- What are the most common "yes, but" arguments you've heard from the education community about pushing for technology in schools? And how do you respond to them?
There are at least three, and I'll call them the 3 P's: price, professional development, and proof. While we've been having these arguments, technology continues to get better and cheaper. Some estimates place the cost of providing students and teachers with laptops, hardware, software, Internet access and teacher development at about $250 per student per year, which is certainly affordable when we're spending close to $10,000 per student per year, without substantial improvements, and when textbooks can cost $150 each.
Some say that teachers aren't prepared to teach using technology. Professional development is the key factor in making technology work, as decades of studies have shown. My sense is that, again, today's teachers are asking for these tools and for the training to utilize them. Education is an information-intensive enterprise, and teachers need the modern tools of this Information Age to do their jobs. Plus, there's a new generation of teachers in their 20s who are digital learners themselves and very comfortable with using these tools and helping students and other teachers learn to use them, too.
On the question of proof of learning outcomes with technology-enabled learning, there is a solid record of research and I cite some of it in my book; for instance, from the Maine studies, especially of impact on students' writing. But there is also a need to invest in better, longer-term, and more rigorous studies. This type of specific, technical research can take years and require substantial funding. There is also the simpler, more direct type of proof that all of us experience every day: Would you give up your computer and Internet access and go back to the old ways of communicating and finding out information?
- You list many exemplary schools that have embraced technology and innovation in the book. Is there one in particular you can pinpoint that shows how a school without the luxury of a wealthy constituency can bring the benefits of technology to a school with creativity and resourcefulness?
I'd point to the state of Maine. While there are many individual schools and districts across the state who are employing technology in low- and middle-income communities, Maine is still the only state where the transformation has been brought to scale, where every middle-school student has their own laptop. When you see these students on boats on the Maine lakes, as the Edutopia documentary shows, with inexpensive digital microscopes attached to their laptops, analyzing water samples and looking at microorganisms, just as scientists do, you see the transformation in action.
[U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited one of the Maine schools yesterday during his "eight-state bus tour recognizing principals, teachers and others who are leading the way in improving students' performance, recruitment of teachers, and school nutrition and safety."]
- What do you think about Bill Gates' quote recently regarding how the Internet will be "better than any single university"?
I agreed with his statement that the best content will be on the web, rather than captured in print textbooks. This is already true. I still believe, in both K-12 and higher education, that faculty have a vital role to play, both in-person and online. And this is already true. Teachers and professors are already using the web-based platforms to supplement and enrich classroom interactions.
So I'm not sure that the Internet will or should completely replace place-based campuses, but it's abundantly clear that online courses are already improving course opportunities for students, especially where quality courses don't exist in their schools and universities. Bill Gates raised [the point about] the high cost of higher education, which is of great concern for students and families. Technology can help lower the cost and maintain quality, if implemented well.