Friday, April 16, 2010

Drawing up a 3 Year Plan - What's on the horizon for K-12

Yesterday a colleague and I had a discussion with our Primary Head and Assistant Head based on our experiences at the Apple Education Leadership Summit last month. One of our goals in the near future is to draw up a 3 year technology plan, starting with our vision of what we think IT will look like in 3 years time and then working backwards from there to come up with a strategy to get to that point. We were originally asked to come up with a 5 year plan, but to be honest I'm not really into crystal ball gazing and wouldn't even know how to begin to predict what things will look like in 5 years. 3 years is hard enough.

Luckily today I came across a Twitter post that directed me to the K-12 edition of the Horizon report which just came out a few days ago and which deals with emerging technologies likely to impact teaching and learning in the next few years. The report focuses on 6 emerging technologies, but for our purposes I am just going to focus on the 4 that are most likely to enter mainstream education in the next 3 years.

The report starts off looking at 5 trends that are driving technology. These trends are as follows:

  • Technology is a means of empowering students, of communicating and socialising. Young people use it as their way of staying in touch and also use it to control their learning. Technology gives students a public voice and a way of reaching beyond the classroom.
  • Technology affects the way we work, collaborate, communicate and succeed. The digital divide is now a factor of education not of wealth.
  • Creativity and innovation are becoming increasingly important. Schools must design learning to give students these experiences in order for them to succeed after leaving formal education.
  • Just-in-time, online learning and independent study are becoming more important.
  • Learning environments are changing and becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary and use technologies for communication and collaboration.

In order to keep up with the current trends, educators face certain challenges:

  • Digital media literacy is important, but absent from teacher education and professional development. Digital literacy is not about the tools, skills and standards but about thinking.
  • Education is changing only slowly - it needs to shift to become more learner-centred. Assessment must change along with teaching methods, tools and materials.
  • There is little agreement as to what a new model of education might look like.
  • Many learning activities take place outside the classroom. There is a great potential for using online resources, games and social networks. These real life experiences need to be incorporated into what is happening in the classroom. Without real life experiences, students feel little connection between their lives and their schooling.

The Horizon Report identifies technologies that are likely to become more important over the next year - cloud computing and collaborative environments. Interestingly enough at our last retreat in November, when all the IT department made 5 minute presentations about how they saw the future of IT, our network manager dismissed cloud computing as not being secure enough. We're off for our follow up retreat tomorrow, so I will bring this one up again, especially as more and more schools do seem to be using this as a way of communicating, storing work and collaborating. For myself, thinking about the 8 months since I started here in Switzerland, I have noticed a big increase in collaborative projects with our students interacting with other classes worldwide (for example our Grade 2s who collaborated with schools around the world to make a VoiceThread in their weather investigations) which has given them a more international perspective. I know there are many, many schools using Gmail and other Google Apps, Dropbox, Flickr and so on, and I definitely think we should be investigating how we can use them more here. As for the teachers, I am constantly singing the praises of social networking sites such as the PYP Threads Ning, the Educators' PLN and Classroom 2.0 and several of our teachers have now set up class blogs and netvibes. I can only see this increasing in the future.

Looking further ahead to where we would like to be in 3 years time, I'm interested to read the Horizon Report on game-based learning and mobiles. Again I have seen schools adopt iPod Touch programmes very successfully and we are planning on buying our Kindergarten classes a set of these out of our Fund for Excellence. I'm interested in getting hold of some iPads too, to see how they can be used in the classrooms. As far as mobile phones go, however, we still have a way to go. I brought the subject up with some of our teachers this week and was told they are banned at school - mostly I think because the teachers are afraid students are "time wasting" with them and because they don't yet see their potential as a learning tool.

I don't know much about game-based learning, though I have used several games with students over the years - from things like Reader Rabbit with our Kindergarten students in Amsterdam, to the historical ArcVentures games with our Grade 4s in Thailand. At the moment I'm not completely satisfied with these sorts of games, but for sure I am looking forward to new games that have the power to transform education and that are open-ended, challenge-based and collaborative. At the recent Apple Education Leadership Summit I attended a presentation by the Quest to Learn school in New York which uses games as its pedagogical model for students:
Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others.
Mobile computing is definitely something that is going to be part of our vision for the next 3 years. We do currently have laptops for our students to use (though we need more) and I'm certainly wanting to try out the iPad soon too. In the last few months I've noticed that I use my mobile phone much more with applications such as Evernote, Dropbox, TweetDeck and Facebook and I would like the students to be able to use these on the phones too. I think most of our middle school students have phones and really I find it quite ridiculous that we can't use them in class. I'm heartened to read in the Horizon Report that:
Over time, the vast potential of these devices for learning will begin to outweigh concerns about misuse that currently dominate most conversations about their use in school settings.
I will be happy if we can include mobiles in our vision for the next 3 years.

I haven't spent much time reading or thinking about what is beyond that. The Horizon Report mentions that on the far-term horizon of 4-5 years there will be augmented reality as a portable tool for discovery-based learning and flexible displays embedded in books, attached to desks and walls and integrated into many common objects. To be honest I know very little about either of these new technologies and don't really want to spend a lot of time talking about them at our IT retreat.

My focus, therefore, in the plan will be to investigate cloud computing further, to work on more collaboration for our students with schools around the world, to investigate using more mobile devices and to start to think about games-based learning. I'm sure we'll have lots of talk about this weekend and that I'll come home with lots more to think about too.

Photo Credit: Seen Scene by ViaMoi


  1. Maggie,
    It is so important for us to look forward (as much as it is possible) and make plans for how to get there. I commend your school (and you) for taking such steps. This is how education moves forward, to dream and then move in that direction.
    We are looking at iPads in the classroom as a possible 1 to 1 model here. I look forward to your thoughts on its integration into the classroom.

  2. Hi Maggie
    I am interested in finding out about Game based learning and how it can be made more open ended. I like the pedagogical model from Quest for Learning as it sets out the rationale for game based learning clearly. I was initially nervous of it because by their nature games tend to be fairly closed procedures leading to a single or limited number of outcomes depending on the programming. I work with early learners and look forward to open ended specifically designed software for this age group. (Fungooms is one of the best I've found so far.)

    Thanks for sharing your insights.