Reconsidering My Anti-Technology Bias

Type: Article
Topics: School Administrator Magazine, Technology & AI

December 01, 2016

My View

I have an anti-technology bias.

There I said it. I am working on it.

This is probably a strange statement coming from a superintendent who has overseen major investments in the use of instructional technology by students and staff in the public schools I lead. I have written hundreds of blog posts and other commentaries over the years that might suggest just the opposite. I have been a regular cheerleader for the power of digital tools in the classroom. I have hundreds of e-mails coming and going each day, and I admittedly get jittery when my iPhone battery falls below 20 percent.

My Jaded Perspective

Maybe it is my age, maybe it is complacency or maybe it is easier to just fit in with the crowd, but too often recently I have taken a jaded and sometimes cynical view of technology, and that needs to change.

A regular line in most of my talks over the last few years and one that gets repeated over and over by many others is “it is not about the technology.” My friend Dean Shareski, the community manager for Discovery Education Canada, made a great presentation last summer at a conference hosted by the British Columbia Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association during which he argued that sometimes actually it is about the technology. 

Dean is right — it is sometimes about the technology. Just as I know I am about to be disrespected when someone starts a sentence with “No disrespect intended,” many of the awesome examples shared after someone says “it is not about the technology,” really wouldn’t happen without the technology.

The distinction being made is that the goal is the learning, and the technology exists to support the learning. This is an argument education researcher Michael Fullan has been making for years — focusing on the right and the wrong system drivers. We can let people off the hook when we too casually say “it is not about the technology” because sometimes it is. Whether it is implementing new student work portfolios, connecting with students across the world or getting feedback from a public audience, to some degree, it is about the technology.

Bias on Display

Dean also referenced all the talk about technology disrupting communities. The same could be said for books and newspapers in previous generations. With the circulation of printed reading material, people no longer had to connect face-to-face to receive information.

If he hadn’t done enough to make me come to grips with my growing anti-technology bias, along this summer came Pokémon Go, and I felt like an old man wanting to yell at the neighborhood kids to get off the front lawn and stop making so much noise.

I went out for a walk at 10 p.m. to find the community full of mostly young people searching for Pokémon. I was shaking my head over what I was witnessing — another example of kids wasting time on their phones. It took me until the following day to actually realize how great this was. Young people were out walking, exploring, connecting and having fun. If they had clipped a treasure map out of the local newspaper, I would have thought it was awesome. But there was my bias on display.

To challenge my complacency, I have been reading a lot lately about global entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and Clay Shirky, who writes about the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. Their thinking helped me get back on course. 

I am an unapologetic believer that the future is exciting and that technology plays an important role in opening up amazing opportunities for our schools and beyond. So I will spend a little less time shaking my head at those on their smartphones or playing the latest online game.

It is easy to slip into a “glass is half empty” mindset. While I recognize the importance of moderation, sometimes it is about the technology, and there is a lot to be excited about.


Chris Kennedy

Superintendent of the West Vancouver School District in West Vancouver, British Columbia. E-mail: Twitter: @chrkennedy. This column is adapted from his blog cultureofyes.