There’s no doubt that technology has and will continue to shape how we live. Computers, communication devices, the internet, and even the glimmer of robotics have changed the way we function as a society and as human beings.
So it’s not surprising that technology is now an integral part of educating our youth. You’d be hard pressed to walk into any public education institution and not find a number of computers, Smartboards, and sophisticated IT systems as part of the modern classroom.
Yet, how technology can create new ways of learning and teach our children valuable skills is still in flux. Sorting through the maze of options is a major challenge. One that the district takes seriously.
ASD Director of Information Technology Jesse Morehouse has streamlined and upgraded the district’s current IT infrastructure as well as targeted several areas for improvement since he started his position in 2016. (Read a profile of Jesse and his qualifications.) [include link to ASD website]
His approach is based on four main ideas:
- Equip teachers, classrooms, and admin offices with modern equipment that can handle the rigors of tomorrow's demands and perform at their best.
- Establish appropriate redundancy for a fault-tolerant network, a robust backup scheme, and no single point of failure.
- Secure sufficient and appropriate resources for optimal functioning — things like bandwidth, storage, WIFI coverage and equality, virtual capacity, and central computing.
- Create an efficient management infrastructure so the system works with a minimum of setbacks and downtime.
In the following interview with ASD Communication Specialist Kim Elzinga, Jesse elaborates on these points and shares his perspective on how technology is changing and impacting the way we educate the next generation.
What is your general understanding about technology in the world of education?
The thing about technology and education is at the end of the day, students need loving, supportive teachers, parents, and communities to be able to go out and do great things. Technology will never replace those things.
However, the world is changing, and technology is the driving force behind that change. In order to set students up for as much success as possible, they need to be incredibly comfortable with technology in the way they learn and interact with the world.
How has technology changed the world in which we live and how we function?
One key thing that technology does to impact how people function is that it eliminates the drudgery of repetitive tasks. If you look at the world today in comparison to how it used to be say 40 or even 30 years ago, people work differently, For instance, mechanics don’t spend as much time diagnosing a problem. Instead, they plug the vehicle into a computer system to pinpoint what’s wrong so they know what to fix.
Technology is transforming how people work. You can make a high five-figure salary in the oil industry, for example, by driving around in a truck with a laptop, monitoring pumps and sensors, accessing the computer system, and tweaking data to optimize performance. Another example, many people don’t need secretaries anymore because what they do on a computer replaces the functions secretaries used to perform.
You’re also seeing people collaborate at a distance on all sorts of interactive platforms. All of this is driven by technology.
So if we want our students to be successful, they have to be comfortable using that technology as they move on to do whatever it is they want in life. In our schools, we can’t have or get by with substandard technology since it’s such an important part of how we equip students to become the best they can be.
Has technology changed what students learn?
Students still need to learn the basics, but the way students use what they learn in school is implemented with technology, not replaced by a computer. For instance, students still need to learn math, and they need to understand mathematical concepts by doing math. Once they understand how math works, students start applying their knowledge by having computers do the math for them. They need to be good enough at math to accurately explain and direct the computer.
What are the cost implications of providing proper technology in today’s classroom?
If you look at the one-room school of long ago with a few desks and inkwells, the modern classroom costs much more to equip, and a large part of that is technology, which can be expensive.
But it is a recurring investment. Now that society has reached a new standard of how to educate, we need to keep replacing and upgrading to meet the minimum standard.
What are the biggest shifts, in your opinion, about our increased reliance on technology?
Some things have definitely shifted. The quantity of tech devices has grown in the last few years, and I’m not sure where that’s going to end. When I first started teaching 10 years ago, most teachers had one computer in the back of the room that they used to communicate with parents, compile grades, and access content on the internet. They used overhead projectors and whiteboards to teach lesson plans. If the whole class needed to use computers for a specific project, the teacher would reserve the computer lab.
What you see now is that teachers teach with computers through a variety of different ways, such as using interactive Smartboards. There are also now more computers in the room with every student having access to his or her own device. We supply inexpensive, durable sets of Chromebooks, primarily used to access information and software on the internet and on our databases.
We also now have wireless access points in pretty much every classroom in the district to handle this density of wireless devices. That means we have to add the capability in the back room that makes all this work.
And, trends point to major shifts continuing. You hear people talking about using virtual visualization in the classroom, so our students can put on 3D goggles and take a tour of an interesting site they are learning about in history class or better understand something they are doing in science. At least right now, there doesn’t seem to be much of an end in sight.
What are the challenges of keeping up with technology?
For one, leaving unreliable or old technology in the classroom means that the teachers won’t use it or trust it. If they don’t use it, then they can’t model for students how to use technology appropriately. So it’s important in an educational setting to swap out technology before it dies or probably sooner. We need to support teachers with highly reliable technology.
Another challenge is that when you’re managing the business of IT, you can’t go to every exciting new technology or you’ll squander all of your money. It’s a constant cycle of trying to identify potential new technologies that could be beneficial to the district, testing them out and deciding whether they are worth pursuing or not, then presenting the best ideas to district administration and staff to get feedback on moving forward.
To go ahead requires an elaborate process with budgeting and fielding and maintenance. The budgetary considerations of IT are significant and can’t be underemphasized, especially for a small school district. If you look through what we have, we don’t have the best, top-of-the-line equipment, but it hits a “sweet spot” balancing cost and capabilities enabling our students to become proficient in what they’ll need to navigate life outside of the classroom.
How does technology affect the district’s emphasis on individualized or differentiated learning?
Computer technology really allows teachers to differentiate learning so that every student can be given a challenge that is appropriate to them. We’re getting away from the traditional lecture style that puts the teacher at the front of the room, trying to reach students of all different levels and learning styles. With the right technology, teachers can focus their efforts on creating stimulating lesson plans that reach all students where they’re at.
Where do you see technology in education going in the future, both in general and at the district?
I think you’ll find technology becoming more ubiquitous. More and more areas of education are going to have technology integrated into their systems. You’re going to see new ways to teach things, such as innovative uses of drones in schools. Students will explore the world around them using biofeedback devices in physical education, speech-to-text for students with disabilities, and more.
You’re going to see a combination of teaching in different ways to further help students differentiate themselves. You’ll see customized learning platforms to help students create their own pathway with the teacher more in the role of facilitator and less of a lecturer.
What is the teacher’s role in using technology in the classroom?
Teachers have to model effective use of technology, both in the classroom and in life in general. They need to show students how to access the best of technology and use it appropriately.
But their role is much more than just that. As students learn how to take responsibility for their own learning through individualized and customized lessons made possible only through IT advances, teachers can become more like mentors and guides. Having students engaged in learning at their own pace actually frees up the teacher to spend more time with each student. With technology, teachers can monitor students’ progress more closely and actually pinpoint areas they need to focus on more.
Do you think a computer will ever replace a teacher?
No. I don’t think you can ever replace a teacher. You can’t help children and young adults who are in the process of growing into fully functioning human beings without the mentorship of a real, live person. Teachers make individual connections; they show that they care about each student; they are there to help when someone is having a tough day; they congratulate students for well-earned achievements and accomplishments; they point students in the right direction. A computer can never do that.
At the end of the day, teachers are the most important thing in education. All technology can do is help good teachers being even more amazing.