Moving beyond electronic worksheets

Many organizational web sites are simply online brochures: static entities with a few pages of information. They’re not interactive. They’re not updated. Once you’ve read the text and seen the images, there’s rarely a reason to come back later. This is particularly true for web pages made by individuals, small businesses, and, unfortunately, schools.

comebacksoonInstitutions like universities and larger corporations seem to do a better job of updating their Web content and making their sites more interactive, thus increasing the likelihood of visitors returning later. The reason they can do this, of course, is that they have more money, training, and other resources at their disposal. A small business owner (or a teacher or  secretary who’s the school webmaster) who knows little about web design but knows that she needs a web site may be hard pressed to do more than simply upload a few basic pages.

Similarly, a teacher that’s being asked to integrate technology into her lesson may be challenged to go beyond very basic implementation. She might have access to Google Docs, for example, but she simply has her students use the service to download a pre-designed document, fill in the open spaces, and either print it off or upload it back to the class Moodle site. She might have a class blog, for example, but her students use it simply to upload their typed text instead of handing in their written text on notebook paper. In other words, she doesn’t know how to go beyond this ‘electronic worksheet’ model and take advantage of the affordances of the new technologies. She’s basically replicating previous practices – only with more technological bells and whistles – instead of doing something differently because the technologies now allow her and her students to do so.

The challenge for school leaders, then, is to move their teachers beyond what Bernajean Porter calls ‘adapting uses’ and into ‘transforming uses.’ Another challenge, of course, is that school leaders may not be very technology-savvy themselves and thus don’t really know how to help their teaching staffs move in this direction.

What successes have you had in helping school administrators understand this issue? What techniques and strategies have you implemented that help principals and superintendents assist their classroom educators in moving beyond ‘electronic worksheets?

Image credit: Come back soon

3 Responses to “Moving beyond electronic worksheets”

  1. Thinking outside the box is just as hard – if not harder – for adults as it is for the kids we teach. If I was using a hand saw to cut a tree down and someone gave me a chainsaw I’d probably use it for the same purpose – you wouldn’t catch me making ice sculptures with it all of a sudden. I guess the point is that you *could* make ice sculptures if you wanted to – but is one use really better than the other? Which use was the tool designed and (hopefully) optimized for?

  2. Hi Scott, great post.

    You’re right, organizational websites are primarily static because people a) undervalue the importance of the online “front door” and b) few are aware of different strategies.

    You discuss the limitations of the “electronic worksheet,” but there are also tremendous advantages to be had when used to its fullest potential. For example, teachers who get their students to upload homework as opposed to turning it in on paper have a distinct advantage in terms of notification and tracking longitudinal academic progress.

    PerfectForms has dozens of templates that automate everything from school field trip requests to college applications, and it’s a time-saving, considerably less disorganized system than that used traditionally. One customer, a university in Tennessee, uses “smart forms” to create student ID cards. A few weeks before move-in day, first-year students access a secure web form, verify their information, upload a picture and voila – no standing around for hours waiting for your photo to be taken while juggling boxes of dorm supplies and searching for the dining hall. I don’t think that discovering innovative applications is the bane of administrators and teachers; to be honest, it’s something all of us need to actively pursue.


  3. This is truly one of the most enormous, important issues that education MUST solve. I taught for 5 years, worked in business for 20 years, and am now coming back to education. Schools haven’t had the technological opportunities that business has.

    Just a note for those unfamiliar with the word “affordances,” which I’ve heard you use before. It’s often used by usability specialists (people who design software with actual humans in mind). It means what the software (or any product) lets you do, but is not limited to what the product designers had in mind. IOW, you can come up with a new way to use whatever it is.

    It’s that type of creativity which we want to instill in our students that we ourselves as educators must also do well. Don’t be afraid to tell technology companies “Hey, I use your product to do THIS, which I (or my students) came up with. But it would be great if it had THAT so we could do this other thing.”

    Educational technology is booming. Let’s be a part of it!

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