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Minnesota Election Results: St Paul Voters Pass Tech Education Levy for Mobile Learning

The big post-election news out of Minnesota was that Obama easily won the state by 8 points, Michelle Bachmann barely survived to be re-elected, Rick Nolan was elected to office and the ban on same sex marriage amendment was defeated. But in St. Paul an initiative was passed that although it didn’t have widespread coverage could have lasting impact on public school systems in the state.

St. Paul, voters awarded schools superintendent Valeria Silva a $9 million technology levy as a means to help students learn anytime and anywhere. Silva envisions struggling students being able to revisit course work and view videos electronically, and high school students taking classes in the morning, working an internship in the afternoon and taking online courses at night. Students would have 24/7 access to electronic textbooks and interactive quizzes. Parents could track children's homework. Silva’s vision and program is one that needs to be closely monitored and possibly incorporated in as many schools as possible.

Technology — the mobile revolution, social media, online presence, telepresence, digital content, and eReaders — has exploded and is inextricably incorporated into our daily lives. A smartphone has become a must have for most if not all business people and a cell phone has almost reached the point of being an essential asset. The use of technology in the classroom does not replace the traditional path to learning reading, writing and arithmetic, rather it acknowledges that there are new tools available to enhance and support learning and the infrastructure necessary to support the learning environment.

Technology also addresses the need to increase parental involvement by giving parent’s online access to progress reports, report cards, test results, study plans, classroom lectures, homework assignments, and even web video conference sessions with administrators and teachers which would increase parent involvement in the schools.

The use of eReaders and access to digitized versions of textbooks would eventually reduce school budgets by reducing infrastructure costs associated with warehousing and distribution costs. It would allow for immediate upgrades to new editions of textbooks and ease the replacement cost of entire libraries. Online content could be accessed from any location that has an internet connection, and digitized content could be easily stored on a variety of devices and storage medium.

Technology in the classroom could be used to support administration functions like teacher classroom evaluations. Web and video-conferencing would allow administrators to view teacher performance remotely and it would be stored for archival purposes, allowing administrators and teachers to review the performance jointly and repeatedly, if necessary. 

It would also provide some security for the sake of privacy in schools where violence against teachers has become an all too common occurrence. Some teachers may object to being constantly filmed, but experience shows that teachers go through considerable effort to “put on their best show” when they have scheduled observation. Similarly, students are encouraged to be on their best behavior when they are being observed by thirdparties (technology may make that a permanent and consistent setting). Not to mention if cameras are in the classroom, then inappropriate teacher-student behavior and contact will become increasingly more difficult to cultivate and hide. Gone would be the days of “my teacher didn’t teach us that” or “did you get the notes” or the missed assignment that was erased from the board.

Desktop productivity tools should be introduced as early in the teaching cycle as deemed appropriate. Word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and collaboration tool mastery among others are tools of the trade for the modern professional and while these tools do not teach you to be good at what you do, they can make you better at communicating and presenting your ideas. More importantly the goal is to progress the student to the point where they have developed core fundamentals that are necessary to succeed in any field and I submit that basic computing skills like the ones mentioned are core competencies in the modern professional world.

Cloud-based computing would provide access to applications and tools normally only accessible to in-house onsite students and staff.

There is concern that utilizing smartphones and eReaders like iPads in the classrooms will create a distraction for students and a challenge for teachers who may already have trouble keeping the attention of adolescent and teen-aged students. But what is the alternative, to ignore the technology. 

The online presence of students has exploded, and every kid gets a PC for college. This is the tool and this is where you find kids today. Besides, we already see more and more print mediums dropping their traditional print distribution channels for online content. It is just a matter of time before there is a backlash against book publishers who continue to make college students pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks that they have no intention of keeping. We already see the rise of services like bookrenters.com which allow students to rent, rather than purchase textbooks. Eventually students will wonder why they can purchase a digital copy of the latest best seller, but not the course book that has a new edition that added 10 pages.

The biggest concern with introducing technology, like eReaders into the classroom is cost. The cost of an iPad, PC, Nook or Kindle device maybe prohibitive to many families, particularly those with more than one child increasing the gap in education service between the wealthy and not so wealthy communities. That is true, but children are being introduced to learning using electronic and online tools as early as pre-k. 

