Making technology make sense for schools

As technology continues to proliferate in the classroom, so, too, does the dialogue about the best way to plan for, deploy, use, and evaluate it. Several studies have been conducted on the benefits of technology in schools, helping direct where schools can look forward to improved student results. Likewise, education-related constituencies have been vocal, some touting the advantages of the digital age for education, others warning about the dangers of replacing teachers with machines.

On the front lines of this debate are students, teachers, and administrators, whose collective challenges range from improving the efficiency of record management, to improving student performance, to making learning more fun and exciting. Information technology offers solutions for these myriad issues, but as many schools have found, simply throwing computers at teachers and students will neither solve anything nor provide value to either group. Schools will find far more success in taking an integrated approach to technology, focusing on combining infrastructure, training, and content to increase productivity and efficiencies inside and outside of the school environment.

Through an integrated approach to technology, the classroom will be vastly different in the next 10 years. While the desks, notebooks, and chalkboards will remain, there will be additional tools to aid in learning and help strengthen the student-teacher relationship. Traditional education and publishing companies, as well as technology companies and consultants, are working with educators and students to develop results-oriented, technology-based solutions that will work well together and have a meaningful impact.

This new integrated philosophy centers on five key areas essential to education’s successful adoption of technology: infrastructure, assessment, curriculum management, content, and professional development. Under this model, technology assists the teacher in various ways, helping to reduce administrative tasks, assess each student, prescribe the most effective content, and enhance communication with students and parents—all made possible through comprehensive technology training for teachers.

From a technology infrastructure standpoint, usability is critical to enabling strategy. Data management and warehousing technologies that corporate America has been using for years to track and better service customers are being adopted successfully by school systems eager to improve school administration, student assessment, and curriculum management. Education technology companies are providing tools to help teachers and administrators track student records, grades, and other critical statistical information. Eventually, better data management will give teachers and schools a broader view of the learning experience, enabling them to tailor and target curriculum and invest time and resources to improve outcomes.

Proper training is also integral to the success of technology in education. In her article “New study: Technology boosts student performance” (eSchool News, November 2000), Cara Branigan discusses the results of an independent study of the impact technology has had in Illinois schools. The results are very encouraging, citing a “small but significant impact on student performance.” However, the study also indicates that results were strongest in schools where teachers had technology training. Without proper training for instructors, computers will not improve student performance or enhance the learning experience.

Content is an equally important aspect of IT offerings in education. The internet has opened up a powerful information channel, but it can be distracting and invasive in a classroom setting if not used appropriately. To this end, we are beginning to see traditional publishers partnering with technology companies in the education space to provide a single framework of assessment tools, digital and traditional content, and just-in-time teacher development resources.

These content-rich solutions will allow teachers to assess their students’ performance against local and state standards, match lesson plans to each individual students’ needs, and select digital or print curriculum from a vast library of proven content. Integrated teacher development programs also will help educators achieve professional development goals online.

The discussion surrounding IT and its place in America’s schools will, and should, continue well into the future. As it does, traditional education and publishing companies, as well as next-generation technology companies, will play an active role, helping educators manage an integrated approach to technology to ensure their investment of money, time, and effort will result in a better learning environment for everyone.

R. Christopher Hoehn-Saric is chairman and CEO of Sylvan Ventures, a subsidiary of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. Through investments in such companies as MindSurf and Classwell Learning Group, Sylvan Ventures is developing an integrated end-to-end approach to making technology work for education.

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