Friday, December 12th, 2008...5:08 pm

How Technology WILL Impact the Future Classroom

Jump to Comments

Robin Fred
The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning

(Dec. 12, 2008) - This morning’s meeting of the North Carolina Joint Legislative Technology Commissions in Raleigh was indeed what state school board chairman Howard Lee called a “fantastically informative experience.”  The snapshots of progress in increasing the effective use of educational technology were dizzying to someone who views student engagement as the key to student achievement.

Rep. Joe Tolson - a longtime legislative champion of instructional technology -  set the stage.  He told the movers and shakers who had gathered to hear the state technology progress report that the challenge at hand is “providing tools so our students can be competitive in a global economy.”

Governor-Elect Beverly Perdue says she believes in technology as a critical tool for 21st Century learning, and it will be a key focus for her administration.  “This is all about North Carolina’s success in 10 or 20 years,” she told the gathering, adding that with it, “we can inspire and motivate all or most of our kids… and keep North Carolina competitive in a global economy.”

And without it?  “If we don’t teach our students with technology, how in the world can they adapt to the workforce?”

SAS President and CEO Jim Goodnight also made an appearance to talk about technology’s importance in the modern classroom in light of the fact that today’s kids use it all the time outside school.  “We ask (students) to literally slow down when they enter the classroom,” he said.  “Technology empowers teachers and engaging students in their learning.”

Goodnight touted the state’s 1:1 Computing Initiative, noting that after one year the dropout rate at pilot school Hunt High dropped by 42%.  SAS is putting its money where its mouth is, so to speak.  Goodnight announced to the group that the company is making its “Curriculum Pathways” program open free of charge to teachers and students across the United States.

Author Michael Horn (Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education is the Future) delivered the keynote with a presentation that took a cutting-edge business theory and applied it to education.  His ideas rate a separate blog entry.  But in a nutshell, Horn contends that technology combined with a strong educational strategy offers a way to move from a “monolithic, factory-based model that doesn’t reflect the way we learn” to a modular and customizable approach that is truly student-centered.

The impact of technology on education hasn’t been easy to illustrate because too often the approach is to put computers in a classroom and hope simply doing that will make a difference.  The need for a better strategy was a common theme as other presenters talked about the transformation that’s now underway in many schools thanks to improving technology and smarter strategies.

Much of the improvement can be credited to better bandwidth, and MCNC’s North Carolina Research and Education Network has dramatically expanded that across North Carolina this year.  When 2008 began, only a handful of school districts were actively impacted by that effort to provide affordable high-speed connections to schools.  Now, 100 districts are connected, and MCNC President Joe Freddoso says almost all will be on the network within months.

Other highlights:

  • Students at the host Centennial Middle School greeted participants with demonstrations of how they use technology.  One group of students I spoke with showed how they used Google tools and video cameras to track wildlife habits around the school.  A pair of 13-year-olds showed me the robot they’d built and programmed, and one showed a game she had created using a free online tool called Scratch from MIT.  Too bad all schools can’t offer those types of learning experiences.
  • Howard Lee noted that in Greene County - a small, rural, poor district - the graduation rate has skyrocketed from 24% to 82% since the district began using more computers a decade ago.
  • Bryan Setser of the NC Virtual Public School showed cutting edge tools that bring the virtual world so many students these days are comfortable with (think Club Penguin but with a focus on curriculum).
  • Angela Quick of NCDPI spoke of blending the physical world and the virtual world through collaborative tools. These tools have been around a while but are suddenly more viable not only because the tools themselves are getting better, but because the bandwidth in schools is finally catching up (there’s that connectivity project again…).
  • A Chapel Hill principal appeared via webcam and Wimba Classroom to talk about technology as a tool - using what’s increasingly available to support what’s happening in the brick and mortar structure. “It’s a way to go from ‘well-managed classrooms’ to ‘highly engaged students.’”

Michael Horn ended the meeting on a similar note, saying his book is called “Disrupting Class” rather than “Disrupting Schools” because he believes schools will continue to play a central role in spite of the use of online learning in home school and other environments.  But he anticipates schools becoming portals for guided instruction rather than the structured environment that’s prevalent today.

If he’s right, that means an ever-changing role for teachers, and an ongoing need for professional development and administrative support.  But in my mind, the result is not a world that is less dependent on teachers… quite the opposite in fact.

After the meeting State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told me just a few years ago she had teachers tell her that they feared increased use of computers would mean we’d need fewer teachers.  In reality, we should be able to offer our students more opportunities through the wise development and use of tech tools.  But great teachers who know how to use those tools to guide and inspire students will always be the key to making that work.

Leave a Reply