3 Threats of Rapid Technology Change

Let’s play word association for a moment. When you read the word teacher, what’s the first image that pops in your head?

How about school?

What about technology?

For me, technology is all about change. (I know that’s not really quite right when you consider the relative nature of technology and all of its definitions, but this is word association, not a Socratic Seminar.)
And with that rate of change comes challenges for all users–challenges that range from those consumer-based to those ecological in nature.There is a downside to all this progress after all.

1. Proliferation

Device proliferation is a fancy way of saying that their are a lot of gadgets out there these days. So many devices from so many manufacturers that essentially do the same thing.

A lot of pencils, laptops, or Klondike bars are a good thing: thirty just slightly different tablets are not. This kind of proliferation puts tremendous strain on developer resources, district IT time, and educator mental energy. In addition there are brands within and across hardware and software, the two biggest in town being Android (Google) and iOs (Apple). Your Android (Gmail) email app may not work well with your fancy new Apple tablet, lacking notifications, badges, or even push functionality, while many of your Apple apps may not even be available on an Android tablet.

It’s one thing when projectors and smartboards start multiplying. A projector is a projector, and will likely work with almost any smartboard. But when more complex, more expensive pieces that are used directly by students begin to increase more in quantity than quality, issues can follow. Because consumer demand is so high, there are literally scores of desktop PCs, laptops, netbooks, iPads, smart televisions, smartphones–and now even ‘tweener phones that are either small tablets or big phones (Samsung calls theirs a “note”).

And they’re all built for the same purpose: to allow for the consumption and production of digital media.

2. Fragmentation

Fragmentation usually refers to different generations of software for the same operating system across devices. For example, your average Android phone may come with 2.2, 2.3, 3.0 or 4.0 of the Google mobile operating system. This is a challenge for everyone, from those who make purchasing decisions, to those who use the devices day in and day out. Imagine being an app developer and having to create programs that work (well) with not just one operating system, but sometimes up to a half-dozen, each completely customizable on by end users. (This, among others reasons, is why Apple limits such customization and fragmentation.)

3. Obsolescence

This threat is perhaps the most pernicious. While an issue for most products short of books and antiques, in the technology world obsolescence can not only cost money, but can threaten the quality of skill-building learners get with hands-on use. Whereas previous generations of technology had a habit of fending for themselves (e.g., typewriters, telephone, modern combustion engine), the modern technology industry has seemingly developed an odd desire to replace and cannibalize itself constantly. Giving users access to dated technology may be okay on a cognitive level, but presents several practical conflicts, including maintaining credibility with students.

Part of the issue at work is that mass market trends are bleeding over into the classroom more strongly than ever before. Stores and websites and operating systems and turtle-necked geniuses are peddling their wares to everyone at all times through social media and digital technology.

In Part 2 of this 3-part series, we’ll look at how this impacts education, and in part 3 we’ll identify steps you can take to mitigate this impact on your learning environment.

Images used under Creative Commons licensing terms.

1 Comment

  1. Jeffrey Hunt

    May 20, 2012 at 10:50 am

    The three biggest threats to technology in schools are “No,” “No,” and “No.”