Fixing technology’s biggest failure

Cameron Evans, national and chief technology officer of Microsoft Education, shares new tips for implementing technology

fixing-technology-educationIn the last 30 years, schools have invested billions of dollars to deploy technology in classrooms with questionable benefit to students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), found in 2013, 12th grade math and reading scores remained stagnant from 2009 and reading scores decreased since the first test in 1992.

In my travels to classrooms around the country, I’ve found the problem is not the technology itself–it’s both the gap between those who have access to it and those who do not, and how the technology is being used in a learning environment.

Today, technology offers incredible possibilities for students and our nation’s future; a recent Pew study, U.S. Views of Technology and the Future, found six in 10 Americans feel that technological advancements will lead to a future in which people’s lives are mostly better.

However, technology in many of our schools is years behind the present, or there’s just not enough. President Obama has made this a national priority; his ConnectED initiative seeks to solve this problem by connecting 99 percent of U.S. students by 2019. Our nation is at a place in time where this is achievable.

The challenge we face is connecting our students with technology while ensuring they gain the skills and knowledge to create their own opportunities and jobs that don’t currently exist. Our students, when properly educated, will propel us into the future of known and unknown possibilities. I call this the Total Creative Opportunity, or TCO.

(Next page: Embracing new change)

As we think about implementing technology, we need to ensure teachers and students are meeting not only achievement and academic requirements, but also the TCO. According to a recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation survey, Teachers Know Best, only 54 percent of teachers perceive the digital products their students use frequently to be effective.

We must reimagine what learning can be and incorporate technology in a meaningful way to present compelling content. Simply digitizing textbooks and worksheets won’t make the grade anymore, now teachers need to fully embrace digital learning into all aspects of their lessons and fuse different disciplines to provide deeper learning experiences.

Imagine a reading lesson that allows students to interact with the book loaded on their device, develop an interactive book report, and allows the teacher to assess in real-time the student’s ability to apply the material instead of waiting until the end-of-year assessment.

Imagine a math class that brings the numbers to life, challenging students to construct pyramids in Minecraft, then extract their construction by developing equations that reduce those pyramids to scale, estimating the cost and time for construction in real life. Imagine a science lesson that blends botany with chemicals and DNA, allowing students to uncover elements of plants to tailor medicine for people with different genetics. These are the lessons that will allow students to envision the possibilities for their future.

In my travels across the U.S. I see teachers being creative and taking risks with technology, and their lessons are engaging students in their own learning. Patricia Ragan, a high school teacher at Canastota High School, is using technology to teach students business essentials, critical thinking, problem solving, taking constructive criticism, and everything they need to succeed.

Two of her lessons stand out: “Canastota Apprentice” modeled after Donald Trump’s The Apprentice tasks students with weekly challenges incorporating technology to accomplish each task, and her “CEO” class which pairs students with business leaders around the country who Skype once a week and develop business plans together. Through these real-life applications of hands-on learning, students gained confidence, connected with community members to make a difference, and many ultimately got into their dream college, or secured a top job.

Our future is in the hands of our students. It’s our responsibility to ensure students have Total Creative Opportunities. They need the creative freedom to express what they have mastered through compelling experiences. We have the tools to accomplish this, now let’s make this next era of educational empowerment a reality through impactful learning and innovation.

Cameron Evans is National and Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft Education. Cameron was a featured speaker in a recent webinar on the future history of education.

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