Technology in Education: How Davis Avoided Common Pitfalls

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558b39078070cby Jessica Chabot

The goal of providing access to computer technology for teachers and students within school districts is more complex than it would at first appear. There are multiple strategies by which it may be provided. Some of these succeed, and others fail, in spite of the best intentions of their designers.

Comparing the experience of LA Unified and Davis Joint Unified school districts, we can see some lessons which have been learned.

In L.A. the plan was to give each child an iPad with a ready, interactive, and embedded curriculum.The intentions of LA educators and administrators were good. They wanted to provide their kids with a 21st century education, and to include every kid. Everyone loves Macs, and from the outside it seemed like a terrific plan. It was a bold strategy intended to upgrade the education for all the students in the 2nd largest school district in the country.

However, there developed multiple, interacting problems. The initial decision, as it turned out, was heavily influenced by Apple and Pearson executives. It was later claimed that the criteria for the systems to be purchased were designed to reflect the Apple computer and Pearson curriculum offerings, blocking other bidders. The lack of transparency and the possibility of rigged bidding eventually resulted in an SEC investigation, which is on going.

As well, the roll out of computer technology was plagued by a lack of clear leadership in charge, a lack of coordination with parallel infrastructure needs, such as WI-Fi, by a lack of teacher preparation, and finally by teacher opposition.

The expense of the iPads ($768) was magnified by an added built-in, and expensive curriculum by Pearson ($200), which was locked into the iPad, and not chosen by many teachers. The promised interactivity of the digital curricula was seen as disappointing, and not as promised. Refunds were demanded of Apple and of Pearson. Security rapidly became an issue when, within hours, students had hacked the school firewalls, using the Macs.

When one compares the experience of LA Unified, where iPads and embedded Pearson curriculum were chosen at a cost of over 1 billion dollars, and lately abandoned, we can appreciate the astute management of strategy and resources by the leadership here in Davis.

This is an effort in our schools which is going right, and which is allowing our teachers and students to progress rapidly. It should be applauded and supported.

DJUSD has so far sidestepped the problems experienced by LAUSD. In part, the relatively small size of our district has been an advantage.

In Davis, transparency, apparently, has not been an issue. Costs and other choices involving instructional technology have been communicated in public. For instance, a request to expand the system, including its cost, was just discussed in the latest open Board meeting, which was also televised.

The choices of technology to be purchased have been made with an eye toward security and toward economy as can be seen in the choice of Chromebooks as the computer of choice in the school system. This was and is a pivotal choice since the Chromebook is safe from malware installation, being essentially a browser. The economical, light Chromebooks can be stashed in organized carts which charge the computers, when not in use. The computer filled carts can be moved from room to room with ease, so they are easily shared.

For the same funds, approximately 2-3 Chromebooks can be purchased for one iPad, providing at least double the potential student and teacher computing access for the same money. These Chromebook carts are being rolled out, in a coordinated way, with sequential, advancing Wi-Fi installation throughout district schools.

Other difficulties experienced by LAUSD also have been neatly sidestepped by the Davis district leadership, thus far. A lack of teacher preparation was one pitfall. Here, teachers were surveyed for their experience and their preferences for professional development. The small group settings they preferred were set up, and teacher’s salaries were covered for the required time in professional development. Professional development is expected to be ongoing.

Expensive, locked in curriculum, another problem, has been avoided for the moment. Instead, the district has implemented Google Apps for Education. It has also put a “Chromebook Academy” in place, filled with resources for teachers and students. The academy highlights links to free, recommended, educational websites to support their own in-person instruction, not to replace it.

The overall success of the program in Davis, thus far, is due to the insight and attention to detail that has been given to the project by the Director of Instructional Technology and Learning, Marcia Bernard, and her team. Thus far implementation of new infrastructure, computer and internet technology has been relatively well coordinated with student needs and with teachers’ concerns and workloads.

Considering how important this effort is and how well managed it has been, it makes sense that the Trustees are considering expanding the program. The plan would nearly establish a dedicated group of Chromebooks for each grade level at each elementary school. At the secondary schools, many carts and devices would be added. The added carts would also provide devices that could be checked out and used by students in the libraries.Funding this effort would be an excellent way to further advance the skills of both teachers and students at DJUSD, in concert. Easy internet access should remain among the top priorities for Davis schools, and merits the necessary funding.

