Crosno, Loeffel: Let technology open doors to learning
By Michael Crosno, Eric Loeffel
Special to the American-Statesman
This week, the movers and shakers of the education industry converge on Austin for SXSWedu. This is, by far, the most unique national education conference, primarily due to its wide variety of stakeholder/attendees — including K-12 and higher education professionals, business leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and legislators — who all share a passion for education innovation.
These industry leaders are coming to Austin to connect and collaborate around advancing education in America. Naturally, much emphasis will be on improving learning through technology.
In education, we’ve done a reasonable job integrating technology at the administration level, particularly in higher education. However, we’ve been slow to adopt innovation for students. It’s only a matter of time, though, before technology is as prevalent in education as it is in all other aspects of 21st century life.
Because, today’s students are more connected and engaged than ever before. They’re aggressive, demanding and voracious information consumers. To take away this power and expect students to engage and learn in a traditional setting is simply unrealistic — yet it’s happening every day across the country, particularly in K-12 schools. As students have more options and accessibility to knowledge, we need to be more creative in how and where we deliver learning.
Technology offers so many benefits to students, teachers, and administrators. For example, it significantly enhances accessibility. It gives educators access to a greater base of people, including historically underserved learners, like remote and learning disabled students. It also gives learners access to a world of resources far beyond the pages of a textbook or the walls of a classroom.
And, technology enriches the quality of the learning process. No two students are created equally. They have different skills and abilities, learning preferences, expression styles, and interests. Applying one teaching methodology to all students simply isn’t working. Just as companies like Netflix and Amazon personalize the consumer experience, we can personalize learning by delivering the right resources at the right time to each student.
Technology also enables districts, schools, and educators to increase their accountability and performance. Specifically, it gives us the ability to collect instructionally-actionable data to monitor student improvement, understand where and how learning is happening, guide differentiated instruction, predict performance on high-stakes tests, and report on student, classroom and school progress.
Perhaps one of the most powerful things technology allows for is the expansion of community. It facilitates the creation of groups and can increase the speed and quality of learning by leveraging the power of peer-to-peer teaching and learning. Increasing the number of students who participate in study groups and their activity levels within these groups is a proven method for improving academic performance.
Finally, there’s much talk today about the need for 21st century skill building in education. For students to successfully compete in a global economy, they must master 21st century skills, including communications, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Technology helps develop these skills through the ease and facilitation of idea sharing, social networking, information gathering and creative expression.
At the post-secondary level, technology eliminates barriers between academic institutions and employers. For decades, employers gained access to students only on the occasional career day. Through technology we can now connect students with employers early and often. Employers can define what 21st century skills they require, and students can know exactly what credentials they must develop to achieve their career aspirations.
The net of all of this is that innovative approaches and educational technology allow us to focus on the individual student. Like other industries, education will not only survive but thrive by providing its consumers with exactly what they want, when and how they need it.
It’s exciting to be a part of this burgeoning education technology industry. And, the city of Austin is the place to be for ed-tech companies. Supporting us is a vibrant ecosystem, including powerful political influencers, a vast higher education presence, strong public and private education systems, and a pool of tremendously talented job seekers. Plus, there’s a unique culture of creativity in Austin that fortifies the industry. Operating within this ecosystem gives ed-tech companies immediate, direct access to the very people — both customers and employees — who can provide vital insight to help design and build better, more powerful technology in the future.
SXSWedu is yet another valuable component in this thriving ecosystem. The event enables us to bring incredibly creative, energetic people together to share ideas and allows us to leverage this talented community to spawn new innovations and breed better technologies to enhance student learning.