Today, we inaugurate the first president to ever own a BlackBerry, to ever have a Twitter account, and to ever use the Internet to build and win a grassroots campaign. Obviously, hopes are high among those of us in Ed Tech for a very different sort of presidency when it comes to education funding.
We've heard a lot about Obama's intentions when it comes to education and his positions on technology are clear. In a speech near the beginning of the primary season, Obama noted
...today, a child in Chicago is not only competing for jobs with one in Boston, but thousands more in Bangalore and Beijing who are being educated longer and better than ever before...America is in danger of losing this competition. We now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized country. By 12th grade, our children score lower on their math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And today, countries like China are graduating eight times as many engineers as we do.
What he hasn't spent much time articulating is where technology and education should come together under his administration. He did some great arm-waving last month (this isn't criticism, by the way; the guy has a lot on his plate, but it's vital that we see how this will play out in concrete ways):
My economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen. We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools.
As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President – because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.
He's right, of course. Modern schools with equitable access to computing facilities and the Internet can bring extraordinary amounts of information and new learning tools to students across the country, whether in rural areas, inner cities, or otherwise. However, what we really need is a different approach to technology integration in schools.
Just giving kids computers does not mean that they can be competitive in the 21st Century. Using the computers to collect RTI data and help teachers modify instruction to address deficiencies does. Using the computers to instruct students in algorithmic thought and computer science, even at basic levels will make them competitive. Using the computers to have students solve math and science problems in innovative ways, collaborating with their peers and teachers makes them competitive. Using the computers so that students can create, share, and publish work in news ways can make them more literate and articulate.
Yes, we need the infrastructure of ubiquitous broadband and ready access to computing devices to revolutionize education here in this country. However, what we really need, as part of Obama's commitment to revamp No Child Left Behind, is a set of guidelines, standards, and frameworks for schools to use these computing facilities effectively. Should students be able to get to Google? Sure. Should the computers be mere Google portals? Absolutely not. Computers can drastically change the way we educate our youth, providing an impressive set of tools with which to supplement and enhance classroom education. Windows to Wikipedia, however, are a waste.
Give us something to work with, President-
elect Obama...Give us the hardware tools, but turn the impressive teams you are building loose to give us the pedagogical tools, as well. At least start the discussion - no other president has ever had such an array of social media to bring educators, technologists, students, and industry together. This is not an opportunity to be wasted.