The following is a guest post by Edward Davey, a History Teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist in Suburban Boston.

As schools prepare to open for the 2010-2011 school year, discussions inevitably turn to the new technologies available to educators. Teachers preparing for opening day, often learn of new equipment and software available for implementation. Too many times, technological products which hold the potential to revolutionize areas of teaching and learning prove to be helpful but do not overthrow old methods of teaching and learning.

The promise of dynamic change that comes with these products yields to the reality of smaller changes in what and how students learn. Without the skill or inspiration, some educators use the technology for convenience rather than innovation. The technology helps, student engagement increases, but not nearly enough as possible. Critics, sometimes correctly, argue that the purchases are not worth their cost. The results provide fodder for public discussion and debate.

Here are 4 things educators should consider when making technology decisions:

1. Ask new questions: The power of the new technology must be paired with new, more advanced thinking. In order to truly tap the power of the technology school systems need to change some of the questions they ask. Instead of trying to make what they do better, easier or faster, school systems must attempt to change what they do. Education systems must ask: How can the technology change what we try to accomplish? In short, those who wish to use technology to reform schools must begin to “ask different”.

2. Identify changes sought: While teachers must accept some of the responsibility for the lack of monumental shifts, the challenge to utilize technology in education must be met more systematically. School leadership can not purchase technology, install it in their school, provide a vendor sponsored two hour training after school one day and expect meaningful change. The effort to change must start with identifying the changes sought. Technology that critics claim is not worth the taxpayer dollars, because the results are not evident, can be worth the money and more.

3. Define specific academic goals and desired outcomes: School leadership must specifically define the academic goals and outcomes they want achieved. For instance, instead of stating that they want educators to use data to improve student performance, a school leader can require that teachers identify, with data, the growth students make over time on specific objectives, such as reading for understanding or accurately applying mathematical formulas. With these types of goals as requirements, a testing and data organizing system can be invaluable to the classroom teacher who accurately and comprehensively measures student progress. A projection system once used for lecture notes becomes a means for demonstrations and interactivity. Online reviews and tutorials can be developed to provide re-teaching and reinforcement.

4. Articulate a technology vision: In recent years, many school systems have created positions for Technology Directors (or one with a similar title) to expedite the infusion of technology in the classroom. But often what is missing (and as important), is a clearly articulated vision. These priorities must be comprehensively communicated. When done appropriately, the technology available to help realize the goals will prove more than worth the cost. Vendors who now demonstrate the impressive functions of new technology will instead attempt to communicate how their products contribute to meeting a system’s mission.

In many industries, new technology overthrows old paradigms. New products cause disruption or elimination in entire businesses; just look for a record store at any mall. In education, such comprehensive disruption does not take place. Does the reasoning for this exist in the technology available or in the school systems themselves?

School personnel need to stop asking, “What does the new technology do?” and start asking, “How can the technology help us educate differently?” With high quality technological tools, the answer to the latter is endless.

What do you think? What in your mind is the purpose of technology in education and how best should it be integrated into the classroom and system.

Photo credit: David Reece