There are articles on education technology being published nearly every day, but here are a couple of good ones I thought I’d share.

One is a blog summary of flipped classrooms, good if you need a primer on this concept.  The other is a recent NYT article on the use of technology to improve student achievement.

Here are some thoughts regarding the second.  I agree that we should be thinking hard about using technology to improve the flexibility and available pace of instruction.  All student’s, from those with special needs to those with exceptional abilities (and they come together, sometimes) learn in their own way and at their own pace.  Technology can provide instruction that is more flexible to these needs and to the pace that each student prefers.

One very interesting feature of most online instruction systems is the ability to back up and replay segments.  If you’ve never drifted off in tangential thought during a meeting or tried to listen to a book on CD, you won’t understand this, but when you’re trying to learn something, the ability to rewind is a godsend.  Students are still human.  Here, technology can help improve knowledge transfer and retention.

A few challenges discussed are that we should be willing to give up teachers, let class sizes grow, and partner with commercial advertisers in exchange for the cost of this technology.  These ideas often run counter to “conventional wisdom”, but if we are going to infuse new levels of efficiency (related to the raw number of students per teacher and the range of learning options available to students), we’re going to have to get serious about these subjects.

I am already on the record that we need to stop thinking of teachers as the “fountain of knowledge” at the front of the classroom (see the video in the first linked article above) and, where appropriate, I feel we should support “flipping the classroom” (letting learning new information with self-paced technology be the homework and letting exercises be the classwork under teacher guidance/support).  Through technology, we can bring the best instructors and the best teaching practices to bear, tailored to each student’s skill needs and their pace and modes of learning.

Technology is also providing new ways to improve equity for students, a key factor in attacking the achievement gap.  Standardized tests, teaching practices, and the cumulative effects of family income and education can reflect or introduce unintended biases in the classroom.  Offering quality learning resources in multiple venues, forms, and modes can help to balance out or even overcome these biases, producing a student population that reflects diversity that is not based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status, but rather on the natural variations in our biological or cultural backgrounds  — the good kinds of diversity that we celebrate and benefit from in our community.

Why should we not work hard to work together, discuss, find ways to do these things where it’s appropriate?

Obviously, we cannot teach all subjects on a computer, and indeed, I am of the belief that the subjects that cannot be taught through technology are the MOST valuable for human cultural progress.  Computers may be rapidly taking over advancements in science, even manufacturing, but they still cannot paint a painting, write a novel, play the violin (yes, I’ve seen this), sing an aria, design a garden, or dance the ballet.  However, there are good ideas coming out of the classroom, often brought by teachers who are embracing better techniques (some in our own district), and we need to work at breaking traditional rules in order to reach new levels of equity and student achievement.

The following is a set of random thoughts that have collected over the past year, month, or so.  I wanted to gather my thoughts back up after a busy year and hope to pursue these topics more completely during the coming year.

Because time is always short, I want to make my posts go more quickly and I may not always reference my sources properly.  You will find many of them in my new .info site (linked at the top of this blog) where you will also find the list of news and blog sources I follow (I’m a Feedly fiend).  Follow them yourself if you’re interested in tracking the zeitgeist of public education as I try to.

Here goes:

