Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Blog: Elaine Casap: Hybrid Schools

Technology has changed the way American society functions. Today we do research by using Google, learn about the news on Twitter and connect with people on Facebook. The world’s information can be available within seconds and anybody can access it. Location isn’t an obstacle anymore, the Internet is available almost anywhere. With technology being overbearingly powerful why hasn’t America’s education system changed? The education system has barely changed in the last fifty years and in most cases it has worsened. This is due to the lack of technology in the classroom. When technology is integrated in the classroom it is likely the technology is being misused. 

Many studies have been done on classrooms that use technology. The most effective way technology is used is when students individually do work with the teacher while utilizing technology. The most ineffective way technology is used in the classroom is when only the teacher uses the technology to teach with. In order for technology in education to be truly effective is when they are used together. There have been many instances where students learned on a whole other level because of the collaboration of technology 

 In the past couple years a new kind of charter school has been introduced to America. They are called hybrid schools, and they are on the rise. Hybrid schools have a curriculum that is completely online. Students learn everything based off a program and are able to learn at their own pace. Teachers still fulfill their teaching role but since they are not tied down with lesson plans and following the curriculum, they are able to give individual attention to students (Education Week). The schools still meet face to face every day. There are teachers on staff for the core subjects like: English, math, history and science. Instead of kids sitting down in a lecture the teachers meet up with small groups throughout the day and help them work with the lesson they are on (Education Week). Teachers are able to group students together based on assessments of the lesson the student is required to take. With this kind of learning experience students are constantly collaborating with each other, which is the most effective way to learn (Education Week). Hybrid schools allow students to have an ultra personalized education. Michael Horn, executive director of education at Innosight Institute agrees with the idea of hybrid schools, “our expectation is to educate every child successfully, then we need structure that is individualized and personalized. There is no way to do that in the way we have historically approached it,” (Education Week).

As a parent the idea of “online school” may be scary. Virtual school is ideal in some cases but it is hard for a parent to watch over their child. There is no secret that kids would rather choose not to work than work. That is why children have been sent to school for the last 200 years. So kids can receive an education and teachers can make sure they behave. This logic is what has allowed parents to work hours a day and not have to worry about the responsibility of their child’s education. Hybrid schools realize the importance of a formal structure for a child’s education. There is no denying that online only schools can lead to a lack of social interaction, which may be the most valuable thing about school (Education Week). Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona adapted hybridization. They understand the importance of technology in education and also the importance of social interaction. The school meets five times a week, like any other school. Except in the curriculum students utilize technology sixty percent of the day and have face to face time with teachers forty percent of the day (Education Week).

 One of the most successful Hybrid schools is, The School of One, in New York City (Good Magazine). Due to the hybridization every student learns at his or her own pace, there are no language barriers and no child falls behind. The entire school is organized to fit the needs of individual students (Good Magazine). The school provides eight separate programs, that means there are eight different ways the child can learn the curriculum. For example a child can be highly involved in collaborative group work and have little time involved with a teacher. Or a child can spend most their time with the teacher and a little time with individual work. Students are assessed everyday after they learn a lesson and through that assessment the teachers are able to see what works best for the student. The online program also has algorithms and these algorithms change if the student is having problems comprehending the lesson. The system will pick an entirely different way to teach the student. This could mean the student needs small group study; large group study, or maybe the student needs more visual teaching (Good Magazine).

A school like The School of One is revolutionary. The way our children are being taught through the public school system is wrong. America needs more schools like The School of One. With the tools being used in Hybrid schools, students are being more prepared for real life then ever before. They are learning how to utilize computers on their own, which is a skill set that is needed for the rest of their lives. The kids are able to learn at their own pace, allowing a child to never feel like they are not smart enough.

Realistically, the hybrid schools will never become the only method of education. However, there should be more research done to compare hybrid schools and public schools. With the data collected there could be real data to prove hybrid schools are better for the children. It would be ideal for the public school system to adapt some of the methods of hybrid schools. Public schools could start utilizing technology, teachers could recognize the importance of student collaboration and classroom sizes could become smaller. The public education should try to embrace some of the characteristics of hybrid school.

