According to Merriam-Webster.com, functional and usable can be defined as follows:
1. : capable of being used
2. : convenient and practicable for use
3. : performing or able to perform a regular function
These words came to my mind after my recent work with a school. As I was getting set-up for my presentation in a large presentation room, I was excited to see that there were multiple projectors and screens throughout the room. Unfortunately, I soon found out that although the projectors were functional, they wouldn’t work for me. Only a school computer loaded with a certain software would work with all of the projectors. Because multiple presenters would be presenting throughout the day, this wasn’t a good option. Although the projectors were working, they were essential useless to my colleagues and me.
After that disappointment, I began to hook-up my computer to test the one projector we could use as well as the sound. Unfortunately, I was once again disappointed with the usability of the equipment. In a very large room designed for presentations of over 100 participants, both the audio and LCD cord were approximately five feet long. I couldn’t help but think that I would be awkwardly standing in the corner while presenting.
These examples are fairly obvious examples of the differences between being functional and being usable. I worry that too often in education, we have lots of technology that is functional, but for one reason or another, is not usable for teachers. A look at the poor history of technology integration in schools is certainly evidence of this. So how do we address this issue? School leaders and teachers have got to stop deferring all technology decisions to the technology staff. This isn’t a criticism of technology staffs; many are amazing and do understand the importance of making technology more than just functional. However, very few of them spend the majority of their day in a classroom setting teaching students. Other educators can participate in discussions about the purchase, placement, and ways to enhance the use of technology without an intricate knowledge of software or hardware. By bringing these additional voices into technology decisions, there may be an additional focus on usability as well as functionality. School leaders must stop treating technology decisions as unique from other decisions they make. A technology decision is an education decision, and it shouldn’t be pushed on just one group of technology experts to make such important decisions.