Educational Technology: Changing the way we use classroom time

There was a neat story on American Public Media’s Marketplace program last night that touched on technology in education. Host Kai Ryssdal interviewed the founder of the Kahn Academy, an online learning site designed to help students have self-paced, highly interactive online learning experiences.

Though I can’t speak to the quality of the Kahn Academy’s programs, I was impressed with its founder’s remarks on what the nature of technology in education ought to be. It’s not just about shoving iPads into kids’ hands, he argued.

Khan: For a while, whenever people talk about technology and education, they’ve just been talking about putting computers, or iPads or whatever in a room and hoping that something good happens. Even when there was something to do on a computer, it was always viewed as separate from the core curriculum. It was viewed of what normally goes on in a math class. What we’re saying is now we can actually use technology, we can use these videos, we can use this software to allow every student to work at their own pace. It’s not an either/or proposition any more. There’s always this debate of do you do more of the core skills or do more of the projects and the investigations. We’re saying that you do both. You can use a lot of the technology to handle a lot of the core skills, free up a lot of the teachers’ time to do a lot more of the human interactions.”

I think this is a powerful way to sum up what good technology integration ought to be: the idea is to fundamentally reshape the curriculum to best utilize the strengths of the tools at hand. This means that you can move the class time with the teacher from a content-delivery model (in which the teacher is sole owner and distributor of information) to a problem-solving model (in which students spend their time with the teacher further exploring and refining their grasp of the information). This means a fundamental restructuring of a classic way of teaching, but it’s important to keep in mind that the focus is still on the teacher. Students’ access to information has changed, but they still need a strong, capable teacher to help them navigate that wealth of information. That seems increasingly to be the role of the teacher in the twenty-first century; it’s our job to transition to a model that honors those modern best practices while holding on to the heart of what we know works for educating our girls.

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