Hybrid schools are an ideal example of technology being integrated into the classroom. If enough parents see the benefits Hybrid schools have to offer the parents will demand it for their child. If there is enough demand then eventually the entire public school system will change for the better. Parents need to demand a better education for their child. A change can happen through the simple power of voting. Parents, don’t you want what is best for your child?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Abraham Lincoln was a Wimp

"You can not fail if you resolutely determine that you will not."
- Abraham Lincoln

Another critical skill students need to develop is the ability to analyze and assess information.  Information is coming at us at a pace many find overwhelming.  The quantity of global information grows at an astonishing speed.  For example, in just 24 hours, 2 million blog posts are written!  In the same time frame, enough information is consumed by Internet traffic to fill 168 million DVDs.  We send 284 billion emails every day.  It feels like most of those end up in my inbox.  Eric Schmidt has said he thinks it will take us 300 years to index and make all the world’s information searchable.  You can also look at the eruption of video creation.  YouTube, which is becoming an essential tool in the classroom, adds content at a rate that is hard to grasp.  Every minute, 72 hours of video is uploaded on YouTube!  That means that no matter how hard your kids try, and mine is trying very hard,  they will never be able to watch all the videos on YouTube. 

All the data I’ve seen suggests that most of us are, quite frankly, terrible searchers.  We just have to come to grips with that.  Most of us never developed the skills required to truly utilize the information of a digital world.  If you don’t believe me, you can go do an assessment and test your search skills.  However, I can save you time.  Trust me, you are not a good searcher.  If you don’t believe me, here is a quick self evaluation you can do to determine if I’m on the right path.

First, if you type a question mark into the search bar, you are a terrible searcher.  To go further, if you type a whole sentence in the bar, you are wasting a whole bunch of time.  If your search looks like this, “What was the date of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address?” instead of, “gettysburg date” the earth is spinning rapidly and you are wasting a lot of that spin!

Second, do you know what Command F (on a Mac – I don’t do Windows) does on a webpage?  Would you believe 90% of people have no idea what this time saving, search altering capability does?  Nope, I’m not going to tell you.  Why don’t you go search, “What happens when I type Command F on my Mac when I’m on a webpage?” 

My point is, if we are bad searchers, how are we teaching students to search?  How are we teaching them to make sense of information?  How are we teaching them to vet and dig deep into all the data available to us?  We need to help students build these skills.  Again, not necessarily as a separate subject, but more in what they do every day.  How can we incorporate technology, search and analytical skills to develop new engaging and relevant learning content for our students?

I have a confession to make.  I am a history and political junkie.  It feels good to get that off my chest.  The second part of that confession is that I have turned my kids into junkies.  This is especially true of American history and how politics coats and is engrossed in all our history.

A few Sundays ago, I was partaking in one of my favorite activities.  I was on the couch reading my paper copy of the New York Times (yes, I’ve been getting the paper Sunday times for as long as I can remember.)  I was reading their endorsement of Barak Obama.  I was summarizing the text to my daughter, who was sitting next to me (she was over to watch the Giants game with me – another one of my favorite activities, which makes me worried that so many of them involve my couch).  Her reaction was interesting but probably conventional wisdom, “well, of course they endorsed Obama. It’s a left leaning paper and they will always back the Democrat.”  She was also questioning the value of the endorsement, and if it would sway voters.  What a great opportunity to take a nose dive into history!

I asked, “well, do we know if that’s true?”  Also, have they always been right?  Has their endorsement meant anything?”  And so on, and so on.   We grabbed the laptop and started researching.  It wasn’t long before we were into some interesting material.  After we did the analysis of how many Republicans and Democrats the paper supported since they began this in 1860, and how many times they were right, we branched off into some really thought-provoking information!  We got into the first endorsement the paper ever made.  The New York Times endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860.  We found the actual text of the endorsement and all of a sudden we were in a time travel machine and found ourselves in the middle of what was happening in the country in October, 1860, more than 150 years ago!

We all learned history in a very linear and stagnate way.  First President Lincoln got elected, then he led the north in the Civil War, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves, the North won the Civil War, and then he was assassinated in a theater.  When you learn it that way, it feels like one thing lead to another in very logical way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Easy access to technology and the web gives us this time travel capability.  The combination helps us get into what was actually occurring at the time.  So we read the endorsement and what did we discover?  That folks in 1860 were making things up as they went, just like we do.  That they had no idea what was going on or what would happen!  Theirs was a messy present and they were looking at a ambiguous future.  Slippery slope theories were in full effect!

