How schools, students and teachers are navigating digital technology in education
The disappointing results of the Los Angeles public school system’s 1 billion dollar initiative to put an iPad into the hands of every student were surprising. The initiative led to unexpected consequences as students trusted with the devices hacked into systems, accessing Facebook and Twitter, even going as far as selling their devices on the street.
The initiative, while well-intentioned, highlights one of the primary challenges of education today: how to strategically and effectively harness emerging technologies and virtual learning opportunities within the classroom environment.
The Los Angeles School district is not alone. Since Nicholas Negroponte’s failed One Laptop per Child initiative, the questions of technology access, technology usage and teacher training have become the central issues in a debate that still has no clear answers.
What these failed experiments have pointed to is that access to technology, in tablet or any other form, is not the answer. Rather, the answer lies more in the broader question of use of technology within a reformed educational system - one that offers educational access equally and effectively for children and young adults across socio-economic lines.
The infusion of technology into classrooms is a systemic attempt to equalize access to students and provide opportunity, while developing their technological capabilities. Yet technology’s role in curriculum, given the inconclusive results and security and privacy concerns, remains an area of concern for parents and administrations. Technology requires significant investment and its costs only begin with the devices students use; yet there is no one assuredly working model to follow.
New education state standards outlined in Common Core have outlined rigorous, specific roles for technology in K-12 classrooms and testing procedures by state. The new guidelines highlight student achievement results through the use of technology, pinpointing higher levels of student engagement and capability with digital tools that enable stronger, self-directed learning.
Technology standards require a significant investment state-wide, but the specific requirements outlined in Common Core reveal the government’s vision for the employment future and its belief in the significance of technology’s role in preparing students for life in a wired world. [https://www.iste.org/standards/common-core]
“Effective use of technology” in the classroom may be the goal. But as the iPad initiative in Los Angeles revealed, technology alone is not the answer and even a strong plan of action can go very wrong.
MOOCs, or massive open online courses, deliver learning content online to anyone who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance.
With this kind of course content readily available, educators at all levels are tapping into the resources many MOOCs offer. From videos to work sheets to classroom forums for discussions, MOOCs enhance curriculums and offer ready-made learning tools that, when used effectively, free up time for teachers to focus on application of the learning. While developed as a online (presumably at home) digital learning resources, MOOCs like Khan Academy, edX, Coursera and Future Learn are helping classrooms and administrators create effective strategies for use, working one-on-one with school districts, universities and learning foundations to help rebuild the infrastructure of education from the inside out. Their efforts may fundamentally change the way learning happens in preparation for a technology-rich future.
So far, the results of their work with educators are limited; programs are in their infancy. The learning models they’ve developed appear to be promising in early studies, but are specifically directed, customized models. What remains to be seen is how to scale these models to education as a whole.
With so much at stake, some of the country’s most innovative minds from business, technology and education are working with educators to develop larger, more replicable models for the new educational landscape.
The Christiensen Institute, founded by Clay Christensen to “inform the way decision makers solve social problems” is working actively with K-12 and higher education classrooms around the country to utilize technology as a method of transforming education as a whole. In his 2008 book Disrupting the Classroom, Christiensen argues that online learning has the potential to be a disruptive innovation when set within a structured, teacher-led blended learning environment, defining the environment as follows:
“Blended learning is not the same as technology-rich instruction. It goes beyond one-to-one computers and high-tech gadgets. Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, meaning increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning.” [http://www.christenseninstitute.org/education]
Tom Arnett, a Research Fellow in K-12 Education at Christensen, says “the infusion of online learning into brick-and-mortar settings lies in four blended learning models that have had the most promising results.” The models focus on using online learning’s potential to create independent thinkers and learners, and its ability to immediately provide teachers information about that student’s ability to understand a concept. This independent learning, bolstered by teacher interaction and group classroom meetings, enables students to work at their own pace with a singular curriculum goal in mind.
Michelle Weise, Senior Research Fellow in Higher Education at the Institute notes, “These initiatives are to help us get past using technology for technology’s sake. It’s about considering the pedagogy and changing our teaching with ideas driven through technology.”
Working closely with Christensen and Khan Academy, the Summit Public Schools in the Bay area completely restructured its elementary and secondary schools from the ground up. Instead of applying technology to the traditional school structure, they rethought the classroom as a whole, applying technology as the backbone of student learning, with teachers supplementing tutorial and assessing individual student learning through a constant data stream.
Students progress at their own pace toward a common curriculum goal, accessing lectures and video information as a part of their homework. This freedom maximizes teacher attention, and helps students learn at their own pace.
Preliminary results from their work show how a strong, well-implemented technology plan can tap into technology’s potential. In a 2009 statewide study, the state ranked Summit in the 90th percentile, and the 100th percentile with students of similar demographics. In 2011, their were even greater gains, with 75 percent of the students at Summit Prep testing at over 50 percentage points higher than the state averages on one AP exam.
