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Technology and Education

February 28, 2014


In several past articles on education, I’ve mentioned the work being done by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation on a concept it calls “blended learning.” The Institute defines “blended learning as a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.” The Institute reports that there “are four models of blended learning that categorize the majority of blended-learning programs emerging across the K-12 sector today. These four models are: Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual.” The following video provides an excellent overview of the blended learning approach.



Of course, the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation isn’t the only group focused on trying to make education better by enhancing traditional approaches with technology. David Havens, an analyst at NewSchools Venture Fund, posted a Slideshare presentation entitled “Re-imagined: The future of K12 education” outlining how his organization is thinking about education reform. In his presentation, Havens cites a survey by Brightbytes that found that “95% of teachers agree that technology use in the classroom can enhance student learning” and that 80% of the responding teachers “agree that their students’ learning is more engaging when using technology.”


An adage that has been attributed to a number of different sources from Chinese philosophers to Benjamin Franklin states, “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.” You don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate the wisdom contained in that adage. The reason that so many organizations are pushing for more technology in the classroom is because technology has an ability to engage students in a new way. The technology of greatest importance, of course, is the computer. No student is going to enter the working world equipped with all the right skills if computer skills are missing. Students who are home schooled or attend private schools generally have ready access to computers. In the public education domain, however, an increasing percentage of students come from low income families. According to Havens, “48% of public school students are now eligible for free or reduced lunch” programs. There is little debate about the assertion that the surest way to break the poverty cycle is to provide a good education to children. As I noted in a previous post entitled “Educating Our Children: the Earlier the Better,” providing children from low income families with pre-K programs is an essential first step in helping them compete with children from wealthier families. The primary reason for this is that pre-K programs expose these children to words and concepts (and, hopefully, technologies) that are often missing in the home environment.


Providing a good education for all children is an economically sound strategy for society at large. According to Havens, “22% of children” who have lived in poverty for a year or more do not graduate from high school. These children are more likely to be found in welfare offices than they are in the workplace contributing to society. Havens also notes that “60% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate.” Clearly, education is not going to make a difference in every child’s life. Some children will continue to drop out of school despite society’s best efforts; nevertheless, we have an obligation to do everything we can to try and prevent such a result. As Havens concludes, “Income inequality is growing and has powerful implications on educational attainment.”


According to Havens, technology offers a new landscape which teachers and students can explore together. He quotes Marion Ginapolis, Superintendent at Lake Orion Public Schools, who stated, “It’s not about the technology; it’s about sharing knowledge and information, communicating efficiently, building learning communities and creating a culture of professionalism in schools. These are the key responsibilities of all educational leaders.” Havens believes that the adoption of technologies can lead to “new academic mindsets and learning strategies linked to school success.” He notes that “97% of teachers have at least one computer in the classroom”; but, one computer is woefully short of what is needed to help every student benefit from the use of technology. One encouraging trend, Havens notes, is that the penetration of smartphones and tablets is growing, even among the poor. This is important, he notes, because there are a growing number of educational applications available for such devices. He then adds a big “BUT.” He notes that “72% of schools lack adequate bandwidth to use 1:1 devices in every classrooms.” In other words, mobile devices are part of a pool of technology containing a significant amount of unrealized potential.


Despite this limitation, Sieva Kozinsky, insists, “Education disruption is already taking place.” [“Education and the Innovator’s Dilemma,” Wired Innovation Insights, 8 January 2014] She explains:

“We’re finally seeing nontraditional teaching methods such as Blended Learning, or the Flipped Classroom, address the needs of schools whose conventional systems are falling short. A round of applause goes out to Clintondale High, the nation’s first high school to integrate Blended Learning in its entirety , a champion of change. What we’re witnessing here is a first mover in a disruptive model.”

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a “Flipped Classroom,” it is an educational concept in which instruction is delivered online outside the classroom (e.g., at home) and then traditional homework is completed in the classroom under the supervision of a qualified teacher. To learn more about this concept, visit the Knewton website. Kozinsky notes that Clayton Christensen predicts that “50% of all high school classes will be taught online by 2019.” She insists that teachers, administrators, politicians, and students all have a role to play in the education revolution (as explained below). The only group she left out (and they are perhaps the most important group) is parents (although she does lump “everyone else” into the student category). To teachers, she writes:

“Explore your opportunities. Challenge your administrators to let you try new things. Teaching is all about learning, both for you and the student. Don’t feel constrained by your textbooks or curriculum, but rather try to adopt new methods that complement them. You know your goals  —  the path you take to get to your goal is entirely up to you. After all, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teaching is an art.”

To administrators, she writes:

“It’s happening now. The only thing certain is, if you’re not innovating, you’re losing popularity — and fast. You don’t necessarily need to pioneer change, but don’t be the force that holds your teachers back. You’ve hired great people and allowed them to set goals. Now let them go out and be great  — if they come to you with new tools and ideas, and a burning look in their eye … maybe they’re onto something. Don’t grab hold of every innovation in sight, but listen and work with your teachers to move forward. Before you know it, you’ll be in the news like Clintondale high school. Small sacrifice for a massive potential reward. According to Christensen, your best bet isn’t layering technology on top of your current education practices, but instead spinning off a few classes where technology is the primary driver of education. This is where true innovation can occur, and you can test the success on a small sample audience.”

To politicians and bureaucrats, she writes:

“You stodgy old man you. Don’t you worry. You’re trying your best, and we appreciate that. Set the goals, hand out money like a rich uncle and look the other way until the dust settles. Too much money stifles innovation. Yes, you read that correctly. The seemingly inferior technologies will prevail as dominant when the time comes. BUT you can make sure you’re focusing your investments on legitimizing the use of technologies and online education for students. If it’s definitely going to happen, then it should happen sooner rather than later. The lean methodology suggests that the faster we can get solutions out there, the faster we can iterate an awesome and comprehensive solution. Don’t try to plan too much, because the first solutions won’t be the ones that last. History has proven that investment in infrastructure is key, education is a keystone infrastructure piece.”

To students (and everyone else), she writes:

“Today, more people are graduating from college than at any point in our country’s history (there’s also a lot more people). We’re seeing a true popularization of education — no longer is the upper class privy to information and higher education. More so than at any point in recent history, everyone and anyone can be a student. It’s our responsibility as the world’s students to remain curious, to continue searching for the best methods for learning and teaching our children.”

Although I agree that we should all remain lifelong students, my advice to students would be a little different. I’d advise them to seriously consider how society is changing, what jobs are going to disappear, what jobs are going to be created, what skills are going to be required, and how best those skills can be obtained. They need a goal to achieve and a vision of how they are going to achieve it. My advice to parents is to be as involved as you possibly can in your child’s education. An indifferent parent almost guarantees an indifferent student — and a likely drop out. Technology can revolutionize education, but it won’t have that effect if infrastructure isn’t in place, appropriate curricula isn’t developed, and/or engaged teachers, students, and parents aren’t involved. Technology is only a tool that needs skilled hands to use.

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