School systems are faced with two major forces that I believe will cause sweeping changes: personalized learning and technology. Personalized learning means different things to different people but it will likely involve significant changes for how teaching occurs, how students learn and demonstrate learning, who’s responsible for learning, how learning is assessed, what core knowledge should be, what skills must be learned, etc. along with a growing reliance on technology. Turning to technology, there are some very significant trends occurring that will affect learning and teaching but also have a disruptive impact on the work of Information Technology (IT) departments. The sky’s the limit when we’re talking about the future…
Teachers have an increasingly complex job to perform. I was at a conference last week where one of the keynote speakers surveyed the audience on what the most important factor was for them being successful in school. The crowd sourced answer was pretty clear: great teachers. I know I can attest to this in my life. One teacher stands out for me, Jim Swift. He saw in me the potential of a computer science orientation whereas at the time I was planning to become a mechanic. Fast forward, I hate working on cars but love the journey I’ve taken starting with computer science and now working in an educational leadership role with a focus on technology. I think teachers for the most part do a phenomenal job preparing their students to enter society and the world of work. We’re surrounded by successful people who’ve passed through our public schools. I disagree with those that argue “education is broken”.
My view is that education needs to be disrupted to get it to innovate faster to better fit our modern times and the rather different future that’s coming. Learning must become more personal, more authentic, more real world – project and problem oriented, more self directed, and more digitally enabled. Why? That is the world kids will enter post-K12. It’s the world we and they live in now. Assessment needs to evolve as well. A summative “mark” has no real-world importance. It satisfies parents who trust it (it’s familiar, comfortable) and higher educational institutions and their entrance requirements. But, a “mark” doesn’t really mean anything (my opinion). No one cares what I got on my English 11 final exam but how well I write impacts my work and my ability to participate effectively in my world. Assessment for learning to help teachers differentiate their teaching and personalize learning to meet different student needs and speeds is important. I don’t think it is practical to expect teachers to do that easily with out powerful technological solutions.
I saw an amazing demonstration of Microsoft’s Power Pivot (it’s free). I suggest that tools like this in conjunction with easy and time efficient ways to record observations and artifacts of student learning could help. Teachers could benefit from having at their fingertips a learning and achievement picture of their assigned students as a group and as individuals with a simple way to see the impact of various lessons and learning activities on student learning. I’m talking about nearly real-time data with information and knowledge “generated” automatically. This would be a powerful tool. Tools could be used by students themselves for learning activities and projects as well perhaps they could get immediate feedback through their teacher’s work with assessment tools. Add to this the ability for parents to access these learning pictures of their children and the need for a mark may diminish. We do need a way of satisfying the sorting, I mean entrance, requirements of Universities… But, think of this as providing real-time indicators of student knowledge, understanding, and skills leading to mastery of required high quality curriculum.
I also see all learning and teaching becoming a blend of digital and physical activities. In other words all learning will involve an online component and experience. As 3D immersive learning environments become very sophisticated, online learning could incorporate true virtual learning experiences. Gord Holden, a teacher with NIDES (North Island Distance Education School) is doing amazing work with
his students using learning environments designed in Active Worlds as well as Quest Atlantis. His students learn Egyptian history, social responsibility, environmental education, and other subjects in a self-directed way. They learn constructively. They are assessed against the curriculum based on their artifacts of learning, which are mainly digital and virtual. This approach can support personalized learning in a big way. It’s an unusual experience but I can see it becoming main stream as the tools become easier for less tech savvy teachers to use. It’s just a matter of time…
Technology Impacts on IT Work
I see two major forces here: consumerization of IT and cloud computing. As end-user computing devices (laptops, netbooks, tablets / slates, mobile phones) all become super reliable and support instant on, auto updating, self installable software (aka an App store), and are super intuitive to use, a lot of what IT people do currently disappears. The other side of IT is the “back end” of computing. An IT shop in a school district provides and supports a lot of servers and storage capacity which take quite a bit of work to buy, install, maintain, update, increase, replace, etc. Cloud computing, whether private or public, changes the game for back-end computing.
Consumerization of IT came onto the radar with tools like the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, Android phones, other slates. As well, the scale tipped a year ago from desktop to laptop / network computing. Computers and devices have become quite straightforward to setup, software is a simple download and installation – less technical skill is required than before. Mobile devices use "App stores” and the process for acquiring, installing, and updating apps is a “no brainer”. All of this work, even just connecting to a network, was extremely complex 10 years ago. As school districts open up to a Bring your own Computer (BYOC) or Personally owned Device (POD) approach and the price and capability of devices improve, a District’s inventory of computers will rapidly decline. So not only will the devices Districts own be very simple to support but there will be far less of them to support. This is a disruptive change to the nature of IT work.
Cloud computing involves providing computing services via an utility model. This can be done privately in a District’s own data centre, for a fee with a vendor like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Amazon, etc., or for free (hundreds of free services like Google docs, Wikispaces, Blogger, Twitter, Prezi, Windows Live, Microsoft Live@EDU, etc.). There are privacy issues to overcome related to where information for students can be stored and privacy concerns for staff information. I believe these will be answered in a reasonable manner and I see a hybrid approach working for Districts. Districts will run certain core applications in their “cloud” need more control or customization but anything that is more commodity oriented will eventually move out into “the cloud”.
What does this mean for IT employees in Districts? My believe is that IT departments need to be aware of and thinking deeply about these coming changes and to start to talk about how to reinvent themselves in such a way to meet high value needs. With the dependence on technology for learning and teaching, network infrastructure and security will increase in importance. New roles will be needed to develop new services to support the data and analytic needs of learning and assessment, to support online and immersive learning tools and environments, to support the communication and involvement needs of parents, and to support student learning portfolios. Also, new roles are needed to support the ever growing business process improvements and new initiatives for education business departments. I see these disruptions as hugely exciting for IT worker opening new doors to do new and interesting work.
Overall, the future is a very exciting place to go! When we don’t anticipate disruptive change, we are impacted negatively. So, we need to open our eyes and urgently tune into the coming disruptions and design the changes we want. Let’s be proactive and build for the future!