Part of loving what you do for a living is staying up on the recent trends. That love coupled with a research mentality can sometimes lead to bouts of sarcasm laced with frustration. With the new year upon us it is easy to find a retrospective of 2017 or predictions for 2018; education is no different. I read about what the powers that be believed worked in education: technology initiatives, social movements, teaching styles and methods, etc. and what they believed will work in the future, usually something involving technology. During my reading, I was surprised at how different articles reported people being upset because a new educational method did not revolutionize the field and turn all students into a group of geniuses.
Let’s be honest, changing education, in almost any way, is difficult. Whether it is something simple, such as a new classroom method, or something much larger, like a new campus scheduling model, people do not like change. This dislike for change is added to the problem of those outside the educational field expecting a new teaching method to fix everything. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in education. Every student is different and has different needs. For the sake of length (and sanity), I am going to exclude the social/emotional needs of students and just focus on the academic parts of their lives. This is not to discount their needs, but we could spend huge amounts of time on how no model of education adequately addresses all student needs.
Education and, more specifically educating, is a huge puzzle. Educators must solve the puzzle of each student, each day, and those puzzles can change at any given moment. Teachers are given a number of tools to educate their students: lecture, blended learning, online/virtual learning, personalized learning, project based learning and more. Each of these methods has merit, but the problem is each student in each classroom may need a different method. Traditional lecture will work for some students, but others in the class may need to “touch” what they are learning. Others want to read on their own then come to class and apply what they have learned, yet others do not need to attend class to grasp the concepts. What is a teacher to do? How can a teacher decide which method to use or which will be the most effective each day?
The last few years the answers seem to be coming out of Silicon Valley. Tech giants are turning their focus to education and how their technology tools can help advance today’s students. Google has a suite of apps to go with their signature Chromebook series. Microsoft is designing different types of training to help teachers incorporate their software and products into the classroom. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have created the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative which focuses on personalized learning. All of these companies/entrepreneurs and others like them seem to have positive intentions: improve education while making money. I do not think there are many who would argue this is a bad deal. As long as the prices are not over inflated and schools are not leveraging their futures, all parties should come out better.
What is actually occurring is not what many expected. Technology designers may not understand the “art” side of teaching, therefore their products can be lacking and not draw students attention. For some teachers, the products are too technical and not user friendly, so they cast them aside for more traditional practices. Parents, while excited about the updating of school methods, are quick to jump on the attack bandwagon if the process does not go smoothly. Recently, two districts working with the Summit Personalized Learning Program, a program supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, have pulled back on their use of the program. This was done due to parent concerns about the content of the curriculum.
This concern by parents is completely understandable and the district, if it had content concerns, did the right thing for their students. With the push for more technology integration, though, school districts must be very cautious about implementing new technology just as they would new teaching methods. Technology is a wonderful complement to teaching, but only when properly aligned with district plans. This caution can be frustrating for all parties: administration, parents, tech companies and teachers. However, changing education is a slow and difficult process and if it is rushed, you have the results above or worse. Even more concerning, is the idea of improper technology application and then the wholesale abandonment of new technologies by school districts.
Yes, changing education to catch up with the technology age is difficult. However, it is the responsibility of all stakeholders: administration, teachers, parents and the students themselves, to find appropriate technology and make sure it is applied in a healthy, educationally sound manner. No one should expect one thing to fix education, it is going to take a village to reach today’s students and it can be done. This is not a short game though, we must understand it is going to take time to do the job properly.