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Why Hasn't Technology Revolutionized Education? Guitar Heroes, Inspiration, and Technology Adoption

When educators analyze the process of integrating technology in classrooms, we often hear phrases such as "adoption of innovations" or "theory of change" to understand the challenges and barriers teachers experience. We try to understand the attitudes and motivations that influence teacher beliefs and behaviors, and why some teachers become the early adopters and pioneers, and why others may resist.

These are not easy issues, but I think we can learn a lot about technology adoption from music, specifically rock music and the electric guitar. Yes, the electric guitar!

Why guitars? Guitars are the popular instruments of choice today. Remember the posters you had on the walls of your room growing up or in your college dorm? You do. They were posters of Van Halen, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and other classic rock groups. (OK, posters of Poison, Bon Jovi, or Motley Crue count also.) Maybe the more guitar aficionados out there will favor Carlos Santana, David Gilmour, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, or maybe even John Pettrucci.

It's all good. These were guitar driven music.

Guitars are popular. Even pretending to play guitar is acceptable. You've probably played Guitar Hero or Rock Band on your Xbox or PS3. Your students do. Or, maybe you or a family member has a real guitar somewhere in your home.

Guitar influences are everywhere, and we can learn a lot about technology adoption from the history of guitars.

As the Smithsonian documentary "Electrified: The Guitar Revolution A History of Invention, People, and Music" points out, "The electric guitar changed the face of music forever. Without the electric guitar, you would not have rock and roll. "

Interestingly enough, guitars were around for hundreds of years, but the instrument had very humble beginnings in modern music.

Until the 1920's, guitars were acoustic and could not be heard. They were quiet rhythm instruments in the backgrounds of big bands while clarinet, trumpet, and other instruments dominated the stage.

Does this sound familiar with the computers and other technologies in many classrooms? In the background? Unheard? Unnoticed? Maybe underutilized?

But the future of guitars would change with electricity. Electricity gave amplification to the guitar. Guitars could now have enough volume to be heard over the other instruments in a band.

The guitar revolution began with electricity and amplification, but would not peak for another 40 or so years.

Why not? What else had to happen? Two things:

1) Mass production: Enough instruments had to be available to anyone how could afford one.

2) Inspiration: Most importantly, artists had to emerge who could use this innovation to inspire others: Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, etc... As the documentary pointed out, everyone wanted to be like Hendrix. Guitar sales skyrocketed.

With technology in classrooms, we have mass production. We've had computers in our classrooms for almost three decades. Even our cell phones today have the multimedia tools to be creative. The technology is everywhere.

We have the access. We have the artists. We have the innovative educators who use technology in schools to enhance student learning and achievement.

But these artists are still in the background. They haven't changed the culture of schools.

Somehow, despite having mass production and some innovation, we still lack something in our schools and classrooms.

Perhaps, some educators can't seem to appreciate the artists around them in a way that causes them to be so inspired that they want to change and imitate those artists.

Perhaps, some educators are afraid to take risks to learn new strategies and ways of teaching.

Perhaps, some educators are content with traditions, the old music with guitars quietly in the background, and don't want to learn something new.

What will it take for the spirit of innovation to become infectious, for everyone else to become rebellious against the traditional culture of education and start using new technologies to their full learning and creative potential, to transform education in schools?

Perhaps, more freedom, more choice, more inspiration, more vision, and less fear.

We all look forward to that day. In the meantime, as the old rock saying goes, "Rock On.."

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