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The Future of Educational Computing

The Future of Educational Computing

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Published by John Koetsier
An article I wrote for PCGuia, a Portuguese technology magazine.
An article I wrote for PCGuia, a Portuguese technology magazine.

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Published by: John Koetsier on Jun 22, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Future of Educational Computing
Imagine the classroom of the future. All students have a laptop, all textbooksare interactive and immersive, all teachers have access to rich data onstudent achievement.Is this a fantasy … or is it already almost a reality?The Magellan project in Portugal to give each student a tool for 21
centurylearning has world-wide visibility. Other projects such as the Maine LearningTechnology initiative – supplying a laptop for each middle and high schoolstudent in the US state of Maine – are also bright lights in educationaltechnology.Via projects like these, we are learning what it takes to make technology inschools work: for students, for teachers, and for the economy of tomorrow.Let’s take a brief step into the classroom of the future. What do we see?
The digital learning “life cycle”
A teacher creates a lesson based on materials provided by the Ministry of Education and available for download on a server. She adds a few localdetails, a Flash animation she found online, and a chapter of a digitaltextbook.When students enter the classroom, lesson resources are automaticallydownloaded to each of their laptops. As the teacher introduces the lesson,students answer quick one or two question quizzes that give her instantfeedback on what they understand – or don’t.After the introduction, students gather in small groups to discuss and applytheir new insights. They work on shared documents, collaborating to producepresentations that can be simultaneously edited by each of them on theirindividual computers.That evening, students each take their own laptop home. They open thelesson resources their teacher provided, and read the chapter in thetextbook. The textbook was automatically downloaded to their PCs at thebeginning of the semester, and includes audio clips, Flash animations, andshort movies that illustrate and explain the concepts. The textbook alsoincludes interactive exercises that students must complete to demonstratetheir knowledge.The next morning when students enter the classroom, data automaticallyflows from their laptops to the teacher: what they studied, how long theyread, what questions they answered, and their scores. Graphs and charts of student comprehension are automatically created for the teacher, and shecan instantly see which students are ready to move on to the next lesson,
and which need some extra help on the current topic.Based on scores on the in-class quiz the previous day as well as students’ results on the interactive exercises completed at home, the teacher thenassigns new lessons. Students who understand the current topic receivemore advanced material; students who do not receive a different lesson onthe same topic.The teacher manages this on her laptop, and then asks students to work insmall groups that are automatically assigned based on appropriate mixes of knowledge and ability. As students work quietly, she acts as a coach, movingfrom group to group to give quick, focused feedback or input as studentsrequire.Since the teacher is receiving constant daily feedback on students’ learning inthe form of simple visual graphs, she can proactively target any weaknesses.For some, she provides extra coaching and teaching. Others may requiretutoring, assignment to a study group, or intervention with a parent. Nonewill be surprised at the end of a term with a failing grade.At the end of the semester, data from all of students’ learning (not just testsor exams) is automatically collated and graphed, allowing the teacher toassign a grade that accurately reflects each student’s learning and growth,knowledge and effort.
The challenge and opportunity
This, some may say, is a great vision … but far from reality. And reality is alittle less amenable to change than we might like.But what makes technology in schools so hard? Why is it that supplyingmillions of euros of technology to students does not instantly increaseachievement? Well, big ships are hard to turn, and large institutions do notchange overnight. Moving from a 19
century factory model of education –students in, citizen-workers out – to a 21
century model focusing onlearning, evaluation, synthesis, and creation skills is a major change.Most educators are willing to do what it takes to prepare students for a futurein the knowledge economy. But it takes support at all levels for meaningful,lasting change to happen. And the critical steps are those taken before anylaptops enter the classroom.The first step is develop a clear vision: what are the goals and what is theplan that will achieve them? A recent study of multiple laptop projects foundthat committed leaders who did thorough planning before purchasing anytechnology were key to success
Educational Outcomes and Research from 1:1 Computing Settings. Bebell, D., andO’Dwiyer, L. 2010.
But just as important is early and committed involvement of teachers.Nothing will change a teacher’s world as much as moving from traditionaleducation to 1:1 computing … so it is little wonder that without teachersupport, educational technology fails. The same study states that teachersplay an essential role: in fact, that the responsibility for actuallyimplementing the use of technology falls to teachers.School systems that achieve success with educational technology also oftenfind that their methods of teaching and learning change, moving fromlecture-style teaching to project or problem-based learning: learning that isfocused on real-world issues and forces students to bring multiplecompetencies (math, language, geography, etc) to bear on a single multi-faceted issue.Given the changes teachers need to make, and that fact that they are criticalto success, plenty of time for professional development and training beforethe laptops arrive is critical. Ongoing coaching and resources for teachers arealso highly correlated with successful projects.So it’s not simple: it’s not just a matter of signing a check and droppingtechnology on school desks.But the pioneers, including Magellan, have shown the path to success. Andthe opportunity is to transform learning into something that all studentsenjoy, and to make school a launching pad for careers and innovation andsuccess.
The needs right now
We are no longer at the beginning of the revolution. The rebels of educational technology are starting to be the leaders. But what is needednow? What are the next steps?
Integrated tools
Today, teacher PCs are not talking to student PCs simply and easily,communicating what students need, delivering lessons, collating results.Student planning tools don’t integrate with teacher assignments. Textbooksdo not have interactive quizzes and tests built-in. Digital reading softwaredoesn’t report back to teachers or parents on what students have done.Why? These tools need to talk.
Simple computer management 
In a school with 1500 laptops, or a district with 15,000 … how can schoolspossibly manage? Schools need to be able to enable or disable software.Districts need to be able to push updates to computers. Teachers need theability to customize a learning environment on their students’ computers. Allof this needs to be possible with a computer science degree.
Next-generation digital textbooks

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