  1. Budgeting challenges will not cease in 2012.  Act I will not go away, however ill-conceived it is.  Unending state budget cuts will likely continue as Pennsylvania opts out of its responsibility to education and shifts its support toward moving public dollars to private enterprises that in turn fund political campaigns.  This transfer will drive more burden to homeowners, since PA has yet to develop a method for funding schools other than through the predominant use of property taxes.
  2. Educational Technology (or EdTech) will continue to improve.  eLearning or Blended Learning or Open Educational Resources (OERs) like MIT and Stanford are democratizing education through multiple alternative educational resources (online and offline) and permitting new paths for teachers to be used as highly experienced guides rather than the sole fountain of knowledge in the classroom.  In addition, new technology is being created that can help develop students’ communication, collaboration, creative,  and critical-thinking skills.  This isn’t going away.
  3. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education took a pause in the past decade or two.  Something about not being cool to be smart has left us with a gap in STEM graduates to propel our economy.  This situation has to end.  If iPads and Twitter are cool, then STEM is cool and we have to promote STEM education for every child to pursue it in their own way.  Even gardeners and auto mechanics need to understand the science behind their work to reach their full potential.
  4. Better student engagement is continuing, often embracing them and their learning through technology, but also by supporting educational engagement through more self- or group-directed project-, problem-,  and inquiry-based learning approaches.  But technology is not the only way that students engage with their learning environment.  Technology is just a new way and one that we need to understand both for privacy and security reasons as well as the social and educational impacts.   PBL and IBL approaches are being explored by many districts so there will be more to report here.
  5. Results Only Learning Environments (ROLEs) sprang up in 2011 after Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, described Results Only Work Environments where employees were given a much freer rein to perform while being held accountable for the results or outcomes.  A number of prominent companies are embracing this approach with success.  In ROLEs, engaging students and giving them the freedom to learn in their own way while remaining focused on outcomes that reflect deep understanding of the material (critical thinking, too) could be a new design for education.  There are already teachers out there willing to experiment with this approach.
  6. I look forward to seeing the expansion of programs to provide mentoring for all students to give our them the benefits of our incredibly diverse community — diverse in education and career choices.  We can help our students network better and get into the best schools for their interests and career aspirations.  In this way, I believe we can also provide support for alternative career paths, remembering that all careers require critical thinking and analytical skills to be successful.
  7. I’m hoping for the end of narrow assessments in reading and math as the benchmarks for a quality education.  NCLB wasn’t wrong in its intent, but in practice it has damaged our educational system and we need to drop back and rethink how we both raise achievement AND support broad skill development in less measurable but often far more valuable skills of creative, critical, and collaborative thinking.  I think our teachers should lead the way.
  8. I’m tired of Michelle Rhee’s teacher bashing.  We need more support for teachers with less presumption that they need constant oversight and externally imposed scrutiny.  Teachers are not the problem.  They are the solution.  They are professionals.  Let’s engage them in a dialog on how to improve education and the teaching profession.  “Working” in our schools should be engaging and inspiring and there is little that can’t be discussed to get us there.  Also, teaching is a team sport, and we need to support that approach where possible.
  9. School climate affects learning.  We need to continue our efforts to end bullying and cyberbullying between and amongst students and teachers.  For both privacy and legal reasons (boards sit as judge and jury on some disputes), it’s tough for board members to know how much of a problem this is, but that doesn’t mean we don’t support measures to evaluate, understand, improve, promote a healthy school climate.
  10. Vouchers will continue to be wrongly seen as a savior when, in fact, they do nothing to improve student achievement, do not provide the magical opportunity to urban schools that they are believed to, and only serve to take public funds out of the public school system handing it to private interests.  (The Atlantic Monthly just published an article noting that Finland has no private schools.)  The public effectively killed the voucher idea in 2011.  2012 will not be easy, but I’m hearing that political races might remove the topic from discussion.  Let’s hope so, and let’s hope that the profiteers that benefit from goofy charter school funding rules will continue to be exposed and held accountable.
  11.  On that note, private and charter schools will probably continue to be unaccountable for the large sums handed to them.  The situation in Chester Upland, where a charter school is suing an already beaten-down district, is horrific, but the situation is a symptom of wrong-headed ideas on education funding, including cuts to our weakest school districts.  The horror is that we’re affecting a group of students and condemning them to a life without the best skills and insights we can give them.  We all lose here, folks.
  12.  I just heard about a new “open campus” concept where students can cross district lines to pursue special courses.  Under such a concept, Cheltenham could be a provider of certain programs (like the arts) while neighboring districts could play to their strengths, possibly optimizing costs.  Interesting idea requiring much more analysis.
  13. We’ll continue the terrific progress of rebuilding and renovating our district.  We can’t be a first class district with third class schools.  We simply can’t afford the money it takes to maintain them.  Our new schools are bringing the best and most economical solutions to building design and to learning spaces.  I firmly believe we’ll see improved student performance as these new schools come on line.
  14. For folks who fear the number 13, have no fear.

So these are just some of the topics I will continue to monitor and discuss.  Comments and suggestions are always welcomed.

Overall, I believe our schools are terrific.  Our teachers are terrific.  Our community supports strong, diverse, creative, and cost-effective public education for all of our students.  The budget situation is tough, but this is a great time to be on the Cheltenham School Board.

Have a wonderful year!

This article (written by a teacher and submitted by a new, faithful reader) does a great job of outlining the topic of deciding how to approach the incorporation of new technology into schools and school board members would benefit from the perspective described as they develop their prioritization strategies.

We all see and perhaps own the wonderful individual technologies (those little time wasters we carry on our hips and in our bags), but until those technologies actually show a benefit to learning, I agree it would be better to focus on infrastructure that supports distribution of and collaboration around learning.

Do we really need our students worried about the perfectly formatted MS Office paper or are we focused on the content, developed through research, thought, and collaboration?

Obviously, the later, so let’s make the technology support the goals and let the Droids serve their rightful business purposes.  They are not quite learning tools, today.