Technology in schools has great potential for a positive impact on our children’s education. There are undeniable pitfalls, but with awareness and planning, we can avoid them.

Jessica Chabot
Director, Davis Code Camp

_________

References:

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ipad-curriculum-refund-20150415-story.html#page=1

What Schools Must Learn From LA’s iPad Debacle

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About The Author

Jessica Chabot (flora) is Director and cofounder of Davis Code Camp which provides classes and camps for children who are taught in person. We focus on children's developmental milestones and digital literacy in classes led by college age instructors.

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18 thoughts on “Technology in Education: How Davis Avoided Common Pitfalls”

  1. wdf1

    In related news:

    NY Times, 8/12/15: News Corp. Planning to Sell Off Money-Losing Education Unit

    Amplify, a much-heralded push by News Corporation into digital education, led by Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chancellor, is nearing an inglorious end.

    News Corporation, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, said on Wednesday that it would take a $371 million write-down on the education division and would move to wind down the production of tablets for schoolchildren, a key part of the unit’s offering.

    Moreover, News Corporation’s chief executive, Robert Thomson, said in an earnings call with analysts that the company was in an “advanced stage of negotiations” with a potential buyer for the remaining education business.

    Together, the moves highlight the difficulty that has confronted News Corporation and others looking to move teaching into the digital age, relying on the Internet and tablets to update traditional curriculums.

    Few initiatives possessed the prominence of Amplify, which grew out of a nearly five-year-old acquisition of a testing software maker that became a small but visible part of News Corporation. And it gained a prominent leader in Mr. Klein, who oversaw New York City’s public schools under Michael R. Bloomberg and was known for pushing technology — sometimes controversially — into the city’s education system.

    Among Amplify’s main propositions: an online curriculum that taught arts in a more vivid way, including videos, games and apps. An introduction to “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” relied on a video of the actor Chadwick Boseman, while a lesson on Edgar Allan Poe drew on games that students could play to solve a mystery.

    Such lessons could be run on several devices. But Amplify focused on its own custom-made tablets that would be leased out to schools.

    Yet the rollouts to various schools have been marred by problems, from malfunctioning tablets to slower-than-expected sales. In a note to Amplify employees sent on Wednesday, Mr. Klein said that many school districts lacked the necessary Internet connections.

    1. Frankly

      Remember Steve Jobs and NeXT?  Making and selling anything new to the business of education is fraught with tremendous oposition if the education establishments thinks it will cause any reducation in union members.  But it will happen.  Amplify screwed up trying to do hardware.  BIG mistake.  The gold mine is in replacing text books with interactive content.  It is the content and software that will eventually break up the old crappy system.

      1. wdf1

        Computers won’t cause reduction in union members or teachers any more than would books, TVs or videos.  Your mistake (and that of many others) is in thinking that education is just (or mostly) about content.  Computers and software in schools have been around since at least the early 80’s. Do you think any teachers have been replaced because of it? As to replacing textbooks, I think vetted open-source content will eventually put Pearson and others out of business.

      2. Don Shor

        We were buying interactive content for DSIS when I was on the site council a decade ago. You seem to have a vision where students sit at computers and work on materials without guidance, just getting everything they need from the glowing screen. Some students are self-organized enough to learn some things that way. Most need teachers to help them synthesize and actually process what they’re viewing.

        I took some classes by the mastery system when I was in college. We did modules, self-tested, then moved on to the next one when we’d mastered the last one. It took guidance from proctors, oversight by the professor, and we still needed the lecture/discussion format to review and put it all into context. I liked it, but some students simply didn’t do that well that way — and that was at the college level. When I proctored the same class, I found that a certain percentage of students took very well to self-directed learning, many did ok with it, and some never got it.

        It has nothing to do with “re-education in union members.” You really need to get off this nonsense about teachers constantly striving to sustain the unions and protect their jobs. I seriously doubt most teachers care all that much about the union. What they don’t like, any more than anyone else does, is top-down direction telling them how to teach and what resources they are going to use without any input.

  2. Tia Will

    Don,

    What they don’t like, any more than anyone else does, is top-down direction telling them how to teach and what resources they are going to use without any input.”

