Friday, March 30, 2012

People power the technology

Technology alone can't transform education.  That was a big message Charlotte's Bill Goodwyn,  CEO of Discovery Education, took away from this week's federal summit on the future of digital textbooks.

"If you can't improve the instruction,  it doesn't matter how many devices you have,"  said Goodwyn,  whose company provides digital texts and professional development for the educators who use them.

The conference was hosted by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski.  The FCC is involved because it's promoting broadband access and digital literacy.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  of course,  is in the thick of a transformation that includes wireless internet access and digital texts.  During this week's school board meeting,  teachers and technology facilitators swarmed the dais to give board members a one-on-one demonstration of a digital science text with video clips and  interactive graphics.  Along with their iPads,  each carried a traditional textbook for contrast.

Afterward,  Hopewell High technology facilitator David Casavecchia tweeted his reaction to the time he spent with Vice Chairman Mary McCray: "McCray was AWESOME! #BestBoardMember."

I got so tickled at that tweet that I called him to see what was behind it.  Was he being politic,  or was it really that much fun?

Casavecchia, who's 34, says he was a bit worried about doing the demonstration for McCray, a 59-year-old retired teacher.  He thought about his parents, who "aren't big on these tablets." But he showed her a 3D model of a nucleosome that rotated on the touch screen,  and she took over.  "Just the expression on her face, she got it!"  Casavecchia said.

It's something I've seen often as technology transforms classrooms and workplaces:  The young become leaders and teachers.  At worst,  that can be stressful and threatening to those of us who aren't so young.  At best, it's a joyful experience for all involved.

I asked Casavecchia if that's how digital learning works:  Will students become teachers as well as learners?  Yes, he said -- but he added a note of caution:  The teacher has to be comfortable with the technology to make it work.

Which brought us back to Goodwyn's point:  Tablets, wireless internet access and digital texts won't do much good unless adults learn new ways to teach.  Casavecchia notes that the CMS plan to get iPads into more classrooms includes intensive training when the "innovation kits" are awarded in May.  Teachers who get the devices will be expected to take online courses and attend a summer institute.

Come August, they'll start showing the rest of us what it's all about.

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