Technology in K-12: Expanding the Reach

A conversation with David Engle, Director of US Operations, SNS Project Inkwell, and Superintendent, Port Townsend PSD; Chris Lohse, Vice President, Strategic Affairs, Pearson K-12 Technology; and Ron Fortunato, President, Trillium Learning; hosted by Don Budinger, Chair and Founding Director, The Rodel Foundations

David Engle explains that Project Inkwell was designed to accelerate the deployment of technology in schools and to create a school-appropriate computing device.  The largest un-tapped resource in the world are school-aged children, who can and ought to be helping us solve these problems. Now, Engle says, Project Inkwell is looking at creating a model that addresses that need.

“This is my first foray into FiRe and it has been a remarkable and delightful walk across the coals,” says Chris Lohse. The U.S. is actually performing better than we ever have on graduating from high school and college, but we’ve slipped in our international ranking. “Our system is the most unequal in the world.” Lohse says. “We know how to provide excellence to our students, we just don’t know how to distribute that across our schools.”

Finland is the highest performing education system. Some would point to Finland’s very low poverty rate, but Lohse says that it’s not the poverty itself that is the problem. It’s the concentration of that poverty, which keeps children from interacting with other socioeconomic categories. U.S. schools are highly segregated by race and economic class.

Ron Fortunato says that in order to be competitive, we have to be collaborative. Asian students spend many hours a day in school, but aren’t able to collaborate.  He believes we’re ahead in terms of our educational tech use, but we’re not focusing on using the best technology to solve problems. It’s less about shoehorning technology into classrooms than shifting the approach of curriculum to one based on solving real-world problems in the classroom. Then the technology will come naturally.

Engle agrees. He says that our drive toward invention is still very strong among our kids and that we should be focusing on nurturing that. That might look like one device per child or it might look like an ecosystem of devices — video cameras, laptops, tablets, etc — that can help kids solve problems.

Lohse reminds us of a pilot program in the UK that used devices to connect students with Chinese students. At the end of the day, the UK kids were crying because they didn’t want to leave their new Chinese friends. We should be using devices to connect kids around the globe to help them solve global problems.

Tech hasn’t been entirely successful so far because a) we’ve been using bad technology in education and b) we’ve been slapping it onto our existing curriculum system rather than applying it to real issues.