    Well spoken.  And an apt description of most employee groups that I have encountered whether union or non unionized.

  3. Frankly

    Computers won’t cause reduction in union members or teachers any more than would books, TVs or videos.

    You seem to have a vision where students sit at computers and work on materials without guidance, just getting everything they need from the glowing screen.

    Several comments.

    1. I have always made it clear that I see technology better applied to older students and those that will thrive with it, and put more teachers, facilitators, tutors and counselors on the floor to help the younger students and those that need that type of help.

    2. Do either of you have Millennial children?  Do they have a smart phone with a data plan.  If so have you ever had a conversation with them when a topic question came up and then watched them find the answer in a couple of seconds searching on a 4″ screen that has access to just about all the information in the world 365 days a year, 24×7?

    Last night my 22 year old son asked me if I had heard about the factory explosion in China.  He had already read about it.  He also asked about the Chinese devaluation of their currency, and told me why he thought they did it.  He developed his opinions reading and posting on Reddit.com.  Also had tweeted his group of friends and they all shared what they knew.   A few nights before we were all sitting on the back patio talking about Presidents and I was talking about Grover Cleveland and my son was listening, and then looks on his phone and then says, “I think you are talking about Garfield”… I was… I had mixed up their names and events.  How would a 22 year old get this information 15 years ago or earlier?

    With all due respect you two just don’t get it.  You are stuck in a prehistoric paradigm about the business of education… that model where some tweeded and over-compensated adult with a mouth fill of marbles, and overpriced and already out-of-date textbook, and a propensity to move too quickly over the interesting information and too slowly over the crap that bores the brains out of all but a minority of brainy introverts.   He stands  in front of these kids and LECTURES them.  You do know that we LECTURE our kids when they have done something wrong?   Lecturing should be minimized.

    I think your ability to think outside of the box on this is constrained by your continuing to hold on to the sides of the box while accepting de minimis innovation.  That is the problem… no vision for what education can be and should be in an information world that has rocketed forward orders of magnitude

    The kids need some fundamentals and then need to know how to access and find information they require as they require it.  We can cut much of the crap out of the mandated curriculum, and use the resources freed up to provide more choice and electives and tutors and facilitators and counselors.

    The software and technology needs to facilitate learning while also helping with the customized education path.  It is not THE STUDENT SITTING IN FRONT OF A SCREEN ALL DAY WITH NO ADULT OVERSIGHT AND HELP.

    There is a vision that we lack and there are innovative techniques that we lack.  And both of them need to advance at the same time to perfect the business of education.

    I don’t know what wdf1 does for a living, but I do know what Don does for a living.  Maybe because my career has been IT I have more experience with corporate education.  In the field of IT it is constantly changing… so the education need is constant.  And in the business if IT we have been constantly seeking how to optimize that training.  And most of it today is done with what I would call facilitated technology-enabled instruction.  Yes there are classrooms with lectures.  It depends on the topic.  But developing an employee to master a subject in technology is requires more than just online content, books and lectures… it requires hands-on.  It requires that the student work on things in a lab (either virtual or real) and then get coaching to practice.

    The tools and methods we use today are tremendously outdated and are growing more and more outdated every day we resist the needed revolution in innovation.  And the cost of our failure to grasp this need and adequately innovate is compounded by the changes to the economy where we can no longer just spit out graduates of the crappy and outdated education system to find their way.  We cannot afford for this mission of “creating good citizens”… we need to create graduates that are capable of moving to the next step in life which ultimately needs to result in economic self-sufficiency.

    We spend more per student than any other country and we get way too little in return.  And the US should not be comparing itself to other countries… the US is the place where we should be leading the world like we do in so many other things… except for education because it is controlled by a union Democrat Party cartel with a vested interest in, above all, maximizing the number of adults working in the education system.

    1. Don Shor

      and then watched them find the answer in a couple of seconds searching on a 4″ screen that has access to just about all the information in the world 365 days a year, 24×7?


      Yes, I spend a good portion of my day debunking the MISinformation that people glean from the internet about gardening. Just google ‘epsom salts gardening’ for good examples. Or maybe you didn’t know that chemtrails are causing the drought?

