Here's a scenario I have encountered more than a few times.
Officials at a ministry of education in ___ tell me that:They've bought lots of computers.
They've put computer labs in their schools.
They've connected (most of) their schools.
Lots of their teachers have (inexpensive) laptops.
Now their students are getting tablets.
Along the way, they've been teaching basic computer literacy.
Which leads them to ask:
Now what should we do?
(In my experience, this query may be a result of an evaluation that showed little or no 'impact of technology on student learning’, despite massive amounts of money that have been invested … or it may simply come about because a lot of initiatives are coming to an end and the groups involved in them are looking for stuff to do. There are other impetuses as well, but I am regularly reminded that the motivations which animate this sort of question can vary quite a bit!)
In such instances, I usually respond by first congratulating them on all of these great accomplishments. A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people was needed to make these things happen, and no doubt lots of difficult challenges popped up along the way.
As difficult (and expensive) as it may have been to achieve all of these things, in many ways they represent just table settings, and not the main course. In other words (and to adopt another metaphor, in case you didn't like that last one), they are some of the key raw materials that can be used to help do something purposeful with technology to supports learning that has real, demonstrable impact.
It's about the content, not the container, after all. (That will be the last metaphor for a while, I promise.) As devices proliferate, and as better and more widespread connectivity enables connections to networks from different places using a variety of different devices, the value will decreasingly be in the devices themselves, but rather in the educational content they enable learners and teachers to access (and in the connections to communities of other people as well).
OK, they counter, if the value is indeed in the content, and not the container ... where do we get this content?
The textbooks we use do not have straightforward digital equivalents or complements.
We really haven't budgeted for any digital learning content.
We spent almost all of our money on hardware (and a little on related training).
We know that there is a lot of 'free' content available on the Internet that would be useful to teachers and students.
Can't we just use a bunch of this stuff?
And if so:
How might we go about doing this?