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Lesson 6.6

Technology in Education:
New Tools for Teaching and Learning

This time, technology really WILL change education. Right?

hero image

Image: iPads for Kids | Kinston Free Press CC Zach Frailey

It seemed that schools were impervious to change.

Until recently, classrooms looked just as they had 50 years ago, with the possible change from a blackboard to a whiteboard. But that’s the way change happens. All of a sudden, the future arrives.

All of a sudden, the future arrives.

Advances in technology are rapidly changing the way that students learn, both in school and beyond it. The oracles of this revolution, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, predicted the path that these changes would take in the 2008 book Disrupting Class. They argued that educational software and online teaching would fundamentally disrupt the way that schools work and the ways that children learn. It would start out awful, they predicted, but it would improve steadily.

Today, when students want to know or learn something, they go online. In an internet minute, teachers became the second-best alternative, replaced by the oracles of YouTube. The global digital capital of time-wasting cat clips is also the most attractive way for students to learn things they want to know, from the science of slime to the history of the world, hilariously delivered it in under 20 minutes.

"Blended" Learning = Teachers + Tech

Some of California’s highest-performing charter schools pioneered the jump to using technology for daily instruction. In education lingo, the combination of learning from both teachers and technology is sometimes called blended learning. The implications can be significant, if schools really lean into it. For example, a charter school network called Rocketship combines traditional instruction, technology, and tutoring to allow every student to learn at their own pace, whether they are catching up or racing ahead. They call it "flipping the classroom" because it can reverse the use of classroom time. In most classrooms, teachers explain new concepts to students in a big group, and then students are supposed to practice the skills on their own at home. In a "flipped" model, students practice in the classroom and new concepts can be introduced through videos individually assigned as homework.

Tech is changing
every endeavor.
Even schools
see tech as a lever

Technology doesn't always need to be fancy to be effective. One of the most celebrated self-paced websites for education is the Khan Academy, which began modestly as a giant set of short YouTube videos. One person, Salman Khan, posted simple lessons on subjects from algebra to venture capital. Thousands around the globe have benefitted from his patient, clear tutorials. Today, the site is no longer just for the individual learner; it includes tools to help teachers, parents, and other "coaches" support students as they learn. Technology has a charming tendency to become better and cheaper over time.

Some schools are proving faster than others in taking advantage of the possibilities of tech in learning. Consistent with Christensen’s theory, in America many of the first students to take advantage of online learning were "homeschool" students, whose parents chose not to enroll them in regular schools for religious or other reasons. Online learning also offers enormous promise for economic development in high poverty settings; education researcher Sugata Mitra has documented examples of students self-organizing to learn from online resources without even the benefit of a teacher to guide them.

Virtual Schools

Computing power and connectivity have shifted homeschooling to a new and fast-growing format: "virtual schools." In its most pure manifestation, a virtual school is organized as a charter school. Students enroll, receive a computer if they don’t have one, and sign up for online courses. But virtual schools are evolving fast and can take many forms. Students may work with teachers and other students online and by phone. They may meet in person. They may be oriented toward self-paced learning, or may have a fixed schedule. Some virtual schools focus on credit recovery, enabling "at risk" students to earn a diploma while making a break from their school environment. Many highlight their schedule flexibility, enabling students to nurse a newborn, or work a day job to earn money for their family. Some focus on offering an accelerated path to college.

And some are awful. In 2016 the California Department of Justice reached a multimillion dollar settlement agreement with a for-profit online charter school operator over alleged violations of California laws against false claims, false advertising and unfair business practices. Several bills have been introduced to prohibit for-profit virtual charter schools. In 2016 the State Controller's Office announced an audit of California Virtual Academies because of serious questions about their practices. Charter school advocates have proposed their own solutions in A Call to Action: To Improve the Quality of Full Time Virtual Charter Public Schools.

Virtual schools are new, varied, and evolving, so it is probably unwise to characterize them in broad terms. If history is any guide, their results will be mixed: some will be outstanding, some will be terrible, and most will be ordinary.

Despite the problems, the digital revolution has come to schools and it looks like it is here to stay, with one big obstacle: infrastructure costs money.

Infrastructure costs money

Each student needs digital access at school and at home to learn and do homework. This is a universal infrastructure requirement, like clean water and electricity.

There is nothing inevitable about this revolution in learning. Khan Academy and YouTube are free, but computers, tablets, networks and tech staff aren't. Schools face real costs to cobble together the computers, tablets, routers and switches that make connectivity possible. Even if a school’s digital infrastructure is up-to-date (occasionally true), teachers and school staff do not automatically know how to use it, and maintaining a network is a job that requires staff. Technology-savvy individuals have many employment options, and schools struggle to attract and retain staff with technical skills. If your school doesn't have the networks and computers that students and teachers need, contact your school board. School districts in California have wide discretion in how they use funds. Ask whether there is a plan to fund technology infrastructure in an upcoming bond measure.

