FETC theme: Schools must change

How can educators keep up with the “digital natives,” today’s generation of youth who were raised in a world of information technology and to whom it therefore comes naturally? And, perhaps more importantly, how can educators prepare all students for the challenges of an increasingly global workforce and society, regardless of their socio-economic background or abilities?

These were the key questions posed during the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando March 22-24. Speakers and attendees at one of the largest educational technology conferences in the nation aimed to answer these questions with the help of keynote speeches, more than 200 concurrent sessions, and an exhibit hall featuring more than 500 ed-tech companies.

Preparing students for citizenship in an increasingly global society was the theme of the opening keynote speaker, Rudy Crew, who gave an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation. The former commissioner for the New York City Public Schools, Crew now heads Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth largest school system, where he has implemented the lofty goal that every student will graduate from high school fully prepared for college or the work force of tomorrow.

“Technology ought to be thought of as a road to hope,” Crew told the appreciative crowd, many of whom nodded their heads in agreement. “This is about giving children a portion of a world that they themselves didn’t even know they could have.”

Crew said it’s not enough to prepare students to meet state standards of achievement. Educators, he said, also must ensure that students are “occupationally prepared” for success in ” a shrinking globe.”

“Globalization is an economic reality,” Crew said. Arguing that an understanding of other nations–how they trade, how they think, what languages they speak–is increasingly critical for success, he called on attendees to start a dialog in their communities about the need for new levels of literacy–such as occupational literacy, civic literacy, and even personal literacy–that go beyond the core academic standards set by states.

“Bubbling in on a test sheet…is insufficient,” Crew said, adding that nations in Europe and Asia are “eating our lunch” because they connect the experience of students in the classroom to the outside world.

“These adequacies”–these notions of what it takes to be a fully functioning human being in an increasingly global society–must “travel alongside the conversation about technology literacy,” Crew said.

At the end of the day, he concluded, education is about all children leaving school with a personal sense of worth, a moral center, and the occupational skills and cultural awareness to make a living for themselves and their families in an increasingly global world. “That’s why we still have our shoulder to the wheel,” he said.

Fighting the ‘resistance to change’

Other conference speakers continued this theme. Willard Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, urged attendees to fight the “resistance to change.”

Daggett talked about what students in the year 2010 will need to know in terms of communication, information, and biological technologies. During his speech, he discussed why he believes the United States needs to change its schools, what needs to be done to bring about this change, and how this change will come about.

“You cannot, and you will not, change schools until there is more pressure for change than resistance to change,” he told the audience. “You have to have a faculty and a community&that believe we must raise the academic standards for kids all across the board.”

One reason academic achievement isn’t increasing is that governors, teachers, and parents each do not believe they are part of the problem, Daggett said. “Until you believe that you are part of the problem, you are an enormous obstacle,” he said.

Daggett cited data indicating that 16 years ago in China, India, Eastern Europe, and the old Soviet Union, those populations could not compete against the U.S. Now, he said, those roughly 3.6 billion people are ready to compete head-to-head.

“Folks, they’re going to hand us our lunch,” he said, echoing a phrase from Crew’s keynote presentation.

Daggett noted that China’s plans include providing a world-class education to many of the country’s students, to have world-class universities, and to have a wide math and science focus.

Chinese language instruction, he added, is becoming more and more important for U.S. students if they want to be fully prepared for the new global economy. About 1.3 million students in the U.S. are taking French, and just 24,000 students are taking Chinese, he said. The reason, he said, is simple: because the U.S. has far more French teachers than it has Chinese Mandarin instructors.

“There’s nothing wrong with French, but how do you justify not having Chinese?” Daggett asked.

Biochemistry, applied physics, statistics, and technical reading are all courses and skills that today’s youth will need to succeed in an increasingly global society, said Daggett, and many U.S. students don’t even receive these courses in high school.

Post-September 11 changes in visas have forced many non-U.S. citizens to return home after studying and obtaining degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields, Daggett said. In all of Asia last year, 60 percent of all degrees were in science and engineering, he said–while in the U.S., those same fields accounted for only 5 percent of degrees.

Despite the many warnings that the United States must keep pace with its global competitors, Daggett had words of praise for the nation’s education system.

“I think the finest education system in the world is the American public education system,” he said. “I am convinced–you know why? Because I look at it through the eyes of a parent,” said Daggett, who used his two youngest children, one born with mental handicaps and another who faces immense difficulties after a car accident, as evidence of the nation’s unique focus on educating all students–regardless of their disabilities.

Daggett emphasized that, while the U.S. needs to keep up with other countries such as China and India, it is one of the greatest countries in the world because of its compassion and understanding for each and every student.

Focusing on what needs to be done to keep the U.S. at the forefront of the global race, Daggett said educators should teach with real-world experiences and rigorous courses in mind. He added that changing the way technology is used in schools can go a long way.

Looking backwards

A lively discussion on the conference’s final day focused on what the nation’s next president should know, and do, about U.S. education.

