I’m attending FETC in Orlando and had the pleasure of sitting down with some great people to discuss some of the important challenges and opportunities our schools are facing in the near future. One of these great people was Ken Royal, Senior Editor of Scholastic Administrator. He publishes a terrific blog - The Royal Treatment (wish I had a cool name to use for a blog!).
We got around to the subject of school modernization and both recognized the need to think holistically about the goal and to avoid falling into the trap of starting with the technology. It’s my strong belief that schools need to start by looking inward, asking questions and addressing aspirations…as they approach change with process, common language and sustainable investment. The technology first trap is driven by a need to drive quick and visible progress…but like any worthwhile pursuit, the easiest path is not always the most fruitful.
I described the pursuit using a shopping analogy from a recent experience.
A few weeks ago I was preparing a meal for a dinner party. Like any good host, I started by heading to my nearest grocer. I had lots of choices for sure and selected a variety of fine ingredients and proteins…choosing what looked good and seemed fresh. Feeling content with my journey I headed home and laid out my bounty. Soon after…I struggled with what to make, how to tie the menu together, how to create a menu that reflected the dietary needs and desired tastes of my guests. Moreover, many of the recipes I cobbled together called for ingredients I didn’t anticipate, prompting a few return visits to the store. This created stress and wasted valuable time and money. I ended up putting together an edible meal that nourished my guests…but didn’t hit the homerun I had hoped for and probably prompted a few stops for takeout on the road home.
I was reflecting with Ken that our past pursuits with technology in education resemble this type of experience. Our schools have collected a lot of great ingredients (technology) to put in the hands of great chefs (teachers), who then work/struggle to optimize, train, connect and deliver powerful nourishment to their guests (students).
As we head towards the future and as I plan my next dinner party…starting with the recipe is the needed approach. Thinking about the theme of the meal, how many people I’ll be cooking for, what they like/dislike, and what meal is a good match for my skills, will allow me to assemble the right recipe…which will not only guide my preparation, but really refine the efficiency and effectiveness of my shopping experience and the overall impact of the meal served.
Our teachers are great cooks and certainly our students have a voracious appetite for learning. We need to optimize their mutual success by spending time planning and asking the right critical questions…even the best ingredients (technology) can go bad if not properly prepared.
This week, like me, you’ve likely been watching with fascination the numerous ways technology allowed us to experience the Presidential Inauguration like never before. From streaming video live on the Internet, twittering from the National Mall, or taking and sharing digital photos, Americans had countless ways to digitally interact. If you watch CNN, you probably saw that Microsoft partnered with the cable news network to gather thousands of citizens’ phone and digital camera photos and stitched them together to create a huge 3D panorama view of when Obama took the Oath of Office.
They did this with a new Microsoft technology called Photosynth. The technology came out of Microsoft Research and is based on a collaborative research project with the University of Washington. This cool technology goes far beyond just allowing you to share your still photos with other people…it allows you to share an experience. People are put right into your shoes and can look up and down, left to right and all around the scene where you snapped pictures. (Take a look at the Great Sphinx in Egypt below.) The software analyzes each photo for similarities and magically matches them together.
Photosynth is a free Microsoft tool teachers can integrate into their curriculum and classrooms to help transform the learning environment. All you have to do is download and install Photosynth and Silverlight onto your computer. We even have a webinar to get teachers and IT staff up to speed on how to use the software. I think the ability for students and teachers to really interact with their world in three dimensions and use visualization this powerful really creates a whole new set of opportunities. What’s really great is that Photosynth uses technology…camera phones, digital cameras, the Internet…that kids are already interested in and use in real-life every day.
Just envision, on your next school field trip, you have all your students take pictures from their different vantage points. You come back to the classroom, stitch the pictures together and imagine all the stories the kids could tell.
I had the great fortune of being in Washington, D.C. on Monday. I was lucky enough to get a ticket into the Illinois Inaugural Gala, preceding inauguration day. Walking through Union Station and through the city on my way to the event, it was hard not to feel the sense of joy, hope and change in the air. Regardless of political perspectives or current challenges home and abroad, it is an exciting time for this country…a time when you not only recognize you are taking part of a historical moment, but participating in events that will forever change the future.
It is a time for change and hope for our education agenda as well and I spoke with many folks on the topic of education and our need to make sure our kids are prepared to compete in the global economy.
News reports indicate the House will likely vote on its proposed economic stimulus bill by the end of the month with significant funding likely allocated to support school modernization. This surely will lead to infrastructure improvements, safer schools, more energy efficient building, etc. This is a needed and potentially powerful opportunity to create learning environments that optimize learning. But perhaps the more transformational modernization focus will be how we leverage instruction, assessment, curriculum and language to truly build 21st century classrooms where children of all ages will be able to learn skills to succeed in a global marketplace. This goes far beyond the physical space of the classroom. The real work on modernization will be spent building a continuous lifelong learning experience that adapts to personal learning needs and is relevant to 21st century skills and competencies.
No doubt, it is a tough road ahead. I’ve long been a believer that you just can’t throw money at a problem and expect it to solve itself. In particular with education, you can’t just throw technology and software into a classroom and expect to improve student performance. I like to think about technology as an enabler…as a tool…not just a physical device. In order to truly transform education, we need to create opportunities for our students to connect their learning in ways that are personalized, relevant and adaptive.
