Voice from the Field

How Technology is Revolutionizing Education

The days when a class of students marched into the school’s computer room to spend an hour on a desktop machine learning how to use a spreadsheet are just about over. Today you are more likely to walk into a classroom and see students, each with a tablet, scattered about, working independently or in small groups, on assignments designed to meet their individual needs.

Technology is enabling the growth of personalized learning and thus the transformation of education as we have known it for generations. This is how:

  • How schools are organized
  • The school calendar and seat time requirements
  • What a textbook is
  • How students can learn at their own pace

Horace Mann returned from his honeymoon in Austria with an idea as to how to organize America’s schools in the dawn of the industrial revolution. The one-room schoolhouse was giving way to more students and more rooms, and we needed a way to organize. The K-12 grade level structure, where students were organized by age, was the imported solution.

Here we are in the twenty-first century and this organizational model is still in place. Today, many schools are doing away with the grade level structure and moving towards multi-age groupings that bring students with similar ability, rather than age, together for instruction.

Similarly, the school calendar that came about in agrarian times so that youngsters could help pick the crops during the summer months is giving way to year-round schools. Some school systems have adopted a four, ten-week semester model with three-week intercessions—no more “summer learning losses” from being on vacation for two months.

Students with a computer and internet access are no longer bound by the “edifice complex.” They can be learning anywhere, not just in school. So why have seat-time requirements to get credit for a course? That places the emphasis on the wrong part of the body. Online instruction has major implications that will affect when and where teaching and learning will take place.

The printed page is giving way to the electronic notebook. Digital devices are more than just an electronic version of a book. With instant access to videos and links, the printed page comes alive, enabling better comprehension of concepts and ideas. Basic reading skills improve with vocabulary expansion by just pressing down on a word you do not understand and having the definition pop up.

The major change, however, is the move away from expecting a group of students to learn the same thing at the same time and at the same pace. Technology has facilitated the ability of students to progress at their own pace and to move forward based on their ability to prove competency in the material being learned.

Say goodbye to remedial programs and summer school. Children are not getting left behind when they are always learning at a level that they can understand. Technology enhances the opportunity for teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each child.

These are exciting times. Technology is revolutionizing education, and a personalized education will be the norm for the twenty-first century. 

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Daniel A. Domenech has served as executive director of AASA The School Superintendents Association since July 2008. Domenech has more than 40 years of experience in public education, twenty-seven of those years served as a school superintendent. Prior to joining AASA, he served as senior vice president for National Urban Markets with McGraw-Hill Education where he was responsible for building strong relationships with large school districts nationwide. Prior to that, he served for seven years as superintendent of the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, the 12th largest school system in the nation with 180,000 students. In addition, he has served on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment Governing Board, on the advisory board for the Department of Defense schools, on the Board of Overseers for the Baldrige Award, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  He is currently chair for Communities in Schools of Virginia and is on the board for the Learning First Alliance, the Center for Naval Analyses, ACT, and USAC (administers the E-Rate).