Thinking-out-of-the-Box

The Cobb County Power to Learn laptop program, which was planned by Cobb County administrators and teachers, represented a totally new way that students could be educated. Imagine the possibilities for teachers and students. Education has slowly been moving away from plunking students down in front of a teacher—in fact it is becoming quaint. The internet and robust access to computers offers new ways to teach and learn. In some districts around the country, students can choose courses from a virtual school that are taught online by teachers perhaps 500 miles away. They can take the course on their time–anytime. In other cases, teachers plan hybrid-courses, in which part of the course is online, and the other is by means of face-to-face class sessions. Imagine school districts that reside within WI-FI (wireless networks) communities–in which the community is turned into a WI-FI netnetwork enabling anyone to turn on their computer anywhere in the community, and connect to the internet. It’s happening in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Lexington, KY, and other cities around the nation. Imagine schools who have teachers who have revamped the curriculum in English, mathematics, social studies, science, or foreign languages to meet the challenge of teaching students—each of whom has a laptop which they bring home and to school. Or imagine science or social studies teachers using web-based learning environments to engage their students in collaborative projects with students and teachers in other states and countries. There are endless possibilites for new forms of learning and commication that are currently being tapped, but are ready to transform education. It was unfortunate that in Cobb County (which could afford the expense of the project, by-the-way), the idea was repressed by a local newspaper, and a small band of parents. Very few voices emerged from the educational community to support the project, and articulate the possibilities that would emerge. Thinking-out-of-the-Box is the haulmark of the outstanding teacher and adminstrator. We’ll talk more about examples of thinking-out-of-the box. A great article to read is “ESPN Thinks Outside the Box,” in the September 2005 issue of Wired Magazine. Take a look at it.

Change is Difficult

In Cobb County Georgia, the school district’s administration proposed in February to provide an iBook (Apple Computer Co.) for every teacher and students, grades 6 -12. It would have been a major transformation in the way education would be implemented in the district. Cobb is the 2nd largest school district in Georgia. The proposal would have been the largest laptop program in the United States. It’s been stopped in its tracks. Some say that the superintendent and his staff mislead the public in the use of county funds (it would have been a $100 million project), and influenced the final decision of which computer company would ge the contract. The public (according to the Marietta Daily Journal–which in my opinion was biased against the superintendent’s plan) was incensed, and it appeared that the support that was needed eroded over the past 6 months. There are deeper issues, however, that were avoided in the discussions in newspaper, and in the school committee’s public meetings (five of the seven members of the school board supported the superintendent–as of now, it is 4-3, this Thursday, the fate of the superintendent could be decided). The deeper issue is what impact the use of laptops for each student, grades 6-12 would have had on the nature of teaching, the curriculum, and success of students. The only instructional issue I noticed being brought up was the affect the computers would have on student achievement, eg.how would it impact test scores. The problem that I see is the deeper consideratioin of how such a transformation would change the nature of teaching and learning in the district. How would it impact the goals of the curriculum? What would become of the curriculum? Perhaps the lack of discussion of these issues indicated that change is difficult, and the in reality, the public was really not interested in moving in this direction. Yet, in other parts of the nation, districts are moving in this direction. A small district in Arizona, for example, announced that each student will be getting an Apple iBook, and that the curriculum would reflect this fact. It was, according to the superintendent, a district that has taken risks in the use of technology over years. Maybe Cobb simply is not ready for that.