      The internet and current technology spreads misinformation at the speed of light. Someone needs to provide context and help sort through the clutter. Critical thinking skills are crucial.

      I have more experience with corporate education.

      I think this may be part of why your perspective is skewed. There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from how you teach young adults in their mid-20’s about your business. But there are limits to how applicable those lessons are to educating junior high and high school age students. Education practices need to be pegged to the brain development level of the student.

      Have you ever spoken to a high school class about your field or what you do? I did it a couple of times a year for over a decade. I’ve also spoken to community college and hort classes locally. It’s interesting and fun, but I can tell you that the level of your presentation needs to be adjusted to the level of your audience.

      1. Frankly

        Yes, I spend a good portion of my day debunking the MISinformation

        Yes, because they have not been instructed for where to go to get the right information.  This is a common argument by those defending the “me the almighty academic has the ONLY credible information… so you must come to me or else risk being MISinformed!”  Critical thinking skills today require people know where to go for information and how to vet it.  But at least they have choice with technology… compared to that single tweeded source with all his bias.

        I think this may be part of why your perspective is skewed. There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from how you teach young adults in their mid-20’s about your business.

        I don’t think my perspective is skewed as much as your perspective is stuck.  I have a long history of dealing with the graduates of the crappy education system… helping them become effective workers capable of economic self-sufficiency after their educational abuse at the hands of the education cartel.

        1. Don Shor

          I have a long history of dealing with the graduates of the crappy education system… helping them become effective workers capable of economic self-sufficiency ….

          I have also been doing that, for 34 years.

        2. Don Shor

          Yes, because they have not been instructed for where to go to get the right information. This is a common argument by those defending the “me the almighty academic has the ONLY credible information… so you must come to me or else risk being MISinformed!”

          That’s a huge leap from what I said to a preposterous straw man. Also, no teacher or professor I ever had wore tweed.

          They need to learn critical thinking. They need to have a base of science to understand things that involve science, just as one example from the constant barrage of people who (current fad) think epsom salts cure everything that’s wrong with a plant. They need to know who to ask or where to look, how to sort the information, and how to verify. If you’re going to talk about the toxicity of RoundUp, you need to know what ‘toxicity’ is.

        3. Frankly

          They need to have a base of science to understand things that involve science, just as one example from the constant barrage of people who (current fad) think epsom salts cure everything that’s wrong with a plant.

          I did not know that epsom salts should even be used on a plant.

          But after your comment I did a search and found…

          http://homeguides.sfgate.com/epsom-salts-saltpeter-yards-54734.html

          and…

          http://www.garden.org/articles/articles.php?q=show&id=68

          and…

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaCVoCnzav8

          My point is that there is a lot of good information available 365 days a year 24×7 on a smart phone.   But the education system is pretty much the same as it was when everyone had to go to the library to get the information.

          1. Don Shor

            But the education system is pretty much the same as it was when everyone had to go to the library to get the information.

            Just curious as to how you come to this conclusion? Visiting classrooms? Talking to teachers? I think you’re wrong about this.
            Good articles on epsom salts. You apparently are good at sorting through information on the internet. How did you learn that?

        4. Frankly

          Good articles on epsom salts. You apparently are good at sorting through information on the internet. How did you learn that?

          Young people taught me after they shook off all the creativity-crippling damage from their crappy education.

          Really though.  It has been young people that have pretty much created this access to information.  I research everything before doing anything.  I generally contact human experts when I am making a critical decision to validate what I already think I know, or to help with that “last mile” to get me to a decision.   I have a friend that acted as his own general contractor and did much of the work himself to build a cabin in a mountain community by searching for how to do things on the Internet.  He never went to college and is a landscape maintenance guy (owns his one one-man business).

          The point here is that we are failing to understand, grasp, accept… that the world of information is available at all times if you know how to look for it.  Just like going to the library and finding things takes a bit of training and practice, the Internet does to0.  But it is not difficult.  Otherwise I could not do it. And it is much, much better and more rich and more useful.

          Since it is here, we do not need to be trying to stuff so much detail into the heads of our kids.

