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Technology and the Trojan Horse: Can we Afford Not to Change?

June 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm PST

iStock_000001338410XSmall.jpgOur customers have deepened my perspective on Education.  They help me to see the many different shades of change and what transformation is really all about.  They have also given me a new understanding of the multi-faceted nature of technology and the role that it plays in changing education.

What is most evident to me lately is that technology can’t be relegated to a “role.”  I used to think of technology as being one part of an overall transformation plan.  Educational institutions need to have a solid network infrastructure, the right wireless and mobility technologies, a way to streamline communications and improve efficiency, a better way of doing online learning.  It certainly does do all that.  We have also thought of it as an accelerant: adding online learning courses will speed delivery of quality educational content, and web conferencing will make it faster and easier to deliver professional development to teachers, for example.

But, the dynamic nature of technology makes it a whole lot more than an accelerant, and it has more than just a “role” to play.  Technology is the driving force behind the need for change.  The onslaught of technology is giving us no choice but to change.  It’s not just about disengaged or bored learners, it’s about learners who may stop going to the traditional classroom altogether because it has nothing left to offer them.  The power of informal learning, and the technologies that drive it, threaten to make traditional education not only irrelevant, but obsolete.

iStock_000012716248XSmall.jpgEveryone knows that students are savvy consumers of technology, iThings, social media, mobile devices, and the like, but they’re also increasingly savvy navigators of content and information that is broadly available on the web.  They have the access required to figure out what employers want, and they are going to learn how to give it to them, if they haven’t already.

You might say that students are too naïve to know what they don’t know, that they really don’t understand what it takes to be say, an engineer, without going to university.  Or, you could say that there is almost unlimited information available on the web that can enable highly motivated individuals to become engineers: online courses, detailed, web-based technical information on a range of topics in many different engineering fields, and a variety of informal learning avenues.  This all coupled with an increasingly competitive global community, will, I believe, drive people to avenues other than the traditional classroom.

iStock_000004584616XSmall.jpgDoes this make education and educators obsolete?  Absolutely not.  Traditional education can be the glue that holds this all together, that frames employer requirements, makes faculty members facilitators and guides, and provides direction to students, placing them at the center of their learning, and helping them to define their life ambitions, working with them to design their curriculum, customized to meet their needs, and the needs of their future employers.

So let’s revisit the topic of technology.  Yes, technology has a role to play, and it is an accelerant, but it is also the Trojan horse, sneaking not very quietly onto the school and college scene, and this horse is being driven squarely by the Trojans.  Our students are telling us where they want and need to go.  We can either get in the horse with them, or we can remain scattered outside the walls of Troy, looking in, and wondering what is going to happen next.

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Teaching with TelePresence at Madison Area Technical College

Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin is a leader in delivering high-quality instruction and services that are responsive, flexible, and accessible. MATC recently deployed a first-of-its-kind system for community colleges which uses Cisco TelePresence to enhance the quality of education for students.

The College’s decision to pursue a more sophisticated communications technology was based on the institution’s competition, not just from other schools, but from factors that affect students’ time and attention span. Today’s youth use increasingly sophisticated technology in their daily lives: iPods, SmartPhones, PDAs, web-based collaboration and social networking technologies, high-definition television, and more. College officials recognized that students have grown accustomed to a high level of quality, as well as variety, in their learning and communication methods and expect it to be matched in every area of their lives, particularly from a technical education.

The College turned to Cisco TelePresence because it offers an innovative solution for distance learning, creating an “in-person” classroom experience over a converged network. TelePresence technologies transmit life-size, high-definition images, and spatial discrete audio to deliver real-time, face-to-face interaction between people at distant sites, using advanced visual, audio, and collaboration technologies. One benefit of the new distant learning platform is that the College is now able to efficiently deliver quality instruction across the wide area network from location to location regardless of the classroom geography. Easy, virtual access to counselors, academic advisors and other student service providers is further enabled, as well as the ability to reduce travel for meetings and internal training of staff and faculty.

View the video to see the system in action.

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School Districts Collaborate with TelePresence

For the 2007-8 and 2008-9  school years , California’s Fresno Unified School District accomplished  historic gains in math achievement for K-6.  The superintendent attributes  the fast pace of success to a unique collaboration with California’s  Long Beach Unified School District, using Cisco TelePresence.

The Fresno Unified and Long Beach  Unified K-12 school districts have much in common, including tight  budgets, high poverty rates among student families, and a strong  commitment to improving student math scores. Fresno  Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson and Long Beach Unified  Superintendent Chris Steinheuser shared ideas when they saw each other  at conferences, but realized that an effective partnership would require  more frequent collaboration. Traveling the 250 miles to each other’s  districts was not an option because of time and budget constraints, and  telephone conversations come up short for strategic discussions.

