Reforms

Sec. Duncan on tour for school connectivity



The next time your child groans and asks why he has to go to school, or tells you she is absolutely certain that she’ll never use math, steal a little wit and wisdom from Salman Khan. The Silicon Valley innovator, whose online educational videos have grown to nearly 200 million lessons, kept an auditorium full of high school students rapt earlier this week as he urged them to consider a future in computer science.

“I think there’s a misperception about it being a very, I don’t know, kind of dorky field, for lack of a better word,” said Khan to laughter. It helped the joke that he was sitting next to Andrew Ng, the Stanford computer scientist who runs the University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab and developed the platform for Coursera, the program that allows millions of people to enroll in online courses offered by the nation’s top universities. “Thanks, Sal,” broke in Ng good-naturedly.

But when Khan delivered the real punch line, the students were speechless and dorkless. “You go to Google, Facebook, any of these companies right now; they’re offering six-figure salaries to 21-year-olds, and they cannot find enough people.”

Technology in Education panel at Sequoia High School. From left to right: U.S. Ed Secretary Arne Duncan, Andrew Ng, Salman Khan, Catlin Tucker. Photo from event video. (Click to enlarge)

Khan, Ng, and Catlin Tucker, the high school English teacher and author of the book Blended Learning for Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create a Student-Centered Classroom, appeared on a technology and education panel moderated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Sequoia High School in Redwood City. It was the first stop on Duncan’s cross-country “Education Drives America” Back-to-School bus tour, which is aimed at showing students, teachers, and community leaders how “education drives American prosperity and competitiveness in the 21st century information economy,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Dreaming of electronic textbooks

The most popular suggestion from the panelists was about switching to online textbooks. Sequoia High senior Alejandro Arreola said he and a friend have felt for some time that laptops would be a lot easier, lighter, and more efficient. “We won’t even need backpacks,” he said. “We would have all our files in there and we could send homework to teachers by email.”

His classmate Albert Vargas has another reason for wanting to go digital: “I’m a slow reader; if I don’t understand something, I can re-read it, but it’s going to say the same thing,” said Vargas following the panel discussion. “If it was an online textbook, it would be easier for the creators of the textbook to share links on the site so students that have a hard time understanding a certain subject would have easier access to more information about the topic.”

Interestingly, at the end of the day the panel of ed-techies argued that teachers, rather than being displaced by technology, would have a stronger role in the classroom.

“More important than student to teacher ratio, is the student to valuable time with the teacher ratio.  If the teachers’ time is all spent grading homework or handling paperwork, that’s time lost from the students,” said Khan.  “Everything we do in our mission is how can we use technology to make classrooms more human, to liberate teachers so they can be more free to lead their students in a self-paced environment.”

The biggest applause followed teacher Catlin Tucker’s comment when she said, “I don’t think technology is going to save education; I think great teachers with great tools is going to save education.”

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6 Responses to “Sec. Duncan on tour for school connectivity”

  1. Harris Reese said

    on November 2, 2012 at 5:05 am

    I do agree that its not the technology who will save education its the teacher itself with enough knowledge on bringing and catching their students attention in the class.And technology will serve as its back up in improving their lessons. [ vinnie chas dot com ]

  2. el said

    on September 14, 2012 at 9:58 am

    So, will Duncan be visiting rural schools in California, say those on the North Coast? Ooh, and I think he should try skyping from one of the schools up there.

  3. el said

    on September 14, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Our school just got bandwidth via an e-rate grant. AT&T barely had to lay any fiber and it took 4 years to get done from the beginning to the grant process to a working system. We’re the lucky ones; there are plenty of schools who are still working with a residential quality connection for the entire staff and student need.

    We need another half million to add more electrical circuits (in addition to outlets) to support more than one computer per classroom and to add air conditioning.

    I am all in favor of giving classrooms more access to computers and technology. I think it’s a great way to augment our great teachers and to open possibilities. It’s not going to save money, though; it’s going to add cost. And we have less money every year.

    With all the millions they want to spend on value-add analysis and developing new Common Core curriculum and tests, the idea that you might need to spend money to put bandwidth, electricity, computers, and an IT staff in school seems to have gone right over their little heads.

  4. Navigio said

    on September 14, 2012 at 9:50 am

    “Interestingly, at the end of the day the panel of ed-techies argued that teachers, rather than being displaced by technology, would have a stronger role in the classroom.”

    Call me cynical, but I don’t believe it. I’ve listened to many a policy-maker argue that we no longer need librarians because everything will be digital, then using that to justify eliminating them today but at the same time refusing to fund computers, computer teachers, or, as others note, the infrastructure to support that change. Even while for many kids the only realistic access to technology they have is at school, if in fact the parents choose to fund these things. This is somewhat absurd to me given how important technology is today (and will be even more so when these kids are starting to graduate). 

  5. CarolineSF said

    on September 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I happen to know that Bea is posting from Santa Cruz (hope it’s OK if I note that). Funny — same situation here in San Francisco.

  6. Bea said

    on September 14, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Wonderful! Hallelujah!

    Now what?

    I’m working with parents trying to raise money for iPads, SmartBoards and other great tools for our great teachers. Oh, but there aren’t enough outlets in our classrooms to charge the devices. Oh, and we don’t have campus-wide wifi (because, you know, kids will *use* i!). Oh, and we can’t have more than 1 or 2 classrooms online at once. Oh, and we can’t fix that because we don’t have enough bandwidth reaching the school. We *can* fix that, but the other school? Across town? There’s no municipal infrastructure in place to bring in the bandwidth there and we’ll have an equity of access problem.

    Could we fix all of those things? Yes. What will it take? Sing with me now: Money.

    Head. Desk. Bang.

    Y’all enjoy up there in Los Altos and Palo Alto.

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