          I was cleaning out the garage and found flash cards we made for my son struggling with his American history class in 8th grade.   It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in the subject matter, it was that the teaching method of reading, lecturing, memorizing and testing wasn’t useful and so he wasn’t engaged.  Today he can easily find that information and will do so when his needs or interests surface.  So why waste so much time trying to stuff all those details into the student’s head.  Why not have a class that focuses on a few historical episodes to help development general understanding and critical thinking while educating the students how to do their own research and follow their own arrow for what interests them?

          When you and I went to school we did not have these marvelous machines.  Our only “machine” was our gray matter and our libraries.  We needed instructors to push the detail because there was no easy way for us to get it when we needed it.

          Now I am sitting around the campfire and we talk about the sky and wonder what constellation or planet we are looking at and I pull out my SkyView app and point my phone camera at the area of the sky and have it all labeled.  We can shorten the basic Astronomy class by eliminating all the crappy memorization and testing and just teach the kids how to use the app while giving them assignments that allow them to explore and be creative.  Because they can always just go back to the app when they need to recall that detail.

          By the way… astronomy was a crucible subject for my opinions of the education system.  I took it in high school and again in college as an elective, and was disgusted both times as the instructor could not engage to save his life, and it was all about memorizing and regurgitating endless meaningless facts instead of connecting me to something that I had a profound passion for.

    2. wdf1

      Frankly:  We spend more per student than any other country and we get way too little in return.

      And how do you define “return”?

      Frankly:  And the US should not be comparing itself to other countries…

      You just did:

      We spend more per student than any other country and we get way too little in return.

      Frankly:  We cannot afford for this mission of “creating good citizens”… 

      I think you’re probably just quibbling over my choice of words.  We could spend several comments going back and forth only to come to the conclusion that “good citizens” are “are capable of moving to the next step in life which ultimately needs to result in economic self-sufficiency.”  Care to dispute that? But I think your terminology tends more to imply participation and success in the material economy.

      1. Frankly

        And how do you define “return”?

        Not by growing our welfare class and seeing the labor participation rate rocket higher.  Not by seeing our young male employment rate rocket higher.  Not by seeing our companies complain that they cannot find qualified workers.  Not by seeing so many dropouts and literate graduates.  Not by seeing fewer business starts.  Not by seeing more students actually ready for college. Not for seeing student engagement increase.  Not by hearing from so many bright kids that learned to hate learning because of the crappy methods and system.

        And lastly, not by failing to grasp the opportunity to take our country to the next level of global economic and social leadership taking advantage of the access to information that exists and continues to expand.

        participation and success in the material economy.

        A person has to eventually provide for themselves and their family, don’t you agree?

        The level of participation in the economy (I don’t know what you mean by “material” in this context) is a choice as long as it can support the chosen lifestyle.

        I know people can be happy and satisfied with life having few material wants.  So what I am really advocating is the achievement of happiness and life-satisfaction.  But not that others have to pay for through tax and redistribution.  Because I know there are few truly happy and life-satisfied people that rely on handouts from government to provide for themselves and for their family.

        This “creating good citizens” is more about using the education system to indoctrinate kids to a liberal worldview while also ensuring maximum number of education system employees.  Do that on your own dime and your own time, and stop doing it using our precious and limited public resources that I, the taxpayer, pay for.  I expect a much greater return on investment if you are using MY money.

        1. wdf1

          Frankly:  A person has to eventually provide for themselves and their family, don’t you agree?

          Of course.  I would include that in my definition of “good citizen.”  Wouldn’t  you agree that should be a responsibility of a good citizen of America?  Remember it was you who said, ‘We cannot afford for this mission of “creating good citizens”’

          Frankly:  This “creating good citizens” is more about using the education system to indoctrinate kids to a liberal worldview while also ensuring maximum number of education system employees.

          So the idea of being a good citizen would be more about legal status for you than a state of mind and American formation then?  I would have expected more from one who professes affinity for American exceptionalism.  If your idea of being a good citizen is representative of conservative thinking these days, then I can see why it’s struggling.  You’ve gone off the rails on this because you have ceded anything meaningful to the concept of being a good citizen.

           

           

           

           

  4. wdf1

    New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools

    15/09/2015 – Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today’s connected world, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of digital skills.

    Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” says that even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science.

    Ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics will do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than solely expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services, says the OECD.

    In 2012, 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries reported having a computer at home, but only 72% reported using one at school. Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

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