There is a real risk that education technology can contribute to achievement gaps. In schools in well-off neighborhoods, internet access reaches every corner of every classroom. But this kind of access is far from universal.

As they become connected, schools are becoming more similar to "grown up" workplaces, where technology is vital and complex. In businesses, technical leaders make good money and serve an influential role. Schools making a digital transition need expert leadership, too. Windows, Mac or Linux? Microsoft Office or Google Docs? Chromebooks or iPads? What's allowed? What's not? What happens when things break? Because school budgets are ultimately reflections of value, school boards face tough decisions: Should money go toward teachers or tablets or technical support staff?

Technology at Home: The Homework Gap

As technology-based tools for learning continue to improve, the meaning of "homework" is changing. "Papers" don't involve paper -- they are submitted as Google Docs. Teachers can assign video lessons. Students can collaborate on digital projects. Of course, all this technical innovation is no help at all for students without computers and effective internet access. The Pew Research Center dubbed this the "Broadband homework gap". Based on analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2013 data, "some 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home. Low-income households – and especially black and Hispanic ones – make up a disproportionate share of that 5 million."

Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2013 American Community Survey (IPUMS) Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2013 American Community Survey (IPUMS)

Consistent network access is essential for today's students, as important as binder paper and #2 pencils. Adequate "signal" is essential not just for the office of the school principal, but for each classroom and meeting space and, more difficult still, for each home where children live, study and learn. Past generations have built America's universal access to clean water, modern roads, and reliable electricity. To avoid leaving children behind, this generation must find ways to equip schools, homes, and shelters with effective universal network access.

Some argue that unless schools embrace digital tools for students and teachers they risk becoming irrelevant. The general theme of "relevance" is taken up in the next lesson.

Updated July 2017

Review

All of the following factors, except one, are important for a school to make strong use of "blended learning," incorporating digital tools into schools alongside teachers. Which ONE is NOT important?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Jeff Camp January 19, 2017 at 2:14 pm
Official statistics on school connectivity in California are ridiculously rosy. According to EducationSuperhighway.org, most school districts have met the national benchmark for providing internet access. But this state is far from offering decent connectivity to every room in every school and homework space. Here's the official national report. You can report the reality of connectivity in your own school here: http://www.compareandconnectk12.org/2016/CA?opportunity=BANDWIDTH
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 14, 2016 at 8:16 pm
A hot debate in education circles: Virtual Charter schools
Education NEXT looks at the research and provides a discussion of the pros and cons.
http://educationnext.org/promise-and-pitfalls-of-virtual-charter-schools-vander-ark-richmond/
user avatar
Albert Stroberg May 1, 2016 at 8:05 pm
One of the best systems I have seen allows the kids to progress at their own rate (almost Montessori style) yet it could alert the teacher if a a particular student was at a speed bump. This seemed a very good use of tech- unlike the large & expensive side track much of it has become.
user avatar
Liz Fischer June 30, 2015 at 6:10 pm
In my former life, before kids, I worked for a computer curriculum publisher that used artificial intelligence to help students improve math skills based on NCTM standards. It tested and tracked progress then assigned more problems in areas of difficulty until mastery was achieved. Though impressive gains were achieved, the methodology was none-the-less derogatorily referred to as "drill and kill." I wonder how current "blended learning" is different?
user avatar
Paigey Girl April 22, 2015 at 9:03 pm
Technology changes so quickly that by the time teachers a proficient to teach it, it's changed again.
user avatar
trckrnnr April 15, 2015 at 9:00 am
There needs to be a balance with art music drama and technology. They get enough technology time the rest they need more of
user avatar
Veli Waller April 10, 2015 at 8:08 am
Teachers need professional development on technology. I have heard teachers say that the computer lab time that they have is a stressful time. Some teachers are not proficient with technology and are not able to use the time effectively.
user avatar
cnuptac March 26, 2015 at 10:47 am
Our kids get to do on line stuff every day and the sad part is they don't get to do art or music or drama not even once a month
user avatar
CM January 19, 2015 at 3:48 pm
We must expose our children to technology. This is a "must", not a "nice to have" part of teaching.
Technology is growing at a fast pace. The world will be a completely different place by the time these children graduate from high school. We must do whatever it takes to prepare our children for careers in 21st century workplaces.
user avatar
Arati N June 23, 2014 at 7:36 am
Access and infrastructure is one thing, but the more important thing is WHAT is done with technology in the classroom - teacher training is very important and teacher credentialing courses should have technology integration built into the course work- technology is becoming as ubiquitous as the 3R's.
©2003-2017 Jeff Camp
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