If you ask any group of people what they want from schools, the answer would probably be roughly the same—high-performing schools that help children reach their full potential, arming them with the knowledge to be critical thinkers who possess the skills to succeed in today’s job market.
Unfortunately, that might be where the agreement about what schools should do ends. There are so many opinions and experiments about what works best in education that I argue we are actually getting farther away from what schools should be for our children.
So, while I have my own theory about what schools should do, my plan doesn’t involve specific curricula or policies that will have to be changed the next time a batch of standardized tests shows a poor result. No, my plan is to take a step back from dictating daily classroom strategies and set up basic parameters that will allow schools to tap into the knowledge and expertise of their teachers while staying focused on making sure they are meeting the long-term needs of students.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about education and how to improve it for decades. However, unlike most people, I’ve approached this task with experience from a variety of viewpoints, not just a singular one. I’m chair of a group of schools in the East of England and have been in school governance for 20 years. I’m the CEO of an education technology company and have been listening and learning from educators for more than 30 years. I’m an author who’s written two books and numerous articles about education. But possibly most important — I’m a parent.
I’ve watched my children work their way through the school system and – while I realize U.K. education differs from the U.S.’s – we have a common lack of foresight about how school affects the type of adults our children become.
Think back to all those brilliantly publicized great EdTech ideas of the past that have miserably failed. It’s quite possible you’ve lived through one, two, or more. I’ve been in the education and tech business for about 30 years, and have seen everything—from lavish laptop programs to superior software concepts launch with fanfare only to end up being scrapped. They were written about in our most popular magazines and showcased at the education trade shows, but they didn’t last more than a few years.
As a student of EdTech history, I believe I know. It’s part of the reason for writing My Secret #EdTech Diary. Many of those well-meaning, inventively inspiring EdTech solutions–most of which were based on a device, or specific software–vanished because there was little forethought. There was inadequate thought given to training, professional development, maintenance, upkeep, upgrades, support, setting expectations, and then securing the funds needed to sustain them.
Historical perspective about EdTech launches that failed
These historic EdTech launches were initially expensive not only to develop but to be deployed, used, and ultimately dropped. Think about the cost of a district laptop initiative. The cost is staggering, but it needs more than just money.
Historically, laptop deployment plans were very political, too. They had to be sold to more than just directors of technology; they needed to be endorsed by entire communities, which ultimately funded them. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the plans would never endure through breakdowns, leadership changes, curriculum transformations, and lack of use. EdTech like this was doomed from the beginning, because it couldn’t be sustained beyond the purchase of shiny devices.
So, why look back?
Looking back at our mistakes is vital. It is also simple to do and can help us to avoid future failures. Especially now, post COVID, when we have the opportunity to be educationally innovative, and more relevant and intentional with our products. If we’ve learned anything by looking back, it is that we were unprepared for a situation like the pandemic.
I’d like to say again, we have so much technology available to us and yet for many we were unprepared. How did that happen? There’s a spotlight on education and technology right now and an opportunity to rethink and reshape how we utilize EdTech and how it can best underpin amazing teaching and learning. The positive outlook for EdTech companies is that they can help provide the change needed, and to do it for more than a few most economically fortunate, but rather for everyone around the globe. That will require more than simple, shiny-device thinking. We need to use what we’ve learned from the distant as well as the recent past.
By Wayne D’Orio, a freelance journalist who writes frequently about education, equity, and rural issues. His education stories have taken him from backstage at Broadway’s Hamilton to crisscrossing the country on a bus trip with then Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Follow Wayne on Twitter @waynedorio.
In the best of times, cloud computing is like a utility few people think about. When it’s effective, it’s invisible. When it’s not, like when a breach spills personal information where it shouldn’t be, it can be impossible to try to undo the damage.
For school leaders, these worries are multiplied. Deciding whether to use the cloud isn’t a simple yes or no question for most administrators. They need to factor in the safety of student information, cost, ease of use, and understanding of what apps and content management systems their districts are using. On top of those concerns, these days it’s imperative that whatever system schools use allow an easy transfer from remote learning to in-person instruction, potentially with a helping of hybrid mixed in.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” says Monte McCubbin, a systems engineer for Simi Valley Unified School District in California. Small districts are probably better off using a cloud solution, but larger districts, like his 17,000-student unified school district, have the option to build a private cloud, he adds.
The benefits of not being cloud-based is local control and security, says Al Kingsley, the CEO of NetSupport and a longtime education technology expert. Districts can also control data flow and capacity by relying on its own local area network. But there are just as many, if not more, benefits to using cloud computing, he says. Cloud benefits include flexibility, scalability, and redundancy. Because maintenance is the responsibility of the provider, schools can have a leaner IT staff, saving on personnel costs.
Even considering the pluses and minuses isn’t a zero-sum game, McCubbin says. Simi Valley has what’s best described as a hybrid cloud solution. His district uses the cloud for some services and keeps other information in-house.
“We feel like there are inefficiencies in having 17,000 devices go into the public cloud and then back,” he says. Also, because California law says districts have to keep personal student information from leaving the state, it’s easier to accomplish this with a local system.
While security is a major concern for all school IT administrators, McCubbin says he thinks his local network is less of a target for hackers than if he were part of a huge system with a 100 or more companies.
School officials have to remember that their choice of building their own network or choosing a cloud solution needs to work best for all their teachers, students, and in these remote learning days, parents, too.
It’s this last reason that the cloud has worked so well for her district, says Erica Smith, a sixth-grade teacher at Ready Springs School in Penn Valley, California. With students learning remotely and schools using a variety of tools, officials quickly realized that the district was overwhelming parents by expecting them to keep up with multiple apps and learning management systems depending on which schools their children attend. Continue Reading