Not email, no matter what.
Strapping a rocket to the horse wouldn’t have turned the Pony Express into email (though it would have explained the “orphans preferred” tagline.) Similarly, Idaho districts using mandatory Students Come First technology funding for current capital spending plans will not prod the education system toward the “effective and efficient delivery of instruction” that can happen with high-quality digital learning. However, new wine into old wineskins is the plan for the Twin Falls School District which plans to use the money to buy smartboards sooner than scheduled. Craigmont School District wants to buy iPads and in Priest River they’re planning to purchase “digital cameras so (students) can incorporate photos into their school work.”
Dropping technology into classrooms will not cause schools to use it to its best advantage. Idaho’s full-time online schools and hybrid schools are taking advantage of technology. The regular system, where 92 percent of Idaho’s students are enrolled, needs to learn from the schools outside of the regular system and help students become digital consumers of educational content - just like students are already digital consumers of nearly everything else.
Traditional classroom-delivered education is to high-quality digital learning as sunlight is to a lamp. Even though both are light, the sun scatters everywhere while a lamp can be focused where illumination is needed. Traditional classroom learning educates - to a certain point - dozens of students when they are taught the same thing the same way by the same person. High-quality digital learning, on the other hand, focuses education. Students use digital devices to work on the basics and then their weak spots. Teachers then work on higher-level concepts with small groups of students using time and skill they didn’t have to waste on lecture and drill. For example, there’s no reason a teacher needs to lead a classroom of third graders in a chant to learn the times tables. Instead, students can memorize the tables as they defeat trolls and dragons and spend math time with their teacher further working on logic or algebraic thinking.
The Twin Falls School District may equate putting lecture notes on the Internet with “interactive” and “blended learning,” but saying something doesn’t make it so. For one thing, entrepreneur Salman Khan has already done what Twin Falls plans to do, and his excellent content on subjects ranging from arithmetic to history is free. Classrooms all over America are “flipping” Khan Academy’s lectures with homework: students watch Khan Academy lectures at home and get help with what used to be homework while at school. It didn’t take these schools $13 million in dedicated technology spending to make the change, either. All they had were the need and courage to try something new.
The Idaho State Department of Education has been tasked with approving districts’ classroom technology plans. It should give the green light only to districts with plans to implement high-quality digital learning. Technology holds the promise of affordable, personalized learning for every student. What we now think of as a regular classroom will soon be a relic - just like the Pony Express.
Image courtesy of voxmagazine.com.