The aggregate impact of individual choices
Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky. He also is the Founding Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), the nation’s only academic center dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators, and was a co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens). He has received numerous national awards for his technology leadership work, including recognitions from the cable industry, Phi Delta Kappa, and the National School Boards Association. In Spring 2011 he was a Visiting Canterbury Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and Mind Dump, and occasionally at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at scottmcleod.net.
Individual choices add up. For example, at the moment when I eat something
unhealthy, it seems like a fairly trivial thing. Over time, however, those
calories and pounds add up and one day I look in the mirror and have to admit to
myself that I seriously need to lose some weight.
Individual choices have collective impacts on society too. For example, the
decision of an individual family to move from the city to the suburbs may be a
completely rational decision, made in that family's self-interest as it looks
for a nicer house, a bigger yard, etc. But over time, the collective impact of
those choices in most cities is white flight and a
concentration of economically-disadvantaged families in city neighborhoods and
schools. Similarly, as
this PowerPoint shows, individual family choices to have a student attend a
new magnet school can result in other schools having greater concentrations of
students with lower social capital (because the other students' families often
don't have the means to navigate the magnet school choice system).
We see the same thing when it comes to technology usage by teachers. A few
days ago I asked
Given the realities of our modern age and the demands of our
children's future, is it really okay to allow teachers to choose whether or not
they incorporate modern technologies into their
Many of the
comments to that postrightfully insisted that teachers must make the
decision whether or not it makes sense to utilize digital technologies for an
individual lesson or unit. No one wants teachers to use technology for
technology's sake and no one wants digital technologies used in inappropriate
But the collective impact of all of these individual teacher choices, often
made by teachers with little pedagogical fluency with digital technologies, is
much like my weight loss example above (or Mike Schmoker's example of the 'Crayola
Curriculum'). Any individual choice seems quite
rational and/or trivial at the time. At the end of the year, however, we look
back and see that most students have little meaningful or substantive
interaction with learning technologies, which of course is of particular concern
for disadvantaged students who have limited opportunities outside of school to
use technology at all, much less in creative, interesting ways.
So I think we need to be more purposeful. We need mechanisms for reminding
ourselves that being relevant to students' technology-suffused,
globally-interconnected futures is important for schools, and we need a greater
shared commitment to make deliberate, intentional choices to seek out
opportunities to integrate digital technologies into lessons. Sure, we can teach
any individual lesson or unit without incorporating much technology. And, to be
honest, for many teachers this would be much easier and more efficient /
effective, at least in the short term. But if we don't pay more attention to
this issue and change our practices and our mindsets, we will continue to look back at
the end of each year and realize that we let our students down yet again when it
comes to their 21st century learning needs.
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