What the Future of Education Depends on
So here it is. I sit here tonight typing this blog post on my new iPad 2 plus 3G. I’ve downloaded the “Pages” app that I am using to type this. I love this tablet! It allows me to do many of the things I could have been doing on my desktop or laptop, but now I can do these things just about anywhere at any time in a very portable format. The real future, though, isn’t in this device itself.
You see, this device was bought for me but it really isn’t mine. It’s become my kids favorite tool. Forget the netbook I bought my daughter—she hates it.
Yeah, they’ll still use my desktop with its large-screen monitor, or my wife’s nice laptop—but this tablet wins out every time. It can do pretty much anything they want it to.
Ours is loaded with apps and games either I or they have downloaded. They love using them, but their favorite is an app that came with it: FaceTime. Their friend who lives up the street came over a few weeks ago with her iPod touch.
On her iPod was the app, one my kids had never seen before. I knew of it but hadn’t had a chance to use it yet. After a little arm twisting by them and an uncertain feeling in me, I helped them set up their FaceTime using my email and their friend’s parent’s email so they could talk with each other.
Now, thanks to the WiFi on this tablet, my girls are facetiming with their friend up the street all the time.
Just last weekend, my youngest daughter was facetiming with this friend, basically live video conferencing with her, all the way to our destination while she rode in the car. She was holding the camera out to the road and showing her friend where she was and where she was going. She was recording messages and pictures when they could not talk live and they were sharing them with each other when they could be on.
There were a few days where they actually just played with their dolls as the FaceTime ran, keeping them connected live, even though hundreds of miles separated them.
They’re growing up with this technology and know no other life then one with technology in it. They aren’t amazed at what they can do with it. Instead, they just think they should be able to do these things. My youngest son, 5, is learning how to use it, too. They fight over the device and I can hardly ever get my hands on it.
Are they learning something from using it? Sure.
Will it help them score better on a standardized test? Maybe.
The real questions are:
-Will the person using it with them know how best to integrate this technology in order to maximize its potential and help them to reach their educational goals?
-Will educators know how best to integrate this technology regardless of the form factor, to best prepare them for a future that is both unclear and uncertain?
There will always be a new latest and greatest gadget. There will always be some piece of software that will allow them to connect and learn from others in ways we have never though about before.
Problem is, how do we get educators to be ahead of the curve? How do we get them to know more about these devices and how best to use them than the kids who are growing up with them in their daily lives?
Too often in my teaching career I’ve seen some latest and greatest piece of technology bought for teachers, yet they were never properly shown how to use it or how to maximize its potential. Inevitably and unfortunately—due to fear and or uncertainty of how to use the device properly or insufficient time to work it into their lesson—the device is thrown in a corner and seldom used.
Many of them will simply use only the equipment that is safe and comfortable for them and try to figure out the rest if there is time and someone around willing to muddle through it with them. Often, they’ll be years behind their students who use this equipment at home and who know no other world then the one that uses these devices to collaborate and learn from each other, yet they will come to school and have educators who will have no idea how best to maximize its potential.
I ask you, what kind of education do you wish for your children?
Do you want them to be able to collaborate in this ever shrinking global market? Or, do you want them to continue to do work in this ever change world they way we did it when we grew up? How much are we willing to transform their education and prepare them for the 21st century? Will we have the knowledge and skills to give them the support they need?
I argue you this point: it will not matter what tools we put in their hands.
Yes, they will need tools—but what those tools might be will not matter as much as will the teachers who are trained to use these tools.
Mark my words: we will be debating the next best technological tool for education for years to come, but the only true impact will come by those who invest in getting our teachers and students the trained educators who can help them to find things they can use, and know how to use those things so that our teachers can best teach our students 21st-century skills through the use of whatever equipment they might have.
The real thing that we need to invest in as leaders is not iPads, iPods, laptops, IWBs or any other form of equipment. The real next big thing will be learning centers that can produce tech-savvy leaders who can in turn go out and train our teachers and students in the best ways to use these tools—ways that are both effective and inexpensive.
The human support will be what matters most.
Teachers need to know they have someone readily available who can help them and who can answer their questions and needs in a timely manner, especially in these days, where time is a commodity that most do not have.
They will not have the ability to always get help from their peers.
They’ll need someone who can give them both online and personal training as needed.
I challenge you to invest what you planned to invest in technology, but instead of that investment being all on the equipment itself, cut that number in half. Invest that other half on the training, support and time for the teacher.
In other words, invest in the human factor and you will see true transformative change.
The best tools are ones we know how to use.