During the session, a panel of ed-tech experts discussed the ways in which educational resources and points of emphasis should be changed to improve not only the nation’s education system, but also how students learn and educators teach.

Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and a member of the panel, said the next decade will shape the future of the U.S. economy for generations to come because the nation is at the beginning of a global, knowledge-based economy. He compared the situation to the Industrial Revolution, illustrating his point by saying that the first nations to join the Industrial Revolution gained an enormous advantage over the rest of the world.

Dede expanded on his ideas in an exclusive interview with eSchool News.

“As we move into a global, knowledge-based economy, & the countries that get in first, figure out how to do high-quality education centered around information and communication technologies, [and] figure out how to prepare students to be effective citizens and workers&are going to gain an almost insurmountable advantage,” Dede said.

“And at the very time that other countries are investing in education, investing in learning technologies, thinking ahead to where the world is going, unfortunately our country is moving away from [this] investment and, in fact, [is] looking rather backwards in terms of what kind of knowledge and skills kids really need,” he said.

Dede said many countries that are succeeding in the new global economy strongly link business, education, workforce development, and national policy. He noted that education has purposes other than to prepare students for the workforce, but he said many of these other purposes rely on a strong economy to succeed.

“Preparing kids to be effective leaders, employees, and entrepreneurs is really crucial,” he said. “In these other countries, the business community is often the champion for helping the public, key stakeholders, [and] parents see that it’s important to move beyond the kinds of skills that made kids successful in industrial workplaces to 21st-century skills that focus on a higher order of knowledge.”

He added: “It’s difficult for educators alone to make that argument, but educators can be part of a larger team that makes that argument.”

Dede noted that federal education policy often consists of 20th-century models and that the nation needs to move forward to 21st-century models.

“Instead of focusing on broad, shallow factual knowledge, we need to prepare kids with deep-thinking skills, with the ability to be flexible and creative, with a love of learning that will sustain them as we move through all these periods of social change,” he said.

Part of why the nation is not moving quickly into 21st-century learning, Dede said, is because parents, students, and teachers often have “naïve” ideas about education.

“I think, when we look back in history, this will be seen as a time of dark ages in education,” he said. “We still have a lot of very naive ideas that people in the public believe about learning.”

Dede said experts in other fields, such as health and economy, have succeeded in educating the public about changing concepts and ideas.

“They’ve succeeded in a kind of education that keeps the public up to date, where we in education have badly failed,” he said. “Most people in the public believe the same things that people believed centuries ago…those misconceptions drive a lot of the policies that we see now and hold us back rather than letting us move forward.”

Dede said educators, business leaders, workforce developers, and people in the policy arena need to band together and form a strong campaign of awareness about what today’s education system should be. But this poses a challenge, he said, because people have very different ideas about what the nation’s top education priorities should be.

Despite differing opinions, Dede said, one idea that is common to virtually all school stakeholders is that they want their children to have more economic opportunities than they had. This belief can be used as a “touchstone” to help rally public awareness around these education issues, he said.

One huge step that can be taken at the federal level, Dede said, is to recognize that today’s first generation of tests, accountability measures, and standards is flawed.

“It was a place to start, but like most things one tries the first time, it isn’t quite right,” he said. “To think about what the second-generation standards would be like–second-generation assessment, second-generation accountability policies–would make a lot of sense, instead of being defensive and pretending that the first generation is perfect.”

He added, “A second thing is to recognize that skilled teachers are really at the heart of any possible education reform.” Thinking of ways that teachers can build students’ skills in activities that mirror 21st-century workplaces, and providing teachers with incentives to engage in professional development centered on new technologies, would be another step in the right direction.

Educational change in action

In a separate event at the conference, Dell, Microsoft, and Intel announced that three forward-thinking K-12 schools, chosen in a nationwide search by the companies as part of their FutureReady program, each will receive technology and services worth roughly $250,000 to make their educational technology vision a reality.

Each winner approached classroom technology and learning in an innovative way, the companies said. The FutureReady program is designed to help students reach their full potential through innovative uses of technology in the classroom.

Rocko Smucker, technology chair and first-grade teacher at Hall Fletcher Elementary School in Asheville, N.C., established a three-year technology plan to help students to be “producers, creators, and entrepreneurs.” Using interactive whiteboards and Dell notebooks, Smucker hopes to have students develop 21st-century skills by eventually producing 90 percent of their assignments digitally.

From Union Pines High School in Cameron, N.C., teacher Robin Calcutt’s plan includes helping teachers integrate technology into their curriculum. She also hopes to equip a Ninth Grade Academy with handheld computers and other devices to help reduce dropout rates, and she would like to help high school seniors create ePortfolios of their coursework that can be shared with scholarship committees, universities, and future employers.

Laurence Goldberg, director of technology at Abington Senior High School in Pennsylvania, had a vision in which students use MP3 devices to create digital portfolios. He also envisions using Dell Intelligent Classroom technology for collaboration and project-based learning, having a state-of-the-art mobile video production lab to produce multimedia reports, and using advanced software to create multi-user virtual environments for students.

