The American education system needs help. As noted by the MIT Technology Review, that’s the perspective of Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia’s Teachers College, who argues that current educational methods hearken back to the industrial age that created them, producing a kind of “assembly line” effect with minimal long-term benefit. And while teachers remain passionate, dedicated and incredibly hardworking, they need help — better tools and better technology — to empower the next generation of brilliant minds.
The solution sounds simple: better technology in schools. But with many middle and high schools struggling to implement basic tech, let alone push the envelope, how do educators and administrators address the necessary educational evolution?
The Totality of TechEd
Teaching fills three primary roles: increasing the ability of students to think critically; help them learn new material on their own; and make them viable candidates for the job market at large. If educators are putting in the time and effort to ensure the first two goals are met, does the lack of technology training impact the totality of the educational experience?
Given the ubiquity of technologies such as cloud computing, mobile devices and the changing nature of content — for example, tweens and teens now prefer short-span YouTube content to television or movies, and texting far surpasses voice calls — K–12 programs which don’t address this shift have little hope of creating responsible digital citizens.
According to a recent Strategic Partnerships piece, while schools have relaxed restrictions on mobile devices, they still struggle when it comes to broadband and network access; a study by the Consortium of School Networking found increased internet accessibility was the top priority for K–12 schools. And while educator resource sites such as TeachHUB offer simple ways for teachers to incorporate technology in schools — such as WebQuests to discover specific information, email exchanges with industry experts or the creation of a class webpage — these are only a drop in the bucket compared to what’s now available for students in the right environment.
Consider the work of online educator Andrew Vanden Heuvel: as reported by Mashable, Vanden Heuvel was the first person to ever teach a science class from inside the tunnels of the CERN Large Hadron Collider using Google Glass. Initiatives like these dovetail with the current technological savvy of students — WebQuests and emails simply aren’t enough to satisfy.
So what’s the next step for classrooms that want to stay relevant but may not have the budget to support a fully Wi-Fi, Gigabit-Ethernet geared classroom? HBR notes that for research projects (think high school or advanced placement middle schoolers), social media tools such as Twitter are invaluable to quickly reach potential subjects and subject-matter experts.
According to the MIT piece, meanwhile, the tech institute itself is rolling out a new teacher training program — the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning — which will offer both master’s courses and a license to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses in grade 5–12 classrooms. MIT hopes that by empowering STEM specialists to teach in mainstream schools, it can help expand the “hands-on, minds-on” method of teaching and learning into the world at large.
It’s also possible for teachers to leverage resources provided by forward-thinking private companies such as Northrop Grumman, which has developed a “two-pronged” approach that provides critical support for both students and teaching staff. Consider the Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy, which offers effective professional learning to help staff align their efforts with STEM careers and authentic engineering experiences, or the Northrop Grumman Foundation’s Fab School Labs program, which hosts a competition each year and awards five grants of up to $100,000 to give school labs a tech-savvy makeover.
There are also out-of-school options sponsored by Northrop Grumman such as the National Youth Cyber Education Program known as CyberPatriot, which helps encourage student interest in cyberdefense and security through camps, competitions and on-site educational programming. The VEX Robotics Competition, meanwhile, is the largest middle- and high-school program in the world; Northrop Grumman sponsors national, regional and local teams. And thanks to a unique partnership with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, students from across the country get the chance to experience the “ultimate space adventure” each summer.
Education is evolving. Technology in schools has become a necessity to meet new learning needs, empower critical thinking and prepare students for the digital workforce. While budgets may not always permit substantial STEM investments, it’s possible to empower 21st-century learners with a combination of social tools, emerging STEM specialists along with free multimedia offerings and government-funded technology programs.