"The Economics of Educational Technology"

J.M. Puryear, "The Economics of Educational Technology" (1999)
Puryear’s introductory article focuses on the Economics of Ed Tech and the fundamental components of economics to be considered before integrating any technology into an educational environment: cost, effectiveness, and surrounding conditions.
We have all learned the differences between fixed and variable costs, but Puryear takes these concepts and applies them to the concept of “economies of scale”. (p.47) He explains that while fixed costs are tied to the “start up/set up” of technology and are perceived to be very expensive, they are offset by the number of students directly able to use that technology. For example, the fixed cost of hiring a teacher may be $50,000 but that teacher may only be utilized by 30 students. In contrast, a school’s computer lab may cost 200,000 but 500 students may have access to that lab. Economies of scale would presume that the lab is a better investment.
Puryear notes that variable costs are where the majority of money is spent. This includes: maintenance, teacher training, tech support, internet fees.
He goes on to note that technologies that are brought in to support teacher-based classrooms offer little cost advantage compared to technologies that are designed to replace teachers altogether. (p.47) Lastly he sees technologies which may have a higher fixed cost but minimal to no variable cost to be the most ideal technologies to utilize; an LCD projector is a good example of this.
Here he explains that in order for a technology to be effective it need not be large scale. If its “purpose” is clearly defined, and it supports the learning goals of the classroom, a technology can be highly effective. “The idea that complicated, high-tech approaches are more effective than simple, low tech ones has not been demonstrated.” (p.48)
He defines effectiveness in terms of dollars; cost effectiveness is the ultimate goal. He concludes that, “research suggests that technology has a greater potential for improving effectiveness or expanding access than it does for reducing unit costs. When we think about cost-effectiveness we will more often need to decide that we are willing to pay more money, to get more learning.” (p.48)
Surrounding Conditions:
Surrounding conditions are defined as the environmental conditions that combine with the technology to enable success. Economists define this as the “production function”. This is the ultimate goal of ed. tech with respect to economies - and the greatest challenge as well - determining the best technologies and conditions in which to use technology to ensure maximum learning is achieved. “When educational technology is adopted, then the key questions are what combination of factors or conditions are necessary to make it work, and whether it is possible to bring that combination together.” (p.48) it is pointless then for a school board to instigate technologies unless they are prepared to offer the necessary training and support to sustain them once implemented.
Puryear’s final comment is most poignant: Technologies can do many things but they cannot establish objectives. Those objectives need to be clearly defined by: government, district, teacher, and those “educational goals must drive technology decisions.” (49)

Below, Diane Demee-Benoit, in this 2009 Youtube video, discusses the need to shift from "economies of scale" to "economies of groups". Hers is a multi-disciplinary, global, eco-system approach to future citizenship. She sees a shift in power into the hands of the individual and believes Open Source is making it possible!
Shift in old business model of keeping info to yourself vs. engaging in collective wisdom.

Examples: OER Commons , MIT Courseware (Open Source curriculum sharing sites)

How We are Moving From Economies of Scale to Economies of Groups. (Jan. 2009)