At the Nov. 8 student town hall meeting at Quince Orchard High School, a student asked Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr if he thought technology—over the next 10 years—would alter school.
Starr told students that schools should take better advantage of emerging technologies. He noted, for example, that video streaming teacher lectures via YouTube could provide teachers with more classroom time to engage students in meaningful and engaging discussions. Students would watch video lectures prior to coming to school, he said.
He also mentioned social media (Starr mentions social media a lot)—Facebook, Twitter. However, he did not say how these media improve instruction or student outcomes. Seriously, can Facebook actually teach fractions?
Starr’s technology response falls into what I call technology tinkering. Under this concept, schools remain the same basic brick and mortar buildings that we’ve always known and loved, and frankly, student visitors from the early 20th century would easily recognize our schools as their schools. These students would be amused—even entertained—by many of today’s technologies—any I-device, online textbooks and smart boards. But after a few weeks of adjusting, these students would probably fit in just fine.
But I think the student asking Starr about technology—10 years in the future—was asking something much different than what technologies schools ought to be using. I think the student was asking Starr if he thought technology was going to radically alter schools. In other words, would technology truly and permanently alter the traditional brick and mortar school building? Were the schools of the 21st century truly going to be different from the schools of the late 19th century or any decade of the 20th century?
(And please keep this in mind: It wasn’t until recently that MCPS lightened up its cell phone policies for students. I only mention this because Starr mentioned greater use of smart phones. I’m all for that, but I still don’t believe our schools are ready to turn the children loose.)
I get it. I get that many young people think schools are dated and that more technologies should be used. I even get that many adult educators believe the same thing, including Starr. Still, I rarely hear anyone offer up a true alternative—a vision that goes beyond tinkering. A vision that clearly outlines what a 21st century school ought to be. And that vision has to include more than every student and teacher simply walking around with a smart phone and an iPad.
I’m no technology expert. So, I’m not going to pretend and offer up this vision. I would, however, like to encourage Superintendent Starr, and others in MCPS, to do so. Show us the details, the road map. Because frankly, I’m tired of hearing about how we need to be there already, in that futuristic school in “the sky” where technology solves all learning problems. And isn’t that really some kind of dream world?