Modernization does not equal technology…and technology transformation does not equal the acquisition of computers. With technology becoming ubiquitous…computers available in the home, in the library and in other public places…we also need to consider different acquisition approaches. We need to look at more than just purchasing hardware and software for schools. How can parents and the community become more involved? True transformation happens when we start by asking questions and reflecting on the learning environment we’re trying to create for our students. Question everything, explore and expand current best practices and apply a process that will guide your work to create lasting and repeatable impact.
Rebuilding our schools will take a holistic approach that addresses three pillars: People, Process and Environment. We need to push for investment and innovation in the areas of people management, school design, community engagement, process management as well as instructional reform. Buildings must reflect the need for sustainability and energy conservation. Infrastructures must allow for continuous home, school connectivity and collaboration. Communities must take a central role to the development and maintenance of the school culture. Business practices must leverage technology to gain efficiencies that can then be transferred to classroom investments. And instruction must reflect the lifestyles and needs of students today.
Technology and school modernization are just a small part of the Obama administration’s overall education agenda and stimulus plans. In future blog posts, I’ll share more about how we see holistic school reform, workforce preparedness and continuous access as key priorities, our ideas in these areas, as well as solutions we are offering.
In the meantime, I’m thankful for the opportunity to help support our new administration, our schools and students. We need to take measured steps to drive sustainable change and we need to bring the full power of our thinking, resources, and partnerships to the discussion.
I’m curious to know -- what do you think Barack Obama and Arne Duncan’s education priorities should be?
As we turn the page on 2008 and consider how much has changed in the last few months, it is clear that 2009 will be a year of profound changes. Certainly our current economic crisis has and will continue to have broad implications for our students, teachers and institutions. In my travels across the country, I sense and empathize with the stress many of our education leaders are feeling. I have been extremely impressed by their fierce determination in the face of challenging environments to deliver value to their constituents…and for their continued efforts to push for innovation and improvement. In times of tremendous pressure we need our great leaders and advocates to stand tall, buoy optimism, and continue to set the path for success.
I’m excited about the opportunity to have very real and pragmatic discussions with our school leaders on how to face the hurdles of declining budgets and increasing expectations and I think based on some of the seeds planted in 2008, several potentially transformational trends will emerge in 2009.
Doing more with less. This is something our teachers understand all too well. Teachers are asked to do more with less every day…teach more children, meet more accountability demands, etc. I think the core trends of 2009 all reflect the need for our schools and systems to think holistically and creatively about how to get more value out of every dollar invested and every program launched. This is nothing new for education, but the current environment reminds us of the need to make wise decisions and ensure the mission and focus of our schools is finely tuned on driving student outcomes.
This is the time of year for reflection and predictions… and this ritual is by no means mine alone. eSchool News, Inside Higher Ed and others are also anticipating the trends that may surface. In future posts, I’ll go deeper on many of the key trends that I think will likely emerge. For now, here is a brief look at my top 5 predictions for 2009.
Modernization & “Greening” of our schools. “Green” initiatives have certainly risen to the forefront of public consciousness and will be a primary component of the new administration’s plan for our schools. There are many good reasons for this - finding sustainable resources to reduce foreign energy dependence, respecting the environment/reducing the carbon footprint, and developing more efficient and cost-effective buildings to save our schools money. Technology can play an increasingly important role in addressing these issues and enabling the long term goal of sustainability. Microsoft is helping to reduce the direct impact of computing on the environment through power management at the software and enterprise level. Making it easier for customers to manage their computing footprint, Microsoft helps by providing built-in energy efficiency, power management, resource optimization, server consolidation and virtualization solutions.
The promise of hosted computing. Technology’s evolution has created more options for schools to deploy services and extend value. Schools can move from on-premise computing environments to hosted solutions that offer tremendous value at little or no cost. The addition of rich communication, collaboration and storage resources for teachers and students can be done with integration to current environments, allowing schools to maximize current investments while increasing focus on the core mission...educating our students.
Access to personal computing devices. The improved capability of mobile computing devices and the increased range of laptop options are getting us closer to the promise of one laptop per child. However, the reduced cost of computing devices does not lessen the importance of holistic thinking about transforming education to optimize technology. We cannot be “acquisition-centric” when it comes to one-to-one computing. Before any device enters a school, we must apply rigor on outcomes, environment, sustainability, communication, curriculum, assessment, training, etc.
Emergence and connection of “workforce readiness” to student assessment. In order to push through the current economic slump, we must invest in equipping our students with the 21st century skills they need to compete in the global workforce. Our students need to find their place in the “real world” and connect their education to relevant workforce competencies. Resources like the Microsoft Competency Wheel and Career Forward are examples of our focus on helping schools respond and embrace workforce readiness.
Digital Curriculum a reality. The richness of the internet and the increased availability of digital curriculum are delivering the promise of a paperless learning environment….a promise which creates the opportunity for personalized and adaptive learning.
Looking ahead in 2009, I’m hopeful we can continue to dream big in the face of our challenges. We must not let our current economic challenge distract us from our mission to help students of all ages realize their potential. I’m looking forward to the work ahead and your continued partnership.