There are a number of virtual worlds where children are interacting and learning including Kerpoof, Curiosityville and Club Penguin. Leapfrog has an iPad-like device, the LeapPad, an educational toy which allows parents to download learning applications, age-appropriate videos, books and music. LeapPad is just one of many educational gadgets that use technology to make education fun and accessible as early as possible in a child's development.

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Also, there is a disparity in the use of technology for as basic a service as email between low and high poverty communities. Differences were found among low and high poverty schools for the percentage of teachers who sometimes or often did the following: used email or list-serve to send out group updates or information to parents (69% compared to 39%) or to students (30% compared to 17%), used email to address individual concerns with parents (92% compared to 48%) or with students (38% compared to 19%), used a course or teacher web page to communicate with parents (47% compared to 30%) or with students (36 % compared to 18%) according to a report produced by the National Center for Education Statistics. The report, Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools, went on to say results differed by low and high poverty concentration of the school for the percentage of teachers that reported their students used educational technology sometimes or often during classes to prepare written text (66% and 56%, respectively), learn or practice basic skills (61% and 83% respectively) and develop and present multimedia presentations (47% and 36%, respectively).

Solutions are available. The U.S. Department of Education provides a number of formula grants for technology based education programming. ED-Tech, the Enhancing Education through Technology State Program is a program to improve student achievement through the use of technology in elementary and secondary schools. The goals include helping all students become technologically literate by the end of the eighth grade and, through the integration of technology with both teacher training and curriculum development. The locally based program encourages the development of private-public partnerships and projects that include the use and acquisition of technology to increase academic standards, develop new curricula, and increase parental involvement.

E-learning for Kids is a global, non-profit foundation dedicated to fun and free learning on the internet, or via CD-ROM or pre- installed on computers, for children ages 5 to 12. The foundation was one of the 2011 Learning! 100 award recipients honored by Elearning! Media Group, publishers of Elearning! and Government Elearning! magazines. They say “because many schools, and kids at home, may have access to older computers and/or may not have internet access, or it may be too slow, it is important that online learning resources are provided in both an online and offline format.

One Laptop per Child is an organization which mission is to empower the world’s poorest children through education. To that end they provide children around the world with what they describe as “a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.” “We have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.”

Major technology companies like Cisco Systems, Intel and Microsoft are prepared to partner with local school boards and state officials to upgrade school infrastructures to make them capable of supporting e-Infrastructures. Back in 2009, the technology giants recognized the need to leverage technology in the education system. Back then they noted “that most education systems have not kept pace with the dramatic changes in the economy at large and the skill sets that are required for students to succeed. These skills include the ability to think critically and creatively; to work cooperatively; and to adapt to the evolving use of technology in business and society.”

In their report, Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century, Cisco explained “the same technologies that have spurred the development of the Internet as a tool for creating and sharing knowledge could now help learners build critical 21st century skills, supported by the key elements of 21st century pedagogy.” Furthermore the report stated, “These technologies could respond to the concerns and aspirations of parents, teachers, and learners by providing:

  • Safe online environments owned and populated by each educational institution.
  • A window for parents to monitor their children’s development and performance and communicate with teachers in much greater detail.
  • The ability for teachers to be “present” throughout a learning journey, providing personalized feedback and coaching students.

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Don Knezek, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, compares education without technology to the medical profession without technology. Knezek told Mashable.com’s Sarah Kessler, “U.S. schools are still asking if they should incorporate more technology, while other countries are asking how.” In her article Kessler listed 8 ways technology can be and is being used to improve education:

  • Better simulations and models
  • Global Learning
  • Virtual Manipulatives
  • Probes and Sensors
  • More Efficient assessment
  • Storytelling and MultiMedia
  • E-books
  • Epistemic Games

St. Paul residents are anxious to see the project succeed. Silva told the Star Tribune that she plans to roll out at least one piece of the technology initiative for the 2013-14 school system. The program is an eight year investment, starting next summer and Silva said taxpayers can expect to see results in the first year. Silva said the district is currently soliciting bids for a "teaching and learning platform" that would include electronic courses and interactive quizzes, and a means for teachers, students and parents to communicate.

 

Valeria Silva, St. Paul schools superintendent

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