Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Learning in the Cloud

Recently the administrators in Limestone County have read a book entitled, “Learning in the Cloud.” The book addresses a common challenge for school systems across the country: How can we effectively use technology to implement curriculum changes in the 21st century. Modern technology is a major component of the current metamorphosis being experience by public schools. Technology is changing at a pace which causes larger organizations to have difficulty keeping up with the change.

A major theme of the book is that learning is not increased simply by adding devices. The devices, no matter how wonderful, are not effective without quality instruction. Teachers not trained in the proper use of the technology for instruction will not innately be able to increase educational achievement. Teachers must be trained not only on the device, but how to use the device to improve instruction. For example, interactive whiteboards can be great tools, but if teachers only use them to write notes, a whiteboard can do the same thing for a lot less money.

The book chronicles several initiatives across the country and how they implemented new technology to improve instruction. Some of these initiatives have been successful and some have not. Certainly educators need to learn from the mistakes as well as the successes of other systems. In many places education reform is taking the place at the same time as dramatic technology change and the two are many times mistaken for the same phenomenon. While the two changes can be linked, and probably should be linked, if they are not initially coordinated many changes occur in isolation and aren’t as effective as possible.

Effective goal setting is important when undertaking any initiative. The book lists three goals set forward in using technology in education: 1. to improve academic achievement, 2. to facilitate new kinds of 21st century learning, and 3. to promote educational and social equity. Of course all of these are important, but in order to effective accomplish all three goals, the efforts must be intelligently coordinated.

21st century learning typically focuses on creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and flexibility while much of the computer learning in the past has been largely drill and practice. Continuing to add tools that do not fit the current needs of learners does not help to improve the overall education of students. Learners today must also be able to locate information using current technology due to the increased availability of information in modern society.

Educational equity is also addressed in “Learning in the Cloud.” Students living in homes without access to modern technology are in increasing danger of falling behind their peers in academic achievement. Without one to one initiatives being implemented by school systems many children will never have access to the latest technology. Even if the school system provides the device, without internet access the students are still in some danger of not being able to fully realize the possible benefits of the technology.

Infrastructure must be properly assembled before effective implementation of any one to one initiative can be successful. School systems have tried to implement great initiatives without the proper infrastructure only to find out their efforts were in vain. A coordinated effort is necessary to ensure effective implementation occurs when introducing any technology program.

In conclusion, technology can not replace thinking and a great deal of planning and expertise is required to effectively implement 21st century learning initiatives. Teachers and administrators must be careful to make sure gadgets are not the focus and make sure learning takes center stage. When great teachers have great tools, some spectacular learning outcomes can be achieved, but great tools are useless in the hands of a person not trained to effectively use the tool.

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