“I really hope it works:” Digital Technology for Instruction

 

There are many classrooms like English teacher Amy Furman’s featured in a 2011 article Classroom of the Future: Stagnant Scores.

Amy’s thirty-one students are studying Shakespeare’s As You Like It, taking advantage of 21st century digital technology.

Amy is not “giving the students notes” but is circulating among her students observing, offering comments and suggestions as her laptop-equipped students engage themselves with the play in very nontraditional ways.

In the place of an essay on the play’s plot, the students are blogging, or creating Facebook pages for the characters, while others are writing about why the love-smitten Silvius would like a particular rap by Kanye West.

Amy expressed her pleasure with what is going on in her “very dynamic classroom” adding “I really hope it works.”(Richtel, 2011)

This technology-rich classroom is one outcome of a 2005 referendum in which the voters passed a bond referendum that gave the Kyrene School District in Arizona $45 million to “transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide for students who will learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.”

The high cost of the technology needed for the transformation makes the question whether it works a matter of concern.

In 2011, as now, the evidence that such investment in digital technology has been at best ambiguous. Overall, the data that supports the use of technology is “pretty weak” according to Tom Vander Ark, former executive director for education and an investor in educational technology companies.(Richtel, 2011)

In the eleven years after it passed its technology referendum and five years since Amy Furman expressed both the pleasure of teaching in a technology-rich classroom as well as her “hope” that it works, Kyrene School District remains a technology-rich school system. The students in its nineteen elementary and middle schools perform above average, earning an “A” ranking in the Arizona school accountability system.

Its 2016 Website cites the district’s “technology enhanced curriculum” and the fact that

Throughout the entire district, every classroom is enhanced with a variety of technology tools: wireless laptop computers; many with multi-touch display, a projector, a document camera, and iPads, so that students have hands-on access to technology as part of their everyday instruction and learning. Elementary classrooms also have interactive whiteboards. Students use industry-standard word processor and spread sheet programs, specialized graphics and education software, and web-based applications and information sources. Teachers participate in regular staff development and mentoring programs to help them to better use these incredible tools. (Kyrene School District)

Is Kyrene’s success the result of its rich technology or because in it also has both technology along with a well-developed system of instructional support for its teachers: academic coaches and educational technology specials for all subjects?

In education there are no “silver bullets” whether educational technology, textbooks or curriculum.   “One-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring—for better or worse—in classrooms, schools, and districts. (Goodman, 2011)

If Kyrene is a positive example of the implementation of educational technology, what happened with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) is a negative one.

The debacle began in 2013 with a district investment of $1.3 billion that was to put an Apple iPad loaded with instructional software from educational giant Pearson in the hands of every child in every school. But by 2015 the district wanted out of the deal claiming that the software didn’t work and that the iPads had fatal security holes.

An observer noted that if one of the largest school districts in the nation, one of the largest educational publisher and the largest technology company couldn’t successfully integrate instructional technology into classrooms, who could? (Lapowski, 2015)

The answer lies up the coast from Los Angeles,  where the Milpitas Unified School District also has made a significant investment in personal technology and has successfully used blended learning to create personalized instruction for its students.

The contrast between the two school districts in how their instructional technology programs came about is instructive.

In Los Angeles, the Instructional Technology Initiative began at the top as did the Milpitas project. However, in Milpitas, Cary Matsuoka, the superintendent began by asking his principals the question: “If you could design the school of the future, what would it look like?”

His goal was to “give principals and teachers the autonomy to determine what would work best for their schools.” Mandating from the top, he reflected, and you “get compliance, where people go through the motions.”

The answers also got him and his district to the understanding that one-to-one wasn’t needed because the principals proposed a “rotation model” in which students would  use the devices in shifts.

The district chose Chromebooks; they are less expensive than iPads because they are cloud based, central management and updating are less of a hassle.

As a departing Board of Education recalled about his eight years on the Board”We went through both academic and sport renewal and modernization, implemented blended learning and common core, build a high-tech infrastructure and new athletic facilities.… For the past eight years, we saw student achievement improved significantly, we are also financially solid.” (Mohammed, 2016)

The contrasting examples provided by Kyrene and Milpitas versus the LAUSD debacle support the contention that educational technology if it is implemented based on a shared vision that include the identification of the actual problem to be solved, if the school and district leadership supports all aspects of the implementation. Implementation requires the development of a technology infrastructure and a culture of professional learning that includes the community, parents and guardians, all school personnel, and the development of a coaching/mentoring model. This last is important because the technology will be a catalyst for changing the connections between learning and instruction.

Resources:

Greaves, T., Hayes, J., Wilson, L., Gielniak, M., & Peterson, R. Project Red: Revolutionizing Education: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectivenss. Retrieved from https://www.k12blueprint.com/sites/default/files/Project-RED-Technolgy-Factor.pdf

Goodman, B. (2011). Research Says…/One-to-One Laptop Programs Are No Silver Bullet. EdLeadership, 68), 78-79. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb11/vol68/num05/One-to-One_Laptop_Programs_Are_No_Silver_Bullet.aspx

Lapowski, I. (2015). What Schools Must Learn From LA’s IPad Debacle. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2015/05/los-angeles-edtech/

Mohammed, Aliyah (2016). Milpitas: School boar names permanent MUSD superintendent. The Mercury News, November 17, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/11/17/milpitas-school-board-names-permanent-musd-superintendent/

Richtel, M. (2011c). In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html

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