For example, in the endorsement, the paper writes:

“…there is a large class of men who have a vague but real apprehension that something terrible is to follow the election of a Republican President.  They fear that the South will be excluded by law from the territories, that slaves will be set free in the District of Columbia, that inter-state Slave trade will be prohibited, and a great variety of legislative encroachments on Southern rights will be perpetrated.”

In other words, there seems to be all these “real” but unfounded and silly worries that things in our country were going to change.  Nonsense says the editorial board at the New York Times.  They go out of their way to put to rest these unrealistic concerns.  The paper goes on:

“…whatever may be the wishes of the Republicans on these topics, they are not likely to have any opportunity to carry them into effect.”

They further go on to describe how the Democrats control congress and they would never let any of these actions take place.  They go as far as concluding that even if the Democrats lost the Senate (fat chance), the House is so strong that it’s the Democrats who are going to run things and make all the decisions.  Wow!  Really?  Boy did they call this one wrong huh?  Not only that, we were able to tie that directly to what’s going on today.  Does it matter who controls the House?  The Senate?  Can we bring about change no matter who’s in power in Congress?  The paper continues to make it’s point:

“It will not be easy…for Mr. Lincoln to do much mischief…He seems to us much more likely to be too good natured and tolerant towards his opponents, then not enough so.  Rail-splitting is not an exciting occupation.  It does not tend to cultivate the hot and angry passions of the heart…we have not the slightest doubt, therefore, that Prof. Lincoln will disappoint utterly the sanguinary expectations (of those that want change)…”

Sound familiar?  In other words, this Lincoln dude is a wimp.  Even if he had the House and the Senate, he’s still not going to do anything!  Don’t worry, nothing is going to happen.  This guy is a rail splitter, and we all know how ”those people” are.  I think they might have missed this call.  Talk about a dis!  We imagined what the board would say if someone suggested that Lincoln would be one of our greatest and most beloved presidents in our history, one we would build monuments to.  How hard would the laughter be?  Sound familiar?

So we dove deeper.  We read more about what was going on at the time.  The paranoia in the south.  The lack of conviction in the North.  We dove into the back and forth.  We used Google earth to look at the country in 1860 and where the strongholds were.  We saw where the battles took place and how many men died in the war.  We saw how the South was set up and where we thought they made some seriously bad calculations.  We learned about how the Navy was used by the north.  We listened to a audio interpretation of the Gettysburg address, in the pace and tone Lincoln would have read it.  We spent all afternoon talking about it.  We asked critical questions like, what would have happened if the south actually listened to the Times (several states in the south panicked after the election and without southern unity, declared their independence on their own.)  We compared it to what is going on today in our nation and in our politics.  How both sides lay out a vision of what’s going to happen to our country if we pick one guy over another.  What we learned is that history is a recording of chaos that only make sense in the aftermath, when all the dust settles.

That’s the power of technology and the web.  We can jump into a time machine and visit the past.  Not only so we can understand what happened, but also so we can learn how it applies to today and our potential future.  We also learned that the New York Times, even 150 years ago, has no idea what it’s talking about. 

It looks like Abraham Lincoln didn’t turn out to be so wimpy huh?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Well hello 21st Century, how long have you been standing there?

“21st century breakdown
I once was lost but never was found
I think I am losing what's left of my mind 
To the 20th century deadline…” 
- Green Day

I’m not a big fan of the phrase, “21st Century skills” and it’s used quite often in the education world.  For example, you might hear someone say, “We need to teach kids 21st century skills.”  You will also find, “We will need students to graduate with 21st century skills.” 

One reason why I don’t like the phrase is because I’m not really sure what century we’re in right now and that’s a little embarrassing.  I also don’t like it because it implies some set of skills students will need in the future.  I contend that students need these skills right now and they need to start building them as soon as they get to school.

You find variations of this list of skills in numerous places.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills uses names like “learning and innovation” skills or “life and career” skills.  My friend Tony Wagner calls them “survival skills” in The Global Achievement Gap and includes elements like “critical thinking and problem solving,” and “effective oral and written communication” skills.  There isn’t just one correct list, they are all appropriate.  In my talks, I break them down into four themes (which of course include elements of all types of skills).  I call them communication, collaboration, problem solving, and analyzing and assessing information.  I’m not going to cover all four here (that would be a very long post) but I’ll start with the first one, communication.  I will follow up with the other topics in future posts, maybe in the 21st century!


