New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Readying students for college and career has been the focal point of K-12 education reform in recent years, and many new efforts feature technology in a starring role.

Driving Classroom Learning Through Applied Technology

Readying students for college and career has been the focal point of K-12 education reform in recent years, and many new efforts feature technology in a starring role. Blended learning and new instructional strategies enabled by technology offer nontraditional ways for students to engage in curricular material.

As highlighted in NGLC’s ongoing series, Next Gen Tools, tech innovations are being used to help traditionally underserved students in classrooms across the country. It’s a challenging application for technology, since we know that traditionally underserved students benefit greatly from high-touch, interpersonal relationships. There is much to be learned still about how and whether these reforms are improving readiness for life after high school. The hope, however, is that with appropriate support, technology can allow students to drive their own learning, which could prepare them to drive their own path to college or career.

Technology can serve as a gateway to an up-to-date world of resources for students. The Internet and accessible devices continue to improve the breadth and depth of educational materials available to students and teachers. In blended learning classrooms, NGLC grantees like Summit Public Schools and EAA are harnessing open, online resources through digital learning management systems like Buzz and Activate Instruction. These platforms serve as gateways to playlists of online texts, videos, games, and other multimedia applications—curated by adults—that offer new ways for students to acquire core content knowledge.

Taking the Wheel: Blended Learning is Student-Driven

An objective of blended learning is that students self-direct their education, thereby becoming better prepared for the independence they’ll experience in college and career. However, the challenges for students in blended learning environments are great; they must stay on task, they must learn to navigate and judge the value of a new sea of digital resources, they must learn their own strengths and weaknesses, and they must learn to manage their own time.

This requires a great deal of personal responsibility. Educators must learn new ways to foster students’ internal motivation. Just as we wouldn’t hand the car keys to a teenager who hasn’t been trained to drive, educators shouldn’t put technology in the hands of students without training them to use it appropriately, effectively, and efficiently.

Technology can also enable instructional strategies that encourage collaboration and project-based learning. Blended learning classrooms, in theory, give students more class time to engage in projects—to get their hands dirty, to take time to explore how to apply math when building a parachute, for example. Working collaboratively with others (often in large classrooms like at Merit Prep Newark), students must solve problems such as who will be the project lead and how they will divide tasks. Such student experiences and early outcomes in personalized schools are now the focus of a RAND Corporation study, with early findings expected to be shared this fall.

These strategies hold promise to develop habits of mind such as perseverance, responsibility, leadership and effective communication—all desirable characteristics for those pursuing college or career.

Navigating Change: The Evolving Role of Teachers

However, we don’t yet know whether these technology-enabled instructional strategies are working as intended. We do know that the challenges are great. Teachers need professional development to learn how to facilitate project-based learning, rather than playing the traditional role of direct instructor. And despite technology’s many merits, nothing can replace the human interaction between teacher and student. The youngest students still need appropriate guidance and support in a blended environment, so teachers must learn to balance the infusion of new tools and devices with personal attention for students.

We know that technology can open up new ways for students to drive their own education, and we know that there is an industry chomping at the bit to make its installation the center of a classroom. In technology-enabled classrooms, students have more opportunities to choose how they learn, how fast they progress, and how they demonstrate mastery of concepts.

When they graduate, students will be free to choose their road to college or career; researchers should continue to observe carefully to know whether, with the help of technology, we have effectively taught them to drive.

Jodi Lewis

Jodi Lewis

Researcher, Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy

Jodi Lewis is a researcher at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy in Sacramento, California, and has authored numerous NGLC resources focusing on breakthrough models and technology innovations.