John Couch is a former (and FIRST) Apple VP of Education and has written, along with Jason Towne, an excellent primer for anyone that wants to understand how tech can be used properly to transform learning in our schools.
As my readers know, I only ask authors that I like to answer questions, and I liked John’s book quite a bit, so here are his 10 Questions.
I recommend this book for any educator that still hesitates about the use of ed tech in the classroom, any administrator that thinks tech doesn’t change test scores, and any parent that thinks spending tax dollars on tech is a waste of money.
Q1: Can you give us a 5000 foot view of your book? What inspired you to write it?
Rewiring Education looks at a series of my life experiences, from memorizing my way through high school, to my college days, and my early years working at Apple with Steve Jobs. It’s through those experiences and seeing just how unique and how differently my four children and sixteen grandchildren learned, that I realized how much school needed to change. What I learned along the way was that education is never going to truly change from top down, it needed to happen from the ground up, with parents, educators, and communities demanding change. This is why we wrote the book, to start a conversation and help initiate a call to action for all of these stakeholders to be the change they want to see.
Q2: You use the simile that technology enhances our intellects much like a bicycle enhances our muscles. Can you elaborate a little on that? Should you preface that with “the proper use of technology can enhance…?”
Yes, the proper use of technology can