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The Potential of Technology to Transform Education

May 16, 2012   

Educational technology has the potential to transform this country’s education system in powerful ways, to better prepare students for living and working in a world that demands a different skill set from that which our current education system was designed to offer.  Curriculum designed to be delivered to every student in the same way at the same time may have been a successful way to prepare the future generation of workers in the 20th century, when many would work in jobs requiring a narrow set of skills and knowledge, but today’s workforce requires students be able to collaborate, problem solve, communicate, navigate, synthesize and create with information that is multiplying exponentially on a daily basis.  Technology not only allows students to practice these skills in a relevant way to prepare them for the future, it allows them to learn on their
own terms –what they want, where they want, and when they want. of Educational technology has the potential to transform teaching and learning as we know it  through this anytime, anywhere learning — what is currently being labeled  “Personalized Learning.”

Personalized learning might incorporate some blended learning strategies, or be fully online. It might involve technology in the learning, or the communication of the learning, especially when that learning happens outside of the classroom.  However, technology is not the focal point of the learning.  With the concept of personalized learning, we are on the brink of realizing our vision of how educational technology can transform education, because this strategy does not merely supplant a 20th century teaching practice with a “cool tool.”
It changes the very face of what education looks like.  It allows ownership of the learning to be transferred to the student.

How do we get there?  For fundamental change to occur, changes in policy at the state and national level are essential. Relief from seat-time
requirements , otherwise known as the “Carnegie Unit” would allow schools to shift to a more meaningful method of learning and assessing students on progress towards mastery of standards. This would also allow students to progress through learning at a pace that best meets their learning needs and styles. A natural extension of this would be to discontinue grouping students by ages and grade levels and instead group them according to their level obtained toward mastery.  An additional element that will pave the way for personalized learning would be to allow students to receive credit for learning that happens outside of the classroom walls.  If a student volunteers at a science center, writes for the local newspaper, designs displays for a local history museum, or participates on a gymnastics team, and can prove their mastery of the required content standards through these activities to their teacher -coach, then they should not have to “put in time” in a classroom and pass low-level assessments to obtain credit towards graduation.  In this system, standardized tests given by grade level would make no sense.  Performance assessments designed to rate a student’s progress towards mastery of content and skills should be put in place.  In an education system where students own the learning, the purpose of the assessments would be for students, with guidance from their teacher-coach, to see how they are progressing and to make choices about how to best move forward to master the content and/or skill. Electronic portfolios become a way to show mastery –another technology-enabled
system.

At all levels, it is critical for school leaders to adopt a shared vision of learning transformed by technology so that  the potential of educational technology can be realized.  Even before state and national policy shift to make room for personalized learning, there are things our school and district leadership can do. The world is changing rapidly by technology, and school leaders have an obligation to model its use.  We must tap in to the professional learning networks available through social media to really understand how our students communicate, learn and grow in today’s information-based society, and tap in to the richness of ideas and understandings that are exchanged there.  Through these educational learning networks available on Twitter, Linked-In, and through
professional organizations such as ASCD and Edutopia, educational leaders discuss and shape a vision for education transformed through the power of technology.

An area that seems daunting in today’s economy, but may just require some creative thinking on the part of the school and district leadership is to examine the budget to see how funding can shift from support of 20th century teaching practices to allow for large scale deployment of technology to provide equitable access for every student. This deployment absolutely must include budget to address professional development for all teachers to meet them where they are with their understanding of transforming daily teaching practice through technology to realize the school and district vision.  Currently, most school districts invest large amounts of money in print textbooks, which in many cases become obsolete before they can be replaced.  While etextbooks are one possible solution, perhaps a larger shift in curriculum design and delivery, which could involve re-thinking the teacher role as personalized learning and school structure begin to evolve would be for teachers to curate resources that support the standards-based, backwards planned units they create for students.  This shift to teacher created curriculum has the potential to free up limited school and district funds currently going to purchase curriculum and textbooks to support the time teachers invest in creating these resources and learning units, as well as the technology used in the delivery. The benefits would be curriculum tailored to meet the needs of students. Eventually, as students develop information literacy skills, they might assume some of the responsibility for curating information to
achieve the learning objectives and master the content standards themselves.  This will further shift
ownership of the learning from the teacher (as well as school and district) to the student. 

This education transformation will not happen overnight. However, for the sake of our students, the future of learning, and
all of the things that education impacts in a community, state, and nation, the process needs to begin now.  People at all levels of the education spectrum need to develop a unified vision and begin the process of implementing whatever they can do within their realm of influence. The clock is ticking. Twenty-first century learning is about more than replacing a 20th century teaching practice with a piece of technology. We are now over a decade into this century. It’s time to get busy.