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Guest Thinkers

The aggregate impact of individual choices

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

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

this question


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 post

rightfully 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


). 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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