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Ed-tech innovators share their vision for education


Video_CameraresizedFrom ideas on how Web 2.0 tools and game-based learning environments can help schools move beyond the industrial-era model of instruction, to the key question that should define successful teaching and learning in the 21st century, eSchool News TV recently captured the insights of several education technology leaders in a series of video interviews you won’t want to miss.

With support from JDL Horizons, our video crew was at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference in Denver in late June, where we interviewed several visionary leaders in education technology.

Here is a small sampling of the wisdom we captured on video during the conference. Be sure to watch all of our ISTE 2010 videos on eSN-TV, however—where you’ll find information on such diverse topics as the latest in school eMail security threats, new Microsoft certifications, and more.

Why ownership of the learning process is key

For many educators who are veterans of past education technology conferences, the name Alan November should be familiar. A senior partner of November Learning, a consulting firm that helps school systems redesign teaching and learning for the digital age, November has spoken at numerous ed-tech shows. But readers might not know that he became an educator “by accident,” as he says.

Trained as a city planner, November’s first client after college was a reform school for boys on an island in Boston Harbor that had burned to the ground. He was asked if he’d like to teach algebra and oceanography when one of the teachers quit, and that was when he discovered that he loved teaching—and also that the current education system didn’t meet the needs of every student.

One of his students broke into the school’s computer lab in the early 1980s, November said, but “he had broken in to learn.” With November’s help, the student was given a computer to take home and soon had finished a semester-long course in just a single weekend. Yet the student was given a “C”—because he had missed too much class time.

“Now, he did perfect work on his own, self-directed, and gets a ‘C,’ because the system just didn’t have the capacity to deal with somebody who was that smart [and] creative,” November said. “And so it was a wake-up call for me that the structure of school wasn’t really designed to support all learning styles; it was designed to punish certain learning styles.”

He added: “I thought technology was going to change that … and I was wrong.”

The reason technology hasn’t had the kind of dramatic effect on education that many people hoped it would have—at least, not yet—is because the pedagogy hasn’t changed in most schools, November explained.

He said the key question he seeks to answer when he evaluates a school is: “Who owns the learning?” If the teacher is working harder than the student, he added, there’s a problem.

“Ownership of learning is so critical to quality,” he noted, citing research that suggests if we grade children on their creativity, it actually lowers the quality of their work.

“We’ve designed a system of rewards to motivate kids that is counterproductive,” he said. Until education leaders realize that, they can add all the technology they want—and it will only make “an incremental difference.”

To learn what November believes a successful school environment should look like, watch the 10-minute interview below:

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Time to reinvent education yet again

Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University, discussed his involvement in helping to create a new National Education Technology Plan, as well as his latest research.

Dede was one of 15 people on a panel the U.S. Department of Education put together to develop the new ed-tech plan. He said the panel’s membership represented all roles in education, from vendors and administrators to teachers and academics.

“We were very pleased by the draft document that came out. It is really more a national education plan, with technology helping to fuel it, than it is a national ed-tech plan,” Dede said.

The plan starts with learning, he said, and proceeds to assessment and teaching—“and only then is the infrastructure section that talks about the technology you need to make these visions of learning and assessment and teaching work.”

But one of the things he’s learned, Dede said, is that the word “plan” is not just a noun—it’s a verb as well. “If that plan is just a document that sits somewhere, it loses value every day,” he explained. Yet, if we can get a national conversation going about how to implement and improve on the plan, “then it’s a verb—and it’s much more useful.”

Dede said he got into the education field because, as a student, he couldn’t wait to get out of it. “We can do better,” he remembers thinking.

He described how the first real shift in our educational system occurred during the Industrial Age, when the system we’re familiar with today replaced the one-room-schoolhouse model. Yet, the lives of today’s students are so different from those of the industrial era that it’s time for the next big shift in educational thinking.

For teachers in industrial-era schools with large class sizes, “it’s incredibly difficult … to get out of [a mode of] presentational instruction,” Dede said—unless they have what he called “power tools” to help them.

“I think Web 2.0 and some of the game-like interfaces [that are being developed today] can really help,” he said.

To learn how, watch the 10-minute interview with Dede here:

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Pedagogy must come first

A 21-year veteran of the teaching profession, ISTE board member Ben Smith also teaches high school physics, making him the only board member who is still a practicing K-12 educator. He also helps schools with ed-tech professional development through a consulting business called Ed-Tech Innovators.

In an interview with eSN-TV, Smith described a few best practices for integrating technology into science instruction.

Technology allows students to better see what’s happening during an experiment, he said. For instance, he often has his students video record a motion at the same time they’re using a motion sensor, so they can correlate what’s happening in the video at any given point with what’s happening on the graph. This makes the learning come alive for students.

When thinking about how to use technology in education, he warned, the pedagogy must come first. “You can’t just put technology into classrooms; you have to have some reasons,” he explained—and an idea of “what you want students to be able to know and do. And that should really be at the forefront before you worry about the technology piece.”

For more advice from Smith, watch our six-minute interview with him here:

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