The Five Stages of Disruption Denial – How schools react to Education Technology

Blogger Grant McCracken wrote a great post for Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network call “The Five Stages of Disruption Denial” it here.  In the post, the author focuses on his struggles with the adoption of the social media platform Twitter, describing the denial process that sometimes exists prior to change or the adoption of anything new.

Disruption or Disruptive Technologies comes in many forms and can be found in many places.  It is a concept that is very oxymoronic, meaning it sounds like a bad thing but it is in-fact, a good thing.  In an interestingly blog-post related twist, the term disruptive technologies was coined by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 best-selling book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.  In his book, Christensen breaks technology innovation down into two categories, sustaining and disruptive.  He defines sustaining technology as that which provides incremental improvements to existing technology.

Disruptive Technology, however, is a completely new approach to a task or objective.  Because of its “newness”, it may still have bugs, may not be a completely fleshed out, practical application and will likely have limited appeal for a while.  Twitter is a perfect example of Disruptive Technology.  I remember exactly when and why I created my Twitter account…I had just returned from the Laptop Institute (now known as the Lausanne Learning Institute) in Memphis Tennessee where I was surrounded by hundreds of fellow educators and Twitter was truly the latest thing for everyone there…everyone was buzzing about it but few of us knew exactly why.

The Education Industry is fraught with disruptive technologies.  Brought about primarily by the adoption of computers and web-based educational content and tools, all used by creative teachers in both public and private K to 12 educational institutions around the world, the Education Industry is traversing what many are referring to as an education “revolution”.  Whether you view it as a revolution or a revolt probably depends upon where you sit…classroom vs. school board seat.  But I digress…as I often do.

I believe the Five Stages of Disruption Denial also applies to how schools approach the implementation education technology.  Here’s how I think it goes:

Stage 1. Confusion – Schools don’t get “it”.  Regardless, they go buy a bunch of computers, smartboards or iPads.  They still do not even remotely get it, are confused about it…but they have the money so they do it.  And when the teachers ask for Professional Development time to learn about the new tools they hear, “PD, we don’t need no stinking PD!”…or something along that line.

Stage 2. Repudiation – They bought in and still don’t get the new technology so now they downplay its significance…saying things like, “We don’t really need those computers, our students can take notes on a piece of paper just as easy” or “We don’t use computers, we teach the classics” (the last one I heard with my own ears from an administrator when we were taking my oldest son to shop the area high schools several years ago).

Stage 3. Shaming – “You shouldn’t even consider sending your children to a school with a laptop program, it’s just a fad and won’t last long.  Our methods are tried and true.”  And there may even be additional shaming in the form of playing on parents’ fears…implying that putting laptops in the hands of a 10 year old is just asking for trouble…

Stage 4. Acceptance – Kudos to all those who find themselves at Stage 4!  Here is where a few schools are…finally embracing the technology-fueled classrooms and curriculum as evidenced by new things like virtual class offerings, flipped classrooms and with the implementation of tools like Moodle and Edmodo.  I am personally thrilled to see area schools at this point.  I can now communicate and collaborate with these schools rather than just standing over here yelling, “Come on in, the water is fine!”

Stage 5. Forgetting – No doubt many of today’s technology naysayers will be here soon enough.  Finally arriving where they should have been years ago, they will not only imply they’ve always known of the relevance of education technology but they will also forget that many schools like Fort Worth Academy were seven to ten years ahead and pushing them in all the right direction.

Fort Worth Academy is in its sixth year of a formal education technology implementation centered around a standardized 1:1 laptop program.  Honored with the Spotlight Award from the Lausanne Learning Institute a few years ago, FWA has become a poster child, if you will, of successful education technology programs.  Schools from as far away as Canada have visited our campus to see our programs in action and to seek guidance in the development and roll-out of their own edtech initiatives.  We’ve done several things right and I’ll be the first to admit, we’ve done several things wrong.  But the most important take-away here is that we’ve done several things.  Pioneers, as the boss described our school as we prepared to embark upon this journey so many years ago, are not always in a comfortable position.  It was indeed difficult but denial was never an option.