In addition, Goldberg plans to implement a platform that enables teachers to manage lessons and assessments on the web, providing students with anytime, anywhere access to educational content that can be customized to their learning styles, abilities, and schedules.

“Telling is not necessarily teaching; teaching is rather the art and science of getting students to interact with information in order to form knowledge,” said Goldberg in his winning essay. “This is a true paradigm shift in learning that is enabled by new technologies, and is part of true school reform.”

Goldberg said he envisions closing the school’s achievement gap in special education and minority populations by using avatars–personalized virtual characters–created and scripted by Abington students. And in one project-based learning scenario, students would role-play various workers trying to survive their first year in the booming 1874 mining town of Butte, Montana.

Multimedia and virtual environment technologies would help students solve the miners’ real-life problems relating to food, money, and shelter. Students in math and science classes might calculate what farmers would need in terms of firewood and crops to survive the harsh Montana weather. Students then would “pocketcast” their observations and would act as reporters from the newspapers of the day.

Assistant Editor Laura Ascione and Managing Editor Dennis Pierce contributed to this report.

Links:

Florida Educational Technology Conference
http://www.fetc.org

International Center for Leadership in Education
http://www.daggett.com

Dell’s FutureReady program
http://www.futureready.org

Transforming Learning for the 21st Century: An Economic Imperative
http://www.learningpt.org/page.php?pageID=138

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Survey maps software expectations

Educators and technology vendors agree on the need to define a clear vision, priorities, and goals when implementing software in schools–but they disagree on the duration of on-site tech support that should be provided to make this happen, according to a recent survey.

The survey by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) found many agreements but also some key differences in what educators and vendors view as the most important elements to a successful software implementation. SIIA says its survey is illuminating for both buyers and sellers of school technology, and the group has created a set of guidelines for how educators can ensure the success of future software projects, based on the survey’s results (see sidebar).

For its survey, SIIA polled some 40 educators and an equal number of software vendors in February and March. Complete results of the survey won’t be available until May, but educators got a preview of the results at the Florida Educational Technology Conference last week.

Karen Billings, vice president of SIIA’s education division, said it was “heartening” to see so many points of agreement between educators and vendors, suggesting that the two sides are largely on the same page when it comes to implementing software.

For instance, both camps agree that successful software planning begins with educators and vendors articulating a clear vision, purpose, and goals for the software’s use, and with schools designating a single point person to oversee the project. Educators and vendors also agree it’s “very important” for the vendor to clearly communicate the requirements needed for a successful software implementation–including any necessary technical specifications–and to provide on-site support for the initial rollout.

But the two sides disagree on the importance of testing the software in the actual setting in which it will be used. They also disagree on how long the vendor should provide ongoing, on-site technical support: Vendors speak in terms of days and months, while educators talk in terms of years.

Nearly 90 percent of educators called testing the product in the environment in which it will be used “very important,” while only half of software vendors agreed–and 14 percent said it was “not very important.”

“Educators want to make sure the product works in their circumstances; they are more skeptical than vendors,” said Billings in explaining the results to conference attendees.

Those in the audience agreed.

“There’s a constant mantra by vendors: ‘Well, it works everywhere else–I don’t know why it doesn’t work for you,'” noted one frustrated educator, who added that each school’s technology needs and environment are different, and vendors should recognize this when selling their products to schools. The message from educators to vendors: Be prepared to test your software on site before it goes “live,” and you’ll cut down on the time it takes to implement the system.

Another disconnect came over ongoing tech support. Both educators and vendors agree that off-site support (by phone or internet) should be provided for the life of the product–but on-site support was a different matter. Forty-five percent of educators, but just 10 percent of vendors, said on-site support should be provided for a period of “years.” The results were essentially reversed when the on-site support period was described in terms of “days,” with 41 percent of vendors, but just 16 percent of educators opting for the briefer period.

“This is a large school district,” one survey respondent reportedly said. “Our educators have varying degrees of knowledge of technology use. Without local support, many technology implementations flounder, even with the best planning.”

There was a similar disconnect over the importance of round-the-clock tech support. Forty-six percent of vendors–but only 3 percent of educators–think 24-7 help-desk support is “not very important” to the maintenance phase of software implementation.

Educators also expect more vendor involvement in software training than vendors expect for themselves. A majority of educators said it is “very important” for vendors to provide in-person training, while fewer than 40 percent of vendors agreed.

“The biggest challenge to implementation is usually a lack of adequate training or time for training,” one respondent said.

For educators, the survey results point to the need to “align expectations where there is disagreement” with vendors, SIIA said in its summary of the results. The group said its “Guidelines for Successful Software Implementation” offer a good starting point for such discussions.

After May 1, educators can get additional information about the survey and guidelines at http://www.siia.net/education.

Link:

Software and Information Industry Association
http://www.siia.net

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