Technology in Education

One of the presenters at this week’s Massachusetts Digital Government Summit was Mark Racine, the Chief Information Officer of the Boston Public Schools (and a former 5th grade teacher.  The title of his talk was Education Technologies Today and Tomorrow and my notes on his remarks are below.

Yesterday I did another post on the technology trends discussed at the Summit.  Also, remember that this coming Saturday, December 6, 2014 is the 2nd Annual Lowell Social Media Conference.  It begins at 10 am at LTC at 246 Market Street.  It’s free and everyone is invited.  I previously posted a full description of the conference.

Remarks by Mark Racine, CIO of Boston Public Schools:

Started by saying that classrooms haven’t changed much in 100 years.  Goes through classroom technology timeline:

·        1890s – handheld slate tablets
·        1900s – pencils (affordable but paper isn’t yet so slate tablets continue in use)
·        1920s – radio comes to classroom.  Education programs widely broadcast
·        1930s – reel-to-reel projectors
·        1940s – slide projector (permits efficient distribution of non-book materials by publishers)
·        1950s – overhead projector
·        1960s – calculators and photocopiers
·        1970s – computers in classrooms (but almost exclusively for admin purposes)
·        1980s – educational software – students begin learning from computers
·        1990s – wired to the Internet – slow but at least they’re connected
·        2000s – WIFI

Every one of these technologies is still in use in our schools today.  None have left.  Why are we doing things the same way we always have done?  Why haven’t we evolved?

To change the way we teach we first have to change the way we think about learning.  The old model of learning was linear.  The teacher stood at the front of the room, delivered a standard lesson on a tight schedule whether the students got it or not.  It was like requiring the students to drink 8 glasses of water each day.

Instead, think of learning as a swimming pool in which the student immerses him or herself.  How do you do this?  Technology can surround the student with learning opportunities.  Technology permits this kind of immersion.  But immerse the child in technology, not the teacher.

Another point: school districts strive to standardize technology which from an Information Technology perspective, is the proper course since it provides economy of scale.  But this type of exclusivity is completely wrong from an education perspective.  Students should be exposed to all types of technology because when they are looking for jobs they will need to know all of these technologies.  If they’ve only been exposed to one in school, the school has missed an opportunity.  Schools should also teach students how this stuff works so that when it doesn’t work they know how to fix it.  This allows students to discover stuff on their own.

The motto should be “failure is not an option, it’s a requirement.”  Failure (of technology) is a learning opportunity.  Teachers and students should prepare for it, deal with it, and learn from it.  One reason teachers rely so much on paper handouts is that it’s a reliable technology that they know is going to work.  That’s not necessarily the case with computers.  But when a computer doesn’t work as planned, it presents a learning opportunity that should be embraced.

Empower the students.  Learning should be personalized even if the technology is not.  And always remember, learning happens everywhere.