Technology and Education of Tomorrow

Ed or Alive is still taking shape, so you can expect some random topics
for the next few weeks.  I'll likely keep talking about general dorky
technology, though this issue I've decided to talk about something I'm
extremely passionate about.  And it happens to be something that every
person that has a child (I don't) should be interested in.  Sorry, no
cool new iPads this week!

Throughout my career working in public
sector technology, I have accidentally become somewhat specialized in
education.  Don't get me wrong, I don't claim to be an expert though I
certainly have some experience.  Generally, the average techie knows
that public sector technology can be somewhat of a slow or sinking
ship.  And honestly, I've seen many more projects fail than succeed. 
Given next to nothing budgets, and very little time for innovation,
education always seems to be a late adopter.  And most of the worst
budget situations seem to be in K-12, which is arguably the most
critical period of any human being's development.

Yesteryear
All
that said, I realize how far education has come.  Throughout high
school, I can remember only having about 15 minutes a day of computer
time.  And the PC's were not much more than an Atari with a keyboard. 
And the time was, shall I say, not very productive.  I'm pretty sure I
played Leasure Suit Larry for the majority of it --what happened
to that game?  Our educators were still no more than hobbyists at best. 
Not to take anything away from them, but they had no idea that what
they were teaching us was already obsolete.  Needless to say, we have
come along way in the classroom.

Today
Much like
enterprises, many school systems have huge, complex information systems
with their own independent IT organizations.  They operate much like
low-budget corporations with many different offices, branches and
divisions.  The IT departments typically treat the business as
"customers" with service level agreements, help desks, etc.  For all
intents and purposes, they are much like a separate company.  IT staff
usually have more focus on the technology, rather than the business side
of things.  Of course this is not always the case as there are
occasional committees that foster the business/tech relationship.  But
in my experience it's like going to junior prom when the clicks hang out
with each other, and not many people actually get to make out.  By
making out I mean doing some real business.  Um...er...you get my
picture.  

I have yet to meet someone in the education sector
that hasn't been hit with budget concerns.  Especially over the past two
years.  In addition to their standard operating dollars, their tech
funding is either dwindling or nonexistent.  To me, this begs a serious
question: Why is one of the most important industries in our country
suffering from lack of funding?  The very place that we should be
targeting our tax dollars has been seriously neglected.

It's a
question that I have heard over and over.  I have worked with some of
the largest school systems in the country, and they seem to be in the
worst shape.  Smaller school systems have the ability to be more agile
and flexible in tough times.

Higher Education is no stranger to
budget cuts either.  My alma mater hit hard last fiscal year and there
were serious layoffs and cuts across campus.  The difference is colleges
and universities have an abundance of innovation and research, allowing
them to transform and develop new ways of doing things.  Historically,
universities also have been the breeding ground for new, disruptive
technologies.  Some include little projects you may have heard of: 
Napster, Facebook, to name a couple.  Many of these projects have been
built on free, open platforms, allowing complete customization for each
implementation.  This is inherently an issue for K-12, as there is very
little research allocated to these types of projects, and they typically
do not get far off the ground.  Or they have multiple stops and starts
that eventually exhausts resources.

Education of Tomorrow
It's
clear that other countries around the world have made education a high
priority.  They are embracing technologies that are open and freely
available.  Open platforms have
been around for decades, though have been slow to expand in many ways.  I
have been toying
with them
with it for much of my adult life.  But over the past 2
years I have seen an explosion of growth.  With the help of some major
corporations like Google, Microsoft and IBM, we are seeing more and more
devices coming out.  In fact, there are millions of users that likely
have no idea their Android device was built on Linux.

What's
the Point?

Knowing there are virtually very low cost  (or free)
technology resources available that could potentially catapult the
entire global education sector is fascinating to me.  Over my next few
posts I will dive deeper into this, and how these tools can change the
landscape of the Digital Divide

Comments

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  • It's a wonderful thing you're doing Ed, children are our future. Good Luck!

  • wow, coming from an age where computers were huge machines located in the basements of very large buildings...

    Looking forward to you expanding on this... there such a need in our schools. Where I am, the trend is moving out of the traditional classroom into the home study on computer, but not every child has a computer or access to get on the web. As it is, we leave so many children behind. So many things go into to that, including lack of technology. We need to somehow create a equal playing field with opportunity for each child.

    Looking forward to more Ed

  • I think you are on to something realy good. I agree that K-12 students now are disengaged and therefore low on student acheivement. We need to take today's students into the 21st century skills. Students now are the new digital natives and teachers should teach them in the form they are familiar with such as blogs, wikis, chats, and other social networking platforms. Social networking and Webb 2.0 tools enable enable creativity and encourage collaboration and sharing. These tools al have to potential to transform both teaching and learning.

    I have looked at open source social networking software such as Dolphin, Elgg and PHPizabi. Lovdbyless is worth mentioning. Built with Ruby on rails, it is an open source social platform based around choice, flexibility and openness: a system that firmly places individuals at the center of their activities.

  • In some school districts the IT department is both an enabler and dis-abler. I worked with one district that had such severe, almost draconian, Web filters in place that teachers had mostly stopped using it. All blogs were off-limits; so were all financial and investment Web sites (even for the teachers teaching financial-related courses).

    The district used Web-based Outlook, but from lack of top-down mandate and from lack of training, half of the program's useful features went unused.

    The IT shop never even took the time to fix the Office 2003/2007 file compatibility issue by installing the free converter pack on the older version. Almost daily, someone with Office 2007 would send out a file attachment which half the staff couldn't read or open. That would lead to a blizzard of follow-up emails asking for a '2003' version.

    I see LOTS of low-hanging fruit out there in using technology to improve education, but I don't see a lot of IT staff doing the picking.

  • I read your blog with much interest because I am a facilitator of technology for our kids in our school. In our state, there is an initiative that is pushing high level technology out to our kids. You might check it out by googling EAST Initiative. You are correct in that it is expensive to keep up with technology in the classroom but I am fortunate to be in a small school district that believes today's kids need to learn with the best they can provide. So all is not lost but there is high competition on the national level for childrens' time. I do not believe that from a national level, the powers have hit on the right combination between the use of technology and the balance of knowledge to meet the many standards being put forth.

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    Ed Swiderski

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