Think about the power that can be unlocked when you put something that has remained static for decades on-top of technology. Look at comedy – for example. Fifteen years ago we all watched America’s Funniest Home videos, where once a week we could all sit-down and watch 10 hilarious clips of home-movies. Today, thanks to digital cameras and YouTube, everyone in America can get thousands of hours of hilarity, anytime they want, from anywhere on the planet, involving every particular brand of humor from kittens doing tricks to toddlers saying curse words. The cameras, and Windows Movie Maker-type program democratized the means of production, and YouTube democratized the means of distribution. And eventually revolutionized the comedy-entertainment industry, becoming a tool for stand-up comedians to gain traction and for sketch-comics who could never get onto Saturday Night Live to connect directly with their fans and become internet-celebrities.
Here’s a great article on many technologies impacting education at the moment: http://thenextweb.com/industry/2011/05/14/how-the-internet-is-revolutionizing-education.
The last twenty years has really been about getting technology into classrooms – as though, if-only we could get the hardware in there, education would get better. Today, it’s more important than ever to get the right software and services into the classroom to really start enabling more powerful outcomes. And until we solve for fundamental pain points in education, we’re not really addressing a need.
The first challenge is the high student-to-teacher ratio, and the resulting lack of engagement. In schools across America, there are often 40 kids in one classroom. This forces the teacher to “teach to the middle” – leaving the top performers – who have already mastered the topic – bored and disengaged. Meanwhile the lowest performers, who are struggling, get left-behind. Perhaps even worse, the teacher is forced to teach the lowest common denominator, effectively ignoring the top 50% of the class that is ready to move-on, and could probably be in an Honors or Advanced Placement class, if their schools offered them. For the past 10 years SAT II Subject tests have been required at most Top-50 universities – how can a student prepare for these types of challenging tests, in this type of environment? Here’s a place where technology can help.
Imagine an online lesson-plan or digital textbook that goes along with the teacher’s lecture. Students take periodic diagnostic quizzes (just like the ones at the end of each section / chapter in a textbook), but by taking those quizzes on a laptop, tablet, or phone, the teacher can instantly see who is getting the material, and who is struggling. Those who have mastered the material can be given harder problems and links to more information that map-to AP exam prep, SAT II Subject test prep, and real-world scenarios that give context to what we’re learning, helping them work-toward scoring high on the AP Tests and SAT II Subject Tests that can have a big impact on getting-into Top 50 Universities.
Meanwhile, the teacher can spend time with struggling students, and the digital lesson-plan can recommend tutorials from pre-recorded teacher-lectures, other websites, or videos like those found on Khan Academy, to help the struggling student get extra help.
Take this a step further – imagine that with the help of Skype, a struggling student can get connected with a tutor – anywhere in the world – who can spend 1:1 time helping them understand a particular concept. Imagine a micro-payments system where you’re parents can put $10 into the account so you can get $1 for 30 minutes of homework help with someone else who already mastered this chapter. All of this technology is there. Nobody’s put it together in a compelling way yet, but companies like Kno and non-profits like Khan Academy are working their way there.
In Part II, I’ll discuss how Technology can transform Higher Education