Flashy & Sexy Sell

Optics matter. I get it. We judge all that we see. Our ancestors stayed alive by judging from a distance whether an approaching person was hostile or friendly. To this day, it is an impossible switch to turn off.

And so it is in education.

Having worked in Latin America, throughout the US, Europe, and Asia has taught me that different cultures will have varying degrees of value placed on the optics versus the substance of education. Sadly, more and more across the board, more value is being placed on the optics.

By substance I mean the actual learning experience for the student. Is the learning experience transformative or could the time have been better spent doing something else? Did they walk away with something learned/done, something they could not otherwise have looked up on YouTube or Google? Did the student want to know more and do more on that topic after the experience?

By optics I mean technology, along with all its bells and whistles. Could the student have done the same thing without a screen or a small gizmo, for instance? Did the magical 3D-printing-pen allow the student to make something that otherwise could not have been made? Did the lights and sound distract from learning?

As a technology leader in schools I have a fine line to walk between providing enough flash and sexy to get Boards/communities/leadership to buy into recommended platforms/tools and ensuring there is depth such that skilled teachers take their craft to the next level by using the platform/tool. Honing in on a community’s value system is not always straightforward. Often it takes anywhere from 2 to 6 months to feel confident in the changes I can/should introduce or the amount of work I will impose on or create for teachers.

Given the trend toward a more optics-geared public, my job is getting easier. Low-hanging fruit often comes in shiny packaging, robotic this or the other coding systems, and “maker” / STEAM offerings. Whatever the bandwagon is, as long as the marketing is right, it’s an easy sell to tired, overloaded and overworked school personnel.

Finding something unique is a different challenge altogether. Private schools must offer something that is unique, otherwise it’s hard to justify the expense to parents. What makes your school different from others in the area? Optics being what they are, in certain communities, it takes just enough flash and sexy to get parents through the door.