Friday, March 12, 2010

Automating vs. Informating

I'm reading Alan November's new edition of Empowering Students with Technology and the first things that jump out at me are his comments about two very different approaches to the use of technology. These were observed during research by Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business School professor, as far back as 1988, and November claims that they may offer a " possible explanation for why technology has not transformed education ."

The term automating refers to the more common use of technology as an add-on to existing processes and procedures without changing any of the work, locus of control, calendars and schedules, and relationships. In other words, November asserts that, "The same processes solve the same problems." While this may lead to some noticeable improvements, the quality of the work over time can actually decline. November points to General Motors as an example of the latter.

Informating , while harder to implement leads to higher levels of improvement. It uses the same technology but shifts control and empowers people with information and the responsibility to use it to solve problems. Timely access to information through technology is key to informating . November illustrates this through parent and student access to grades every day, student access to content information whenever and wherever they choose, and teacher access to research and technologies outside of scheduled professional development and conferences. This timely access leads to a shift in responsibility for self-learning and engagement. Informatingcomes with a downside: it's less organized and can be messy. But the transformation to a higher level of quality and new services far outweighs any traditional loss of control.

Improving education with technology requires a transformation from automating to informating that only comes, according to November , with a powerful vision and "thoughtful and creative teachers challenging students to go beyond traditional expectations of achievement." Simply bolting an expensive computing device to the top of a desk to serve as a "$1,000 pencil" will not achieve this vision.

Here's four questions posed by November that must drive every curriculum and instruction decision we make to ensure we move forward towards informating learning :

  • What information do you need to improve your work?
  • What new relationships can improve learning?
  • What authentic relationships can you imagine for your students and educators?
  • What technology do you want to help accomplish all of this?

We have spent a great deal of time automating ever since the first Apple computers graced our classrooms and labs. To take our schools and our students into the 21 st century, it's time to start informating in all processes, but especially in teaching and learning.