Blame it on the software”

  1. Joe Poletti Says:

    We had a run similar to this 4 years ago. The concept of common routine formative assessments is terrific but the logistics in the current model of school proved to be overwhelming for us.

    The technology was the delivery system for the assessments, and the data could be manipulated in a variety of ways. We soon found that the on-line formative assessments were becoming our primary use of computers in labs and classrooms.

    So we regrouped. Formative assessments are critical, and they seem to be a common point of departure for PLCs. Try hard to push the conversation past this point.

  2. tweeks Says:

    We ran into that problem with our selection of assessment product last year – no one could do “instructional” technology because they were using the computers for assessment. That is why this year, the students take the assessment with paper/pencil and then scan in the tests – only the teacher interface is online.

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