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How Will Technology Change Learning -- and Teaching?

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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Last month I attended the Aspen Institute Education Innovation Forum & Expo in Washington D.C. The event attracted many investors who are planning on investing in the new education technologies. I heard a number of people in attendance propose that the education market is the next "Dot-com" technology growth area.

I admit, I'm a bit perplexed because we are in the depth of an economic recession that has reduced funding for public education to the bare minimum. I also see a demand for technology lacking in traditional public schools or even independent schools.

What's Next?

But, overall, I am excited about the possibilities that technology can provide to facilitate and manage student learning. I'm also always hopeful that we can devise a technology tool that will make teachers and principals' jobs easier. What do you think? What will be the technology or the "killer application" that will revolutionize education?

I'd like to share with you where I think we will find it and where we will not.

Educational technology enthusiasts hope for the magic algorithm that will personalize, manage, and rapidly accelerate student learning though games, simulations, or just plan drilling students. Certainly these types of technology will achieve some success in settings like Rocketship Schools and The School of One.

But I doubt we will see a massive takeover of traditional schooling by a technology solution. Even if schools had the resources to implement this type of solution, there is currently little demand by schools and most importantly, they lack the technical expertise to implement the solution.

What's Here

For more than eight years, we have been integrating technology at Envision Schools as a powerful tool for facilitating and managing learning. However, as we have been innovating, to date, none of the high schools in the districts where we have schools have even started to implement technology to the level which we have. But the good news? As all Envision Schools are wireless, so are schools and districts across the country.

Two tools that I am excited about (albeit, it will take some time for them to grow): the Project-based Learning Management System developed by the New Tech Network and a new assessment tool, ShowEvidence. I think these types of tools show great promise for changing practice and making performance-based learning easier for a broader set of teachers. Tools like these also make it more likely that students will produce rigorous and higher quality work products.

Digital Learning at Your Fingertips

Finally, the area in educational technology that I think is ripe for blasting off: Colleges, organizations, and companies will develop applications that will enable users to earn a degree or certification. The applications will run on an iPad, or some sort of tablet , rather than using a web browser. This might take five to ten years (maybe more) for them to get content that is both rigorous and aligned to standards -- and not just the Common Core, but college admission standards, career and technical standards as well.

Also, devising methods to reliably assess student work products at a massive scale will need to be solved. At the end of the next decade or maybe the one after that, these types of technology will prove to be a far greater threat to both public and private traditional schooling (more than any charter schools could ever be!)

Will there be a killer app for education? If so, what do you think it will be? Please share your thoughts and vision for the future.

Related Resources

Technology Integration (core concept)

Using Technology to Motivate Students (blog)

Online Learning Shapes the Future (video)

Join this Edutopia discussion group on technology integration

Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kevin Socha's picture

Yes, technology integration in education is lacking across the country. Currently, in many schools divisions the teacher's hands are tied by the lack of funding. So, what do we do? I guess we wait until the recession is over. By that time the US might be further behind that it may take decades to catch up. How about using the technology that the students already have? - The Cell Phone.
Eventually, I do believe that one day education will move to the digital delivery model and teachers will become the facilitator for the classroom and instead of the main mode of content delivery (The School of One). Why should teachers be the only ones who held the key to an education? We should place more responsibility on the students. Most the links in this post referred to websites that promote project-based learning as a way to keep students motivate. Educators need to embrace this philosophy to keep students engaged in the meantime until the budget situation is resolved and more funding is available for technology in schools. I'm tired of Window XP when Window 7 is available. Get my students and I out of the dark-ages please....'s picture
Parent advocate for school choice

K-12 education is unlikely ever to become a technology "" growth area. We've been through these predictions before, and investors got a rude awakening after they learned more about the sector. As School Choice spreads in K-12, we may finally develop a market where innovation can spread faster, but education remains a complex "service industry", where each user's responsiveness to the service can vary quite a bit. In that sense, it is like medicine. Individual technologies (drugs, CT scanners) can offer profitable opportunities, but it is harder for the integrated daily delivery provider (responsible for end-user improvements) to make the kinds of profits that attract venture investors. In addition to the variability in outcomes, the fundamental problem in intensive service industries is scale: how do you get the same or better results with fewer inputs of people-intensive and skill-intensive investments (which are the most expensive inputs)?

One of the educational approaches that seems to leverage people skills in a promising way is the "blended learning" "bricks and clicks" model, where day-to-day instruction relies more on computer-based curriculum, so that the on-site teacher can become a high-value resource dedicated to: 1) initial instruction on complex topics (origins of the Civil War, quadratic equations); 2) interpreting student progress to identify "next steps"; and 3) creative "reteaching" and coaching when students need additional help. These are the areas where the contributions of a good teacher are most needed, and incidentally, these are the areas that many teachers seem to find most rewarding. Our old notions of appropriate student-teacher ratios could change quite a bit, if teachers could focus on those tasks. Things like writing and grading exams, keeping track of attendance, managing behavior, and doing mundane "practice examples" for the whole class are things that don't really leverage a good teacher's skills. A lot of lower-level coaching and in-class monitoring and tutoring could be done by other onsite paraprofessionals (say, college grads considering a teaching career), if they were properly recruited, trained, and motivated. I could imagine a much more cost-effective and individualized educational experience for many students using this blended, technology-enhanced approach.

The other area that offers promise is assessment. Most schools still rely largely on a disconnected progress tracking model where assessment is too isolated in time -- and sometimes in content! -- from the actual instruction. More technology-based instruction will offer more opportunity for continuous assessment as students are completing tasks. The data ought to be more reliable, because it will be directly related to the actual learning objectives, and it should be more actionable, because it is generated as the student is learning, so that problems are identified more quickly and course corrections can start sooner.

All of this innovation, of course, presumes that the end-user parents and students will have more freedom to choose different models and different providers. Our legacy monopoly school districts may adopt isolated innovations here and there, as they have in past years, but they are unlikely to offer sustained improvements in their overall delivery model.

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