Tuesday, April 21, 2009

100 years of tradition unhindered by progress

We used to have a similar tongue in cheek motto at the Naval Academy where traditions could not be undone by progress. And now I see first hand how education continues to struggle with modernizing the classroom in spite of amazing technological gains in the last 20 years.

Tom Vander Ark looks ahead to the next 20 years and feels like we are finally, reluctantly, going to change – but only if we get some for-profits in the mix with the non-profits to drive that change. The working paper has been released by AEI with a forward by Rick Hess who continues to champion entrepreneurship in education.

Vander Ark is formerly of the Gates Foundation and now runs a venture capital group for education companies. So he has seen the issue up close and personal. He puts forth a pretty great picture of where education has to go and his paper deserves a quick read.

In the recent Metlife survey of teachers, the issue: “More teachers (43%) agree that their classes have become so mixed in terms of students’ learning abilities that they can’t teach effectively, compared to 39% in 1988.” His fix is World of Warcraft. Not really but it does give me an excuse to try the game. His actual fix is to use a World of Warcraft like software system to completely customize education delivery that adapts to the level of the student.

If you know any good homeschoolers, you know that most of them can educate their children in half the time. Our schools are rapidly inefficient because time is lost on bussing, meals, announcements, paperwork etc. Every day we are lose incredibly valuable time on task to things that don’t further our student’s education. Yet there is technology available today that could deliver the content more efficiently and at the level of each individual student helping them grasp the knowledge they need to succeed.

Our teachers are right in identifying one of the main problems in education today. The wide variation in knowledge and skill level of their students makes it nearly impossible to teach without the use of technology. Yet the only way we currently use technology in our schools is to have students do some research on the web and to create some great powerpoints in their group projects (usually completed by half the students in the group). We are teaching to the middle and losing more and more kids on the ends.

Vander Ark is correct - One hundred years of tradition unhindered by progress has to change - - it is just a matter of how fast and how many student lives are wasted while we wait.

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