How we communicate has evolved over time and in the last 20 years, it has dramatically changed.  In the last five years, it’s just been transformed.  When she started college, my daughter and I had to have a communication meeting.  We were having so many misunderstandings and communication fails that we had to come up with a system to deal with the expectations we had for each other.  This wasn’t an issue when I was in college.   When I had to communicate with my mother, I had one choice with three potential outcomes.  I walked over to the hallway payphone to place a long distance phone call.  The first potential outcome was that she picked up the phone and I talked to her.  The second one was a busy signal, and I just hung up.  The third option was pretty much like the second one.  If she wasn’t home, the phone rang and rang, and eventually I hang up (she didn’t have a máquina). 

My daughter and I had a much more complex system to work through.  If it’s information she thinks I need but does not require immediate attention, she emails me (i.e., here are my classes and tuition is due next month.)  If it’s information she wants to share, wants feedback on, or needs my attention that day, she texts me (i.e., hey when you get a chance, let me know if we are going shopping this weekend, I need stuff.)  If she needs my immediate attention, she calls me and if I don’t answer, she follows up with a text (i.e., I need money in my account, I’m starving!)  And how does she find out where I am in the world at any given moment?  Yes, she checks my Google+, Facebook, or Twitter status.  By the way, for those of you who are “friends” with your kids, have you talked about expectations?  I am sure your daughter has given you the, “mom, please do not post any comments to my status updates” plea.  Have you set your communication expectations with your kid?  Are you going to wait until she posts a status like, “have to take my mother to her doctor’s appointment.  She is getting warts removed from her feet and I have to drive her.”  How we communicate matters and it will continue to be even more important.

I remember thinking about how communication was changing during my senior year in college.  You see, I was from the WordPerfect 5.1 generation.  I saw the new Windows 3.1 being adopted by the underclassmen and I was so thankful to be getting out of there!  I didn’t think I would be capable of managing the new communication expectations that were going to come with those new capabilities.  I was a dot matrix printer communicator, with lots of words and maybe a few tables.  I was an overhead projector presenter, where I would type big WordPerfect words and copy them onto overhead transparency paper.  I would hand draw pie charts with my trusty Sharpie marker.  I didn’t think that would be acceptable in the new Windows 3.1 world.

I assumed students would be required to have professional looking presentations with pictures and sound and other elements I didn’t have the skill set for.  They would be colorful and vibrant.  As this capability grew, I believed the expectations would grow more intense.  By the time my daughter was in high school, I thought she would be expected to have a live interview with the researcher she was writing about in the middle of her presentation.

The truth is we haven’t really raised the bar on communication and haven’t taken in all the technological and social changes that have taken place in.  Every semester, I am asked by a fellow professor (yes, I teach classes at ASU every couple of semesters) who teaches an MBA class at ASU.  Each semester, a group of students are assigned the Google business case and they are required to do a class presentation on it.  I sit in as their guest and help review their presentation and answer questions.  What happens during the presentation stopped surprising me many semesters ago because it happens every time.  This class of MBAs who are supposed to be the future leaders of industry takes the business case, regurgitates it point by point in 20 slides, each with six bullet points.  In other words, they present their WordPerfect made transparency paper on an overhead projector.  Talk about automating bad communication.

Our students need to effectively express themselves.  They need to learn how to write complete complex sentences.  They need to create original thought and learn how to share it in everything from full blown white papers through 140 character tweets.  They need to learn how to get effective feedback in various formats.  They need to learn how to take complex ideas and communicate them to multiple audiences, including considerations for global meaning and cultural differences.  They need to learn to communicate using varies media and develop strategies for how to send out effective targeted communication. 

These skills have to be built into the new learning models we are creating.  We don’t have to teach them as separate lessons.  It is about time that we raise the communication expectations of our students.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

District Administration Interview

I haven't been able to post a new blog post in a few weeks due to all the traveling I've been doing and the fact that I was writing posts for other publications.  Here is one of them.  It is a follow up interview to a presentation I did at a District Administration Leadership Summit here in Phoenix.  There is a link to the video of the presentation at the end of this post.  I don't know if the word "invigorating" has ever been used to describe me.  Load mouth yes...invigorating not so much...