Sharing Lessons Learned Without Travel

The districts found their solution in  Cisco TelePresence. Each district has a Cisco TelePresence system,  which provides a live, face-to-face experience over the network. A  large, ultra-high-definition display and high-fidelity audio quality  create an experience that rivals in-person interaction. And launching a  Cisco TelePresence session “is as easy as it gets,” says Superintendent  Hanson. “We push a button and Long Beach is on the other side.”

The  Proof is in the Numbers

In spring of 2009, Long Beach Unified sent a group of math  teachers to Fresno. While there, they and their counterparts from Long  Beach joined a Cisco TelePresence session with other Long Beach teachers  to talk about a common assessment framework. “In one day we completed a  project that would have taken months without this technology,”  Steinhauser says, noting that the two districts are “accomplishing more,  faster, and at lower cost.” The results  were swift and impressive. In the 2008-9 school year, 2000 more  elementary school students in the Fresno Unified School District scored  proficient or advanced in mathematics than in the prior year. “That’s  2000 lives, futures, and sets of promises that we now have to hold as  they move through the system,” Hanson says. Long  Beach Unified School District also gained from the collaboration.  “[Cisco TelePresence] takes professional development to a level we  haven’t seen,” Steinhauser says.

Muliplying the Gains

Now Fresno Unified is looking forward  to replicating its math gains in middle school, as the first students  to benefit from the collaboration move up. The district will capitalize  on a winning formula by using Cisco TelePresence to get new ideas for  the curriculum and learning strategies. California’s Garden Grove  Unified and Oakland Unified School Districts are implementing their own  Cisco TelePresence systems and will join the partnership, so that all  four districts can learn from each other’s experiences.

For more info, watch the video of  Superintendent Mike Hanson and Superintendent Chris Steinhauser  discussing collaborating on math achievement with Cisco TelePresence.

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Collaboration and Choice

Technology chartThrough effective use of  technology every student can access learning and demonstrate their  understanding in any way they choose. Text is no longer king; video,  audio, animations, interactive models, diagrams and images all have an  equal place in learning and learners select the medium that best help  them learn and suits their culture and preferred learning styles.  Key to learning, through whatever the medium is collaboration.  Through conversations students make sense of what they have  read, watched or listened to. Conversations take place with peers;  between learners and teachers; and between learners and more  knowledgeable others; and they take place in groups. Again technology is  the key to enabling those conversations to go wider and deeper by  allowing learners to interact with groups anywhere in the world through  the use of social networking and other collaboration tools. Learners can  find people to engage with who have similar interests or opposing  views; with greater expertise or a new interpretation; through different  geographical or cultural lenses. It is through these discussions that  information is turned into knowledge and that knowledge is assimilated  with existing knowledge to result in robust learning that can be applied  in future situations.

The  diagram above sums this up.

 

 

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Addressing a New World of Learning

April 5, 2010 at 11:49 am PST

As a part of my job here at Cisco, I have the opportunity to meet with a range of customers in schools, colleges, and universities across the globe.  They have the wide and vast responsibility of educating students, preparing the workforce of the future, equipping students with different kinds of skills so that they can compete in the 21st century, ensuring that students are safe and secure, and a whole host of other responsibilities that will enable students to be productive and successful members of society.  Most critically, they have to do all this with increasingly constrained, and in developing nations, often non-existent, budgets.

The requirements for education have shifted over time as we have become more globalized, technologically advanced, and demographically different.  On average, people in the US change jobs about ten times before they’re 42.   In China and India, there is a massive demand for higher education.  And teachers are retiring in record numbers as the population of kids under the age of 15 has reached 1.8 billion.

Thomas Friedman has said that students today need to be special, specialized, anchored, or adaptable.  Not everyone can be special, and certain components of traditionally anchored jobs (for example, hairdressers, restaurant workers, and trade workers) can be outsourced.  This leaves jobs for which people need to be specialized or adaptable.   And this is where education is critical: students have to be able to access education that provides them with the specialization required to help them differentiate the value that they provide.  Think, tax planning for customers with major offshore assets, or biological technicians who are creating a biosphere in pace.  Or, education has to be able to provide them with the ability to obtain lifelong learning programs and capabilities to adapt to a broad range of careers and jobs that they will have over their lifetimes.

Existing systems on their own will no longer be able to meet the growing and changing demands for learning.  Educational institutions must necessarily deliver learning differently, and this is where technology can help.  Today, Cisco is partnering with educators to create what we call The Learning Society: a new way of thinking that harnesses the power of technology to help transform learning and allow people to learn anywhere, anytime, on any device.

Not only does Cisco offer a change model that integrates “best-of-the-best” research findings to help students flourish in the 21st century – wherever they are and whatever their culture or socio-economic status, or the economic situation of their country, may be (Education 3.0), but it also details the integration of innovative pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment strategies across whole systems—accommodating learner differences, linking learning to the real world, and setting high, yet realistic, expectations for every student. We encourage you to learn more by joining our Virtual Forum for Education Leaders on April 28th.

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