Panel: Tech can help close achievement gap


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.


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Posted by All for tech in the classroom
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 29, 2012 at 10:14 am

I support technology in the classroom but, it is also a huge money sucker. High school teachers and staff are supplied technology that they don't need or even know how to use, like ipads. Why? Because they want it just for the sake of having it, and scream and cry until they get what they want. They don't care if they "lose" their assigned laptops because they can just complain until the schools buy them a shiny new one. Do you really want your children's educational funding to go into unused tech and replacing "lost laptops"?

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Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2012 at 11:15 am

It is no secret that TECHNOLOGY is going to be the driving force of the 21st C. and the above post is really not realistic and jumps to conclusions.
There will be many good teachers who will be needed to round out educations dealing with other subjects that do not involve Ipad know how and they can coexist with laptops very handily.
History and science are the best example of how many areas including the arts and grammar and language which are stunningly behind the tech world.Ultimately, fewer Steve Jobs and Bill Gates' will be emerging as trendsetters and the competition to do so, will be fierce and cutthroat.
Those two gentlemen represent individuals who changed our world despite educational credentials, and, at the same time were/are TRUE HUMANITARIANS.Things like Facebook and tweeting will run their use and be replaced by necessary replacements.

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Posted by All for tech in the classroom
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm

@ R. Gordon - It's not unrealistic. I have seen it happen. Have you worked in IT? Yes, there are good teachers but, you can be a good teacher and not know where the power button is on your computer or with good intentions request a piece of equipment that you don't know how to operate.

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Posted by VoxPop
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm

One problem with technology in the classroom is the way it is often introduced. Teachers are given computers or iPads or whatever with no real training in how to use them or guidance on what applications are useful and which useless.

Some of the teachers embrace the technology, lots just view it as an impediment to good teaching and a waste of their time.

Then there's the high cost of keeping computers and software up to date, which the starry eyed technology people seem to skate right on past when promoting their dreams.

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Posted by teacher
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm

As a teacher, I do use some of the technology available to me, but a significant issue is the lack training, especially ongoing training. Unless we are able to use the technology constantly and become fully aware of its classroom potential, its use tends to lag. Where I teach, we received very limited instruction on the interactive board and what little we received focused on our English as a Second Language program.

Like much of technology in schools, these white boards are very expensive, but at the same time, we teachers often have to supply our own regular board markers and erasers, along with basics like pencils and pens. Additionally, funding to maintain the technology is lacking. If equipment requires repair, it can be days before our *sole technician can get to it. *Lay-offs have eliminated most of our technical support. Are we penny wise and pound foolish?

It would be great to see technology really helping students to learn and to want to learn, but often technolgy beomes more like entertainment and "spoon-feeding" of knowledge thus requiring little effort from the student.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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