About 100 people endured the wind and rain last night (Tuesday, March 27) to gather in the performing arts center at Woodside High School for a panel discussion on 1) the role of technology in the classroom and 2) whether it can help narrow the persistent student achievement gap between families with socioeconomic advantages and families without them.
On the panel were Karen Cator, the director of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology; Alan Louie, a venture capitalist who funds technological ventures focused on K-12 education; and Woodside High Principal David Reilly, a champion of innovation in education techniques at traditional high schools.
The Peninsula College Fund sponsored the discussion.
Betsy Corcoran, a former journalist and an activist on issues related to technology in education, asked the questions.
The panelists agreed that technology is best used to augment and enrich the efforts of teachers. It can allow great teachers the time to focus on individual students, good teachers the means to improve their performance, and students more opportunities for learning the material.
But as to when technology's benefits can reliably begin to affect achievement for kids with socioeconomic disadvantages, the group agreed that it's too soon to tell. Technology-augmented education is in "release 1.0," Ms. Cator said.
Mr. Louie is a partner with Imagine K12, a Silicon Valley startup-company accelerator whose methods include arranging competitions for funding among 10 teams of education technology innovators -- ideally one educator and two programmers per team.
Imagine K12 is "a place where those two domains can come together," Mr. Louie said, adding that such a match has lots of promise. "To me, it looks very much like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup," he said. "'Oh, peanut butter; Oh, chocolate.'"
He mentioned one example of a worthy idea: a search engine designed specifically for education purposes.
"Teaching is much more than explaining," Ms. Cator said. With the right technology, "the teacher's job gets raised to a higher level of attention (to student needs). We have to make sure that the teacher's role gets moved to a higher level."
Technology's rapid evolution makes it imperative that the education community develop coping strategies. The teachers have to "get out in front of the kids and be there waiting," Mr. Reilly said. "We have to be there waiting to engage students."
One way of doing that is to give teachers the time to collaborate. Mr. Reilly is campaigning to change the schedule at Woodside High from its traditional semester system to four nine-week periods of intense classroom work punctuated by four three-week open periods, or intersessions.
During the intersessions, students can catch up or focus on electives while teachers have opportunities for extended conversation and collaboration.