|Posted On February 19, 2014|
The Houston Independent School District recently announced a massive technology initiative, equipping every high school student with a laptop by 2016. Superintendent Terry Grier announced the advent of “anytime-anywhere” learning, an exciting step toward modernizing a school system designed for a factory economy more than 100 years ago.
Educators weary of flash-in-the-pan reforms may be skeptical that the technology revolution is near (or, for that matter, necessary). Districts, charters and private schools nationwide have invested in ambitious technology ventures – some promising successes, some expensive failures. Teachers have added laptops and tablets to classroom toolkits, only to set them aside as distractions.
Mark my words: Education technology is no novelty. Technology’s reshaping of education is happening now, and further change is inevitable.
Universities have largely embraced technology-driven course design, while smartphones are omnipresent in middle and high schools, for better or worse. These facts may not be comfortable for everyone, but they can – and will – make schools better when effectively channeled.
I recently visited A& Unlimited Potential, a tuition-free middle school piloted this fall by Houston A& Challenge, a longtime promoter of education innovation on whose board I am honored to serve. Anyone interested in seeing how laptops are a game-changer should make this school their first stop.
At A&UP, technology is the classroom. Students and teachers meet face-to-face from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., as in a traditional school, but they carry their cloud-based classroom – books, assignments, resources, collaboration areas, progress trackers – from museum to community center to coffee shop to dinner table. In this virtual environment, students master skills that today’s workplaces demand: They track and prioritize their own workloads, seek and find resources, and look to peers and teachers for help in an online community.
Another component that separates ed tech success stories from false starts is the “secret sauce” all successful schools share: culture and values. At A&UP, school values pervade every aspect of the work. Developing character keeps students on task online. Emphasizing community motivates them to Skype in despite sniffles. Valuing communication ensures families are equal partners in their students’ learning.
A&UP’s integration of technology is seamless and effective because teachers there have made a wholesale commitment to students’ paperless, networked future. Teachers drive learning through resources in students’ own networks – websites, museum staff, peers, the Metro system – never worksheets or textbooks. And every day, they assess students’ needs and shake up rules and plans in response, because embracing the unlimited potential of each learner is the key to success in the Technology Age.
It took four decades for the world to rearrange itself around the automobile, and just one to rearrange around the smartphone. Change only gets bigger and faster, so teaching itself must evolve – and quickly – if we aim to prepare all students to thrive in the unknowable new.
I don’t pretend that A&UP’s mobile cohort of 33 students can be a prototype for 46,000 HISD high-schoolers. Rather, the model proves that technology’s promise.