NECC: Apple looks at future of educational technology
By Dennis Sellers
Cheryl Vedoe, Apple’s former vice president for education products and marketing and current president of its PowerSchool product, gave a keynote speech on the theme: “You can’t prepare students for the real world ahead with status quo technology” today at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio, TX. And, naturally, she showed how Apple technology fits into the big picture.
“The important thing is that we not prepare students for the future on status quo technology,” Vedoe said. “We must give them the proper tools to prepare them for the future … the context of school is changing. The real world is changing at a more rapid pace than it ever has in the past.”
Society is more connected and more global in scope than ever before, Vedoe said. There’s more information available than at any previous time in history and the majority of jobs that current students will face don’t exist today, she added.
“The one absolute is that the future will be much different from the world we know today,” Vedoe said. “Once we knew what the jobs of tomorrow would be and how to prepare students for those jobs. We no longer know that. We don’t even have a concept of the majority of jobs students will move into the future so we need to create a generation of lifelong learners.”
According to US Department of Labor Statistics from 1996 approximately 45 percent of all new jobs in 2004 will be in industries that didn’t exist in 1994. And according to US Bureau of Labor statistics (from 2000), the average US worker will have 9.2 jobs before age 34 and three to four careers. And US Department of Labor projections for 2006 say that 50 percent of jobs will be in the high-tech sector; tech sector employees will earn 78 percent more than non-tech sector employees; and 500,000 tech jobs in the US will be unfilled.
Vedoe said that, for these reasons, Apple believes that students need to learn “21st Century skills” that include the abilities to master literacy, solve problems and collaborate, gather and analyze data, visualize and create, and lead and inspire. She said that US Department of Education, and Apple’s own independently funded studies, show that when technology is used “consistently” and “meaningfully” (two terms she repeatedly stressed):
Student test scores go up when basic skills are emphasized.
Student productivity increases.
Students write more and more effectively.
Student attitudes towards school improves and engagement increases.
“It’s not enough just to wire a school and put technology in,” Vedoe said. “Apple believes there are a number of key areas in which technology can make a difference and that we need to focus on all of them to realize the potential of what technology can do to prepare students for the future.”
One is basic skills. Mastering the “three Rs” is still critical, and children gain fundamental skills faster and better using a technology-based curriculum, she said. Students are more engaged in learning exercises for a long period of time, and instruction can be adapted to individual student needs, Vedoe added.
With technology proficiency, learning becomes more productive, she continued. When technology is incorporated properly into an educational environment, students have ready access to a world of information, digital media helps students express their work creatively and students take greater pride in their work.
Once basic skills and technology proficiency is implemented, educational institutions can focus on 21st century literacy, which prepares students for a changing world, she added. Such literacy means having the ability to read critically and communicate persuasively; apply mathematical and scientific principals to solve real-world problems; acquire, analyze and synthesize info; learn through inquiry and collaboration; and, again, become lifelong learners, Vedoe said.
The Apple executive said that properly applied technology could instill a “stronger sense of self” in students, better motivating them to achieve. Studies have shown that school attendance improves with routine technology usage, more children finish high school, more students go on to college, and students “see more possibilities for the future,” Vedoe said.
She said that a truly successful integration of technology and education starts with educators establishing shared goals about student achievement. The next step is to align instruction, curriculum and assessment. Following this is the need to provide routine access to technology to support educational goals. And professional development for teachers is necessary, as is the need to provide district and site leadership.
“If a school system wants technology to benefit students, it’s not enough merely to put computers in teachers’ hands,” Vedoe said. “They need to know how to use the technology to impact learning. And at Apple we’ve seen that in the schools where technology was used to its fullest advantage, there was not only full support and shared goals among classroom teachers, but also from the leaders in the organization, on the district and site level.”
She said that Apple believes that three major trends will affect education in the days to come: wireless connectivity (a la AirPort), digital media and Web-based curriculum.
“Going wireless is the first major trend we see impacting education,” Vedoe said. “We’re seeing more and more schools looking to laptops and wireless networks as the routine in providing computers to students and teachers. Now learning isn’t necessarily limited to sitting at desks or in the classroom.”
She said that wireless computing inspires new ways of teaching and learning and helps “bridge the digital device” between the school and home.” Vedoe said research shows that it helps students: score higher in writing assessments, demonstrate better research and analytical skills, engage in more problem solving and critical thinking, and collaborate more often on schoolwork.
Vedoe used examples of AirPort and iBooks being used successfully by such systems as Fremont High School (CA), District Ten (NY), Henrico County PS (VA) and the State of Maine to demonstrate her point. She said the second trend Apple sees in education of the current and future is the use of digital media.
“Today’s students are truly the digital generation,” Vedoe said. “They’re growing up in a media rich world and are a very different generation. For example, they’ll spend more time reading if the text is on the Internet than if it’s in a textbook.”
Using digital media applications such as iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes and iDVD engages and motivates students of today, she said. They also spark their curiosity, encourage them to explore, foster creativity and help them master abstract concepts, she added. Apple’s digital hub apps can also help educators share their best practices with others, she said.