Why We Must Embrace Disruptive Technology

There is more to Sustaining and Disruptive uses of educational technology than the opportunity to improve education and to reach more students. There are risks involved. But this isn't from embracing Disruptive uses, but rather from not embracing them. David Thornburg:

When kids who are that fluent with these tools encounter an educational system that is predominantly driven by the awesome power of a sheet of slate and a stick of chalk, then they're in trouble. Or the teacher is in trouble, more appropriately, because the student will just tune [the teacher] out and do this project at home. [He'll say,] “It's not worth my time to try it here, I don't have access to the resources. I'll just get through the day.”

In fact, the whole Sustaining/Disrupting idea comes from the world of business and the writings of Clayton Christensen, who “focuses on the critical distinction between sustaining technologies that enhance current trends in an industry and disruptive technologies – innovations that herald the wave of the future.” He argues that even well managed companies fail if they don't respond to innovation in a timely manner. It is adaptive organizations that survive and thrive in the presence of disruptive technologies. (See a summary here.)

That doesn't mean that it's easy. In fact it can generate a lot of fear. That's because Disruptive uses can fundamentally threaten well established practices. When graphing calculators first came out in the late 1980's, I bought one because I knew they represented great potential for teaching math. I showed it to a close friend, who was also a math teacher. Her first words were, “Wow! This is great!” But, without missing a beat, she went on to say, “I hope none of my students have one!”

David Thornburg had this to say about 1-to-1 computing, perhaps the biggest disruptive innovation facing schools in along time:

There's a realization that when you go below 4 to 1, as an educator, your world changes. I think that the teachers and administrators who are resistant to one-to-one computing definitely do understand the implications. These are very bright people. They know that the world of education as they know it will end. …

How can we help schools adapt to disruptive technologies? And more importantly, how can we take advantage of the “wave of the future” to improve schools and reach more students?