The Summit model is one of several successful “educational experiments” that seem to use technology to its best advantage. And while results are limited, to many minds they point to the pivotal nature of the moment, to many requiring nothing short of a reboot of the very infrastructure on which traditional education was built. As Bill Gates said in an interview at Harvard University in September “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but we won’t know for probably a decade.” [www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet]
Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), is a man who believes that “a teacher’s effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor controlled by school systems.” BIF works from a strong belief that nothing short of total transformation of the top-down way education currently works will do. “They hope technology adapted to our current system will work: they hope for different data, but already billions have been lost with no strong outcomes” says Kaplan.
In his opinion, we need to take advantage of the way technology works to manifest lasting change. His team at BIF is leading two significant initiatives to develop effective new approaches. Their program Student Design for Education is premised on a question: what would it look like to enable students to leverage technology and design their own tools and create their own learning model?
Kaplan’s team recently put this theory to practice at the University of Utah, where students were asked to design an online system for Student Services that would work more effectively than the current model, helping them prepare for and move more successfully toward their transition into the workforce. At first, students were skeptical. But once they learned the basic design skills, they took their work quite seriously, working individually and in groups, to rebuild the infrastructure of their Student Services group. The program is now up and running, developed, evolved and maintained by the very people it serves. [http://tinyurl.com/mmutrfr]
With the Teacher Design for Education program the same rules apply. Together with teachers, the group is designing a platform that enables educators to “innovate, test and validate various solutions” to develop the resources that will enable a teacher’s ability to invent, create and utilize the potential of technological tools, with data- driven results that help them apply and test in real-time. [http://tinyurl.com/k8y3b6r]
Higher education is, to varying degrees, a more wired community. Traditional colleges and universities blend digital resources into the curriculum to enhance the educational experience. Private platforms for course work, research, resources and community building are nearly universal.
“Technology integration starts from the first class”, says Dr. Linda Mensing Triplett, Associate Professor, Director Middle and High School Programs at Lesley’s Graduate School of Education, “we’re immediately accessing MyLesley or a Google site as platforms for coursework, audio and video instruction and an electronic grading system that enable our students to have more control of the process,” she goes on, “and whether you’re on campus, distance learning or an online learner, you’re using an array of teaching technologies and resources which you will be expected to use in your own lesson planning.”[ http://screencast.com/t/EgFwz1jl]
Since 2002, Dr. Mensing Triplett has been working with multimedia resources to supply feedback, present materials and teach coursework. Lesley’s extraordinarily high online course completion rate is due, she says, to this:
“There are several factors critical to keeping students engaged in online learning. Small classes, a clear outline of the sessions, on tests and assignments are definitely part of it.”
Dean Jack Gillette of the Graduate School of Education at Lesley outlines it this way:
“Infusing technology into the classroom currently holds both more promise and more challenges than ever before. From our perspective and embedded in all our work is the core notion that technology, when matched appropriately to a clear set of learning outcomes, can accelerate student engagement and levels of achievement.”
In hindsight, educators familiar with the Los Angeles iPad initiative point to lack of teacher training as a significant factor in the program’s early stumbles. In fact, there is one decisive element that remained critical to success: the teacher. Whether schools are simply adding digital tools and online resources to their curriculum or are attempting to reimagine a digital classroom, teacher preparation is the essential connection between technology and the student. At every level of education, teacher training is the “secret sauce” that adds dimension to learning.
Universities like Lesley are playing a pivotal role in the creation of the new digital classroom through progressive teacher education. The digital platforms and multi-media tools teaching students are required to use -the actionable feedback we provide online and electronic grading system where students can chart and control their own learning process - are all tools these teachers will then manifest in their own classrooms.
“All over the country we’re sending faculty to teach teachers for every level how to better leverage technology in the classroom”, Shari Craig, Managing Editor, Web Publications notes. “We’ve been integrating technology into our course instruction since the early 1990’s, so we’re creating a far more developed online resource platform for students.”
Schools and universities worldwide are struggling to find the ideal solution to the infusion of digital technology in classrooms. As the pace of technological advances, teachers and administrations struggle to keep up. Yet use of the tools established are agreed to be critical for the students who face a 21st century workforce ahead.
[Sources: Psychology Today, “The Power of Prime” by Jim Taylor PhD; “How Technology is Changing The Way Children Think and Focus”; http://www.edutopia.org/digital-learning-technology-resources; “NEA Policy Statement on Digital Learning”, http://www.nea.org/home/55434.htm; “Integrating Technology In Schools” Innovation Excellence, “10 Emerging Educational Technologies & How They Are Being Used Across the Globe, http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2013/07/29/10; “Blended Learning: A Disruptive Innovation”, http://www.knewton.com/blended-learning; “Five Innovative Examples of Blended Learning”, http://clomedia.com/articles/view/five_innovative_examples_of_blended_learning; Innovation: The Rise of Blended Learning”, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/the-rise-of-blended-learning-7719337; “Blend My Learning”, http://www.blendmylearning.com/2013-education-innovation-summit-dc; Psychology Today, “The Education and the Ecstasy”, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-media-psychology-effect/201305/e-education-and-ecstasy]
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Holly Doe, who earned her MEd in Educational Technology at Lesley, was recently awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She has been a leader in robotics in her Pelham, NH, school district. Read more.
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Blog: Technology in the Classroom