New technologies require a rethinking of school models

August 16, 2010 •

A senior administrator from a major public university said recently, about technology, “We could say we use technology, that it’s in all our classrooms and labs—we spend enormously on IT—but really it’s not an effective improvement.”

He was alluding to a point that there really are two fundamentally different ways of applying technology. The first is in support of existing practice—animating lectures, facilitating communication, expediting grading. This helps, and can improve processes. Often, however, it adds cost without a discernable increase in performance.

The second way to apply new technologies is to use them to enable fundamentally new kinds of learning. To be successful this often requires combining innovations in technology with innovations in school models, like Cyber Village Academy in Saint Paul, Minnesota, that blends classroom work three days a week with tech-mediated project learning from home and the community two days a week.

The in-school/out-school combination allows CVA to run two learning models in one school with classroom lecture on some days, and project based learning the others. Students may work on their projects from home, from within the community, or in the school, which remains open all five days of the week. Students may take online courses for credit, further expanding their options. This model improves productivity by varying the pace and content of instruction, and involving students in the work of learning without moving entirely away from teacher-led instruction.

It is not sufficient to apply new technologies to the old model of school—often the result is cost-increasing, and labor-increasing for the teacher, without a significant increase in productivity. If we seek to have schools that will integrate technology well, and increase productivity, we must provide the right conditions for them to take root, and prosper. The innovation zones that cities and states have put in place help to provide this, freeing schools from much of the regulation, compliance, and bureaucratic management that prevent them from being able to change.