Q&A: With Jaime Casap, Senior Education Evangelist, Google

A follow-up to Casap's invigorating September DALI Summit keynote
Publication Date: 
November, 2012
 At the September District Administration Leadership Institute Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist, Google, Inc., in his presentation, got the audience thinking about educational vision and where we need to be with regard to creating a learning environment that brings out the best in every child. We wanted to continue this critical conversation, so we followed up with Casap to find out how districts can jump-start their shift to a technology-pervasive learning environment.

What are three priorities K12 administrators need to make when it comes to technology?

The first would be broadband access. Our education system is preparing students for a world where the internet is ingrained into higher education, business practices, and our daily lives in general. Broadband access lets teachers take advantage of those tools and exposes students to the type of learning and working environment they will encounter in the future.
The second is learning to leverage the power and prevalence of the web to create a learning platform. As educators, we are starting to understand the impact the web can have. Videos, applications, interactive content, and knowledge bases make the world’s information accessible from multiple devices 24/7.  
And the third priority is putting equipment in the hands of teachers and students so they can access the rich content of an ever-expanding web. School administrators need to choose devices that not only give students and faculty access to that content, but that are nearly invisible so that the focus remains on the teaching and learning, not on the technology.

Of all the technologies available for K12, which category do you like the best for schools?

I always look for opportunities to emphasize the potential of the web as a common learning platform. Although some wouldn’t call the web “technology,” I certainly do. There used to be clear lines between technologies. You had hardware, software, applications. More and more, all technology is web-based.

What is one way superintendents and teachers can begin to think differently about facilitating education through technology that would be quick and easy and helpful right out of the gate?

School leaders have to look at technology not just in terms of how it can help transform educational practices and models in the future, but also in how it can help us today. If you can look for just two ways technology can help you do your job better, you will create a pattern of looking for more. Eventually, you will start to see how technology can be a catalyst to transforming education. There are hundreds of way teachers and administrators can quickly use technology and the web to improve their day-to-day work.

Other than DALI and District Administration, which magazines/websites/conferences would you recommend for superintendents and administrators to regularly review/attend?

I think the most important conferences that superintendents and administrators can attend are the local ones in their own backyards. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with superintendents and principals who ask me for case studies of schools that are doing great things with technology. More often than not, I’m able to introduce them to schools across the street! Getting together with their peers in the same state and talking with each other about what they are doing with technology in education and the web as a learning platform can go a long way!

Watch a video of Jaime Casap's presentation here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


“Ghetto superstar, that is what you are
Comin' from afar, reachin' for the stars
Run away with me, to another place…”
- Mya

I recently participated in a Google Hangout interview for a podcast from my home office in Phoenix.  On my wall behind my desk, and in clear view of any video call I’m on, hangs big wooden hand made letters.  They spell “GHETTOSUPERSTAR.”  I was asked about it during the interview and I thought the explanation needed a little more context.  The letters were a Father’s Day gift from my creative daughter who lovingly carved them with a table saw.  The project took her weeks to complete and I’m actually surprised, and very thankful, she still has all her fingers. 

I acquired the nickname while I was at Accenture (when it was still called Andersen Consulting).  On many Fridays, I used to write “Jaime rant” emails (before we called them blogs) that I shared with my friends at the firm.  A particular one I wrote, “why I was staying at Andersen,” was a reaction to the number of ‘goodbye’ emails we were all getting from fellow consultants leaving and joining the thousands of start-ups that were booming in the middle of the tech bubble.  I wrote a ‘fake’ email about my decision to stay at the firm and included all the reasons why I decided to stay.  Those I sent it to must have liked it because they forwarded it to their friends and networks.  Before I knew what was happening, it was being read and forwarded by thousands of consultants all over the world.  By Wednesday, the CEO had read it and he decided to forward it to all 70,000 employees with his thoughts on it.  It was a stunning “Jerry Maguire” experience and something I will never forget!  I had to respond to thousands of emails from consultants all over the world.

One of those first email forwards that was passed around and ended up in the inbox of many employees, was from a close friend who added to the forward, “from my friend Jaime Casap, the Ghetto Superstar,” referring to my background and to a song that was hot and all over the radio that summer.  Before I knew it, I started seeing it in emails and hearing it in meetings.

