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Education and Technology: Now Is the Time

Mike Maravilla, TeachHUB.com

Education and Technology: Now Is the TimeIt’s no secret that education reform has been at the forefront of everyone's minds of late. With the virtually universal acceptance of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it seems that some education reform ideas are moving forward. Hopefully, they'll finally give us a chance to catch up with the best education systems in the world. But are big movements such as CCSS actually a new idea?

Back in the early 70’s, Individually Prescribed Instruction (or IPI) was the hot new ticket in over 300 progressive schools across the nation – it was a “systematic approach to learning” that centered on a set of 5 objectives:

  1. To permit student mastery of instructional content at individual learning rates
  2. To ensure active student involvement in the learning process
  3. To encourage student involvement in learning through self-directed and self-initiated activities
  4. To encourage student evaluation of progress toward mastery
  5. To provide instructional materials and techniques based on individual needs and styles.

If you read that list and thought it sounded eerily familiar, you’d be right. In some way, shape and form, we’ve been spinning these same wheels for the better part of 30 years – penning ambitious goals for educational reform only to see its implementation (and funding) be stifled. Kind of depressing? I’d argue against that.

You see, unlike most previous efforts, educational reform has recently seen some steady growth. Like I said before, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been all but universally adopted nationwide. Although the CCSS are sometimes criticized for a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning, even these guidelines emphasize a priority for individualized instruction in their benchmarking systems:

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“The standards clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level. This will allow our teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them. The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.” (http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards)

So what’s the difference? I believe the answer lies in technology. I would argue that because life has increasingly centered on tech, its adoption into education has become more fluid, more natural, and in a lot of ways, more necessary. 

Now, before I get ahead of myself, I have to admit that computers have been around in education since the mid-1940s – much like school reform itself, it’s not exactly a new thing. What is new, however, is the way that these computers are enabling the world to interact with one another in an increasingly comfortable (and affordable) manner, which counts for a lot. The famous example of Moore's Law – the exponential growth in computer processing power – shows how far computer power and affordability have come in recent decades.

Figure 1: Moore's Law

What are some examples of Ed Tech at work?

1. The Flipped Classroom

a. What Is It?  Instead of receiving lecture during their class period, students learn the material via video instruction at their own pace and interact with their classmates and teacher(s) online. As a result, class time is spent troubleshooting and honing student comprehension – helping the teacher assume the role of a facilitator or coach.

b. How Does Ed Tech Help Make This Possible?  Advancements in technology have allowed the flipped classroom to become interactive. Although it is technically possible to “flip” a classroom in an analog sense, it’s the collaborative student community and multimedia-rich experience that have made this technique successful. It also puts the tools students are accustomed to right in their hands (and minds) as vehicles for learning, not just leisure.

2. Classroom Management Systems (CMS)

a. What Is It? Think of it as an online portal for all of your classroom tools – gradebooks, reporting, assignments and more. But beyond saving paper (and your sanity), a well-executed CMS allows a teacher to monitor student activities and performance in real-time to help students across all learning levels.

b. How Does Ed Tech Help Make This Possible?  Real-time reporting is extremely valuable, and this feature alone relies on technology. With this data, teachers, administrators and even parents can take responsive action to get their children where they need to be by differentiating instruction where necessary.

As technology has gotten cheaper, the hurdles that have prevented its implementation have also shrunk, making it easier for tools that help classrooms meet the Common Core Standards and other goals to be a big part of the classroom experience on both ends:

“Using technology can change the way teachers teach…some teachers use technology to support more student-centered approaches to instruction, so that students can conduct their own scientific inquiries and engage in collaborative activities while the teacher assumes the role of facilitator or coach.”

Sound anything like a flipped classroom to you? It might surprise you that this excerpt was pulled from an article written in 1995 (Teachers & Technology: Making the Connection, OTA, 1995 pg. 1-2), but it all comes together to prove the point – modern technology has made necessary educational change not only possible, but also feasible. It seems then, that after all these years of spinning, those wheels have finally gained a bit of traction. Now is the time.