Two truths are clear. Technology changes rapidly and schools change very slowly.

Having seen what’s going on “out there” for the past 20 years, I’d like to comment on “where we are now” and what this says about the future. I see a spectrum of schools. On the one hand, many schools in the future will look exactly like schools do today because many of today’s school look exactly like those of 20 years ago.  These kinds of schools will tend to be the ones that choose to take one of three approaches to technology: limit it, under-utilise it or ignore it.  This isn’t to suggest that schools who choose to limit it are inherently “bad” or “wrong.”  Some will choose to focus on human interactions and no-tech or low-tech learning.  Done well, this can be superior to schools who poorly use technology.

On the other hand, we are finally at a place where technology can have a positive impact.  Only recently have some important factors been realized: real broadband, personal devices and smarter software. Those of us who’ve been involved with educational technology for decades only dared to dream of this reality.  Now it’s here!

The best schools will use technology to empower students to pursue personally meaningful learning challenges that continuously develop students ability to know, do and understand increasingly complex and sophisticated things.

The greatest change is the influence of technology – sometimes as a disruptor and sometimes as a driver of learning; so it’s important to appropriately address the new 1:1 / BYOD / personalised technology reality.  At its most basic, this means that schools need an easy-to-use online meeting place.  Just as we wouldn’t dream of a school without classrooms and learning spaces for its students, once a school opens itself to students with devices, there had better be a online environment to provide access to rich media and interactive learning experiences.

The exact nature of the LMS/CMS/ etc. is less important than two key things:

  1. The kind of learning being offered and taking place.  If a school uses the most expensive online space to deliver one-size-fits-all content served out according to the calendar, one has to question the effort and expense.  So learning experiences need to take advantage of the rich media, interactive software, collaboration and creation potentials technology makes available.  So this speaks to the need for an enriched vision of teaching and learning that is apparent at many schools already.
  2. The second key thing is whether the online space is linked to the full cycle of teaching and learning resources and data.  This is what I call a “closed loop” curriculum where every teaching unit is driven by a school’s vision and interpretation of required content and standards.  These units are also based on a school’s clear and well understood set of learning principles or pedagogical approaches.  We are in a golden age of pedagogy where we have a number of robust and evidence-based frameworks to develop richer and more effective student achievement.  But it’s not enough to simply have great units – plans to teaching.  A great learning environment also includes the delivery of these well-designed units and the results of students’ actual learning.  With this flow from vision leading to well-designed units, leading to vibrant delivery and finally student performance, the learning space actually supports “closing the loop” so students’ actual performance on learning tasks is the evidence of what’s working in the curriculum and what can be revised to fuel an upward spiral of continuous improvement  on what matters most to a school – the students realisation of its vision.

The Next Era of Education

Schools are often responding to “the next cool thing” or “keeping up with technology” instead of choosing ICT tools to meet their most important goals and needs – thus the importance of a clear and shared vision across a school’s community.  With this in place, much of the dust-collecting technologies sitting idly in schools might have been avoided and the money could have supported a more vital interest of the school.  What hasn’t changed is the need for schools to engage in the change management and continuous improvement journey that has transformed many other sectors of society.

A smart use of smart software is the most powerful tool to support this shift to what I call this Next Era of Education – because software can ease repetitious tasks, leverage collaboration to further lighten the work load and improve quality with data analysis tools.  I’m afraid that schools who settle for less will invest precious time and staff energy in a solution they will choose to abandon in a few years time.

Tom March frequently keynotes, writes, facilitates workshops, consults with schools and designs software, all focused on shifting education from mass production teaching to personally meaningful learning.  Research proves (and common sense attests) that when people are motivated by the joy of learning, they achieve outstanding accomplishments. He has recently joined Hobsons Edumate as principal consultant for teaching and learning.

Originally published on educationtechnologysolutions.com/au. 

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