Nicknames come and go (and I had several in my life) but I still use the Ghettosuperstar one because for me,  it has come to symbolize that I should always remember where I came from and how I should always be proud of it.  For the longest time I hid where I came from or how I grew up.  I didn’t lie, I just never talked about it.  I felt people would look at me differently or think of me less if they knew my story.  Speaking to lots of other professionals who grew up like I did, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

Whenever I get the chance to talk to a class or a school of students, especially kids growing up in poor urban areas, I take it!  I will always try and make it work (even if we have to do it via video).  Students in these schools get to hear from guest speakers every once in a while at occasions like career days, or parent events.  They get to hear what it takes to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or a firefighter.  They get to listen to how important education is and how hard they have to work if they want to succeed.  I like to talk to them because I am someone who knows exactly what they are going through.  I lived exactly as they live and it’s important for them to hear from "one of their own," to think, "if he made it, then I can also make it!"  

Of course I start with the “what it’s like to work at Google” story.  Students love to hear these stories.  I get a chance to convince them all to go into computer science, engineering, or any of the sciences.  I tell them that if they work hard and get a great education, the payoff in the end will be well worth it.  I do this while I show them slides of people playing volleyball, playing pool, or writing scooters in the office (not something I would recommend by the way – ask me why if you see me).  I get them pretty excited about the possibility of developing a set of skills that create useful applications millions use or solve problems.  Before I start, I always ask them, “how many of you want to be engineers?” It never fails.  Maybe one hand go up, if I’m lucky.  When I’m done, I ask again and all the hands shoot straight up.  One of my favorite memories is of a seven grader who added, “I want to be one RIGHT NOW!”  We need to continue to beat the science drum any chance we get!  We all know the high paying careers of the future will require skills in the sciences.  More importantly, we want to create the entrepreneurs who will create the next 100 million jobs!  These science skills are critical to all our students.

The other reason I talk to students directly is to give them a pep talk.  I believe there are some critical messages they need to hear.  From my own experience, I know they don’t get to hear these messages enough.  I tell them that they should be proud of who they are and where they are from.  I tell them that some folks have low expectations on whether they will succeed and that their motivation should be to prove them wrong.  I tell them that their experiences, what they see in their neighborhood, and the lessons they learn on the street, will all be competitive advantage when they get older.  I tell them that their cultural background will be unique in whatever field they chose to go into.  I tell them that they will have a different perspective, that they will look at problem solving and creativity from a unique point of view.  I tell them to work hard, get a great education, and be successful.  I tell them to go out in the world and be ghetto super stars.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Desks shown to harm student education

“So no matter what you been through, no matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass, picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down, you just lift your arms higher
Raise 'em 'til your arms tired let 'em know you here
That you struggling, survivin', that you gon' persevere
Yeah, ain't nobody leavin', nobody goin' home
Even if they turn the lights out, the show is goin' on”  
- Lupe Fiasco 

It seems like there is no shortage of articles that talk about how technology doesn’t improve education.  The focus is usually around the impact of the technology on test scores.  The question these articles answer is this: does the use of technology in the classroom improve test scores?  The methodology they use to answer this question is simple.  They look at any school who has put “technology” into some of their classrooms, they wait a school year, and then they compare last year’s test scores with this year’s test scores.  They look at the scores and conclude that the use of “technology” doesn’t improve test scores, therefore the impact of the technology on education at best is flat.

For some reason I still really can’t understand, the New York Times used this simple erroneous methodology and argument in a bunch of education technology articles last year.  This surprised me.  As a long time subscriber (I’ve been getting the hard copy of the Sunday Times dropped on my doorstep since I can remember…I would shut off cable before I stopped my NYTs if I had to choose), I expect so much more from the nation’s standard of journalism.  I asked myself on more than one occasion, why would the New York Times simply ask the wrong questions? 

Everyone I regard in the education and the education technology space knows that technology doesn’t improve education outcomes.  They all recognize that great education improves education, not technology, or anything else for that matter.

Last year, the New York Times wrote no articles about how school lighting doesn’t improve test scores.  They wrote no articles on how the use of text books, a $8 billion dollar annual expenditure by the way, does not improve test scores.  Can you imagine the New York Times blaming the textbook industry for our nation’s appalling dropout rate?  Without even having to search, I am confident the New York Times did not write a single article on how the use of desks in the classroom do not improve student test scores.   Why is that?  It’s pretty simple actually.  It is clear all these things are just tools we use to enable education.  The use of a computer in a classroom is as powerless as a desk in improving test scores unless it is used in support of a great educational model. 

