Classroom Technology Opinion

Embrace Technology or Be Left Behind

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 31, 2013 4 min read
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In October 2012 Fox News reported that Secretary Duncan said, “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.” His vision is a few years, not the next decade. Most schools are a long way from that vision. Internetworldstats.com reports the number of cell phone users is exploding, increasing from a little over a million in 1998 to 6 billion worldwide in 2012. Those phones are rapidly becoming smart phones allowing for Internet access. Over one third of the world’s population currently has Internet access.

Can’t we anticipate that this growth will continue? Certainly, we know that the number of applications available for these devices increases by hundreds every day. Meanwhile, we acknowledge the generational aspect of this utilization. Texting is a way of life for students. A recent Pew study discovered that over 75% of American teens own cell phones; they text with a median of 60 texts a day. Older teens, boys and blacks are the fastest growing new populations for text usage. Adults are catching up!

South Korea has a goal of having all textbooks be digital by 2015. McGraw Hill hasn’t produced a print-only textbook in over three years. We are stuck in the middle of a difficult situation. We have diminishing resources, costly mandates, and a responsibility to offer an education that prepares students for college and career.

Kickstarter is a website that serves as a funding platform for creative projects. A group invented the Pebble, a multi-functional watch-like device that works with Bluetooth technology to interact with Android cell phones and iPhones. It does many things including allowing you to control your music, have caller id without looking at your phone, or serve as your bicycle computer utilizing your phone’s GPS, all without taking your phone out of your pocket. The creators posted their invention on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $100,000. In one day raised $1,000,000 and now have raised over $10,000,000. What does this have to do with educational leadership?

This IS the 21st Century

Too many of our schools are mired in old ways. Many still ban handheld technology ...as if we could stop this tide from entering our walls! We are in constant conversations about preparing career and college ready graduates. Yet, we are depriving ourselves of the most accessible tools with which to do that. What does a school leader need to do in order to turn the minds and actions of their faculties, parents, and Boards of Education to reflect the world in the present. The first requirement is to become a learner him and herself.

Peter DeWitt’s November 21, 2011 blog entitled “Why Educators Should Join Twitter” received 930 tweets! For those who are unenlightened in Twitter-sense, that is a whole lot of tweets. Educators are watching and maybe even putting their big toe in the ocean of technological resources. 930 tweets is hopeful! We cannot afford to ignore the power and speed of the Internet and the ease of working with information on the myriad of affordable personal devices. We cannot ignore the power of social media as a means of communication for both positive and negative purposes. That does not mean we become expert, but we must be aware and at least have close, trusted colleagues, who can advise us and bring our thinking forward while we are learning.

We should try to learn something new every week. Consider iBooks Author and Configurator, both free Apple products. iBooks Author allows you to create and publish multi-touch books for the iPad. The Configurator makes it easy to mass configure and deploy information on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices. Just as Encyclopedia Britannica and Newsweek will never be printed on paper again, you can be sure textbooks are not far behind. Will we be passive and buy into the products our transformed textbook companies will be selling? Or will we be in a position to encourage and support those in our faculties who know how or want to learn how to develop their own supplemental interactive textbook applications, perhaps in collaboration with their students? Google Apps for Education, Twitter, Diigo, Dropbox, LiveBinder, and Skype are just some of the free applications that can help move your school toward more efficient communication and learning. Or, begin with following Tom Vander Ark’s blog “on INNOVATION” as a start.

Overwhelming? It sure is. However these are the vehicles for sharing information now, not in the future. Are we going to learn them all and use them? Impossible. But successful leaders today, have a responsibility to know that these types of things exist and use them. Instead of feeling comfortable reporting that we are “digital immigrants”, we need to find those who know about these applications and can help us facilitate the successful implementation of their use in our work. Our students already live in this world. Actually, so do we. Modeling the use of digital information and communication, and social networking, will help move our organizations forward and be the best accelerator for their use.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.