What if we had technologies that could give teachers insight into precisely what is going on in students’ minds as they grapple with a difficult math problem? What if technology could enable a teacher to help each student work at his or her own pace and receive individualized instruction and attention? What if teachers could use technology to draw on the best work of other teachers and to keep parents up to date on whether and how well their children were completing assignments?
What if technology could make all of our skilled teachers even better?
Skepticism is understandable among readers who are old enough to recall the hype that accompanied the arrival of computers, television and even radio in classrooms. However, as you will discover in these pages, new adaptive education technologies and tools are being used with encouraging results at a small but growing number of schools around the country.
At Teachers College, our work in this burgeoning field of technology is a natural continuation of our legacy as pioneers in learner-centered, hands-on education. Theories of grounded cognition and learner decision-making advanced by current TC faculty members such as John Black and Charles Kinzer build directly on the foundational ideas of John Dewey, E. L. Thorndike and others, who held that people learn by making sense, often on the most tactile level, of their environment. Studies conducted by these researchers have shown that using adaptive education technologies can result in significantly deeper understanding than simply reading information from a page.
The intelligent technologies now coming into use also have another capability that excites education researchers: By recording literally every keystroke that users make, the new tools generate a wealth of data about how people learn. That information ultimately will enable us to create better curricula and employ more effective teaching methods that are geared to the needs and strengths of each individual learner.
Make no mistake: This is a defining moment for the future of education throughout the world. Technology is the new frontier, and the time for exploration is now. That is why we at TC are helping to lead high-powered discussions in academic circles and beyond on how best to capture, standardize and share the data mined from new technologies for the benefit of all. We need to convince policymakers and the public at large of the great opportunity before us and of the critical need to make intelligent long-term investments in education technology. If we succeed, I believe that our efforts—and those of our colleagues around the world—will help to shape a new era in which teachers are empowered to help all students and learners of all ages reach their full potential. And that is no hype.
Susan Fuhrman (ph.d., ’77)