Tony Smith: Technology Will Make the Need for Human Interaction Stronger

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Yesterday, I posted the first part of my interview with Tony Smith, Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District, who said that content offered through California's Digital Textbook Initiative is not yet transformative.

Here, he talks about all the ways in which teachers are taking initiative in bringing technology to the classroom, and the importance of the connection between student and teacher.

Q. What ways do you see teachers using technology in the classroom?

There’s so much opportunity out there. Teachers are using Survey Monkey, Wikis in classrooms, digital storytelling. It’s not the norm – or the expectation – but it’s moving that way.


There are super veterans who are the perfect demonstration of good learners, early adopters, and always have been. They have that love and curiosity. Because it’s not about the computer itself – it boils down to a teacher’s ability to engage, excite, interest young people, and to facilitate their learning with this remarkable technology with ethics of information.

And that’s the other important component. Teachers can educate students about how you know it’s good information -- critical thinking. How will you be discerning when it comes to analyzing that information?

When it comes to the need for human interaction with technology, it will only get stronger. Thoughtful, engaged coaching and teaching is only becoming more necessary. To make meaning of all this information is going to be the social, relational aspect of education, which is so important.

The computer-mediated information will fill a whole new range of space – the creation of online identity – and the real-world piece will take on a different kind of space.

Q. Where do you think Oakland is in that spectrum?

We are rolling. I wouldn’t say tumbling or flying down the mountain, but definitely starting to roll. We have to create high-quality opportunities for our kids to learn. Ensure that every kid has access to those opportunities, to build technology literacy because that will be a huge component of 21st century literacy. Every kid in Oakland deserves that.

And not just in the school. That’s why we’ve got to also think about notions of ownership. Some people still want to lock down a cart instead of give a kid an iPad. In Oakland, some people believe that if a kid has an iPad, he will be more vulnerable – maybe get jumped. That’s why it’s a citywide responsibility to make sure kids have access to technology.

What do we want our 18 year-olds in Oakland to do? That’s not a school district responsibility; it’s a shared responsibility with the city.

And this is what technology can open up. Whether they live in a Housing Authority building, or a $10 million home on Skyline, they’re exploring the world through technology, and that’s what everyone would want to say is the transformative or field-leveling possibility of technology. But it has to be facilitated by human beings. It will be. Technology can bring resources together, but in the end, it’s all about the choices made by leaders and human beings.

No matter how many Smartboards we get in schools, it’ll still be teachers teaching kids and adults taking responsibility for creating a safe place to learn to make all these tools meaningful.