We don’t talk about desks the way we talk about computers.  We don’t go to desk conferences or develop desk implementation plans.  We don’t have desk professional development plans.  We don’t think about the question of equity when it comes to desks.  We would never say, “we only have budget for 90 desks but have 300 students.  We’re going to have to figure out which students stand all day.”  We don’t question the need of desks in the classroom and I would argue they are more detrimental to education than other tools we use.  For example, we now have enough evidence that shows sitting all day is bad for you.  This is why you are seeing an explosion of stand up desks in offices across the country.  Desks also create this individualized island, designed to fit in rows and face forward, which creates what I call “peer barriers” and limits collaboration with other students.  Finally, the way they are designed, they are perfectly made to fall asleep on.  Where’s the New York Times article on that story?

The reason why you don’t find articles about the impact of desks on test scores is because it’s a ridiculous correlation.  The use of laptops in the classroom, like the desks, have nothing to do with test scores.  Only great education directly effects test scores (let’s leave the argument as to why we shouldn’t even be talking about test scores for another post).  When used as an enabling tool, laptops, the web, smart boards, tablets, and anything else we call “technology” has an enormous impact on education. 

There is plenty of data that supports the use of technology as an enabling tool.  For example, In a study called, “Intertwining Digital Content and One-on-One Laptop Environment in Teaching and Learning: Lessons from the Time to Know Program” (I appreciate how they like to keep the names of these studies as short as possible), (2012 Journal of Research on Technology in Education), the correlation between good education and technology is clear.  The study looked at how one-to-one computing programs effected teaching and learning practices as well as student learning achievements.  The study found consistent and highly positive outcomes in student math and reading achievement.  They also found higher student attendance, and decreased disciplinary actions.

As in other studies, this one showed that a technology enabled learning environment can more effectively promote “social-constructivist educational goals, such as higher-order thinking skills, learning motivation, and teamwork.”  To me, the highlight of this study wasn’t the increase in scores or how the technology helped engage students.  To many of us, that just makes sense.  The highlight of this study is how they emphasized the following: “to achieve this change, a school system must go through major processes.  It requires setting new educational objectives, preparing new curricula, developing digital instructional material aligned with new learning standards, designing a new teaching and learning environment, training teachers, creating a school climate that is conducive to educational technology, and so on.”  In other words, it’s like we used to say in the consulting world I spent six year in, “whatever you do, don’t help your clients automate bad processes, you’re just helping make bad things happen faster.” 

The other key component you find in good education technology studies is the duration of the study.  Researchers are starting to recognize that the real benefits and any significant change start to appear over a length of time.  In other words, even when you fix everything in the education model, it takes a few years to start seeing dramatic shifts in improvement.  A six month study isn’t good enough.   

We shouldn’t be teaching technology, we should be using technology to teach.  If we are using technology correctly, it should be invisible.  When I talk about my work and the projects I’m involved in, I never talk about how I used my tools.  The tools are just there.  Just like it is for us, the technology should be part of the support structure.  The potential benefits are tremendous.   Lots of studies like the one quoted above show that technology is ideal in supporting and enabling a learner-centric environment.  In these environments, students feel critical things like autonomy, engagement, and purpose.  They feel ownership over what they learn and how they learn it.  This type of environment clearly leads to students who are involved in their learning and more importantly, are willing and able to learn.  With this autonomy, students learn at their pace and teachers serve as facilitators and not as knowledge towers.  Technology can help these environments by giving students the opportunity to work and learn collaboratively with other students to solve problems and create and share new ideas.   We can produce and implement new creative assessment tools that promote learning, making sure students are involved in constructing their own self and peer driven assessments. 

These are just some of the possibilities with using technology in education.   Until we stop seeing technology as a nice to have, or as the line item in the budget that gets cut because it is “outside of learning goals,” we will not be able to fully realize it’s potential value.  We would never dream of building a new school with air-conditioning on only two floors or electricity in only three of the four buildings.  Until we start seeing broadband as electricity, and computing capabilities as desks, we are a long way from that realization.