Monday, April 13, 2009

Innovation in Tough Times

Is your school innovating in these tough economic times, or are you treading water or even waiting for help? If you haven't considered video conferencing, web-based distance learning, podcasting, gaming, and cell phones in the classroom - maybe it's time to jump in.
We are being watched
When asked how Apple would weather an economic downturn, Steve Jobs said ‘We will innovate our way out of it.’ Not ‘We are going to wait for a handout’ or ‘We are going to wait and see what everyone else is going to do.’ No, Apple is going to innovate it’s way out of tough times.

What a great way of thinking. We will innovate our way out of tough times.

And that is exactly the idea that education has got to have in the next few years in order to weather the economic storm. It is time to innovate. Time to transform education, not simply reform education. And now is the perfect time to do so.

So what does that mean? In a broad sense, innovation can mean looking at the education system as a whole and seeking more effective means of educating our students. It is time for education leaders to finally start taking technologies that have been pushed aside for years as distractions and see if they can cut costs while at the same time delivering effective learning. In the past, economic downturns in education have led to a slash-and-burn mentality, where positions, programs, or budgets were cut across the board in order to balance the budget. Now we have a golden opportunity to look at technology, specifically disruptive ones, as a means to innovate our way out of recession.

Some of those disruptive technologies include: video conferencing, distance learning via the web, podcasting, games as learning arenas, and using cell phones as learning devices. In essence, the entire Web 2.0 world can be looked upon as a possible place to save money.

Video conferencing has been used in business for years, and has made some inroads in education, but until recently, the cost of the equipment and the technical specifications were both out of reach of many districts. Now, video conferencing can take place anywhere there is a laptop with an internet connection. Classes can be held across cities, across districts, and across counties, all while saving money. Imagine having your child take that AP course at the same time and with the same teacher that until now was only offered at one high school at one time because there was only one teacher? Now that specialized instructor can be shared beyond the walls of the single school.

Distance learning creates situations that allow almost unlimited possibilities. Imagine, moving some classes onto the web, where students can take them 24/7? Universities are already doing that, and Texas is actually moving towards that model with something called the Texas Virtual School Network. With the TxVSN, students from K-12 will be able to eventually take courses that are not available at their home campus or district. Instead of just using online learning to catch up with credits, we can start using it to get ahead by allowing our students who want to take courses they will need without the limitations of having to actually sit at a desk in a classroom to do so.

Podcasting allows teachers to extend the classroom beyond the school, letting students take lessons, lectures, and the actual learning home with them. Your high schooler could take that history lecture home to study in the teachers own voice; your first grader could take home today’s reading and have the teacher reading it to her again while she followed along in her book; your middle schooler could relive the science lesson by watching what the teacher wrote on the board while listening to the class discussion.

And those are just some of the possibilities that are available essentially for free. Collaborative, cooperative, sharing of resources via the web is here for any school district to tap into for the asking. It is called 21st century learning. Our kids should be doing it. Ironically, this time of economic trouble may be the best time to bring these technologies into the classroom.

So we are all in this boat together. The kids, the adults, the public, the schools. We can do what we have always done and randomly chop funding and programs, or we can think about innovating our way out of it. The kids are watching and they are learning from us.

What are we going to teach them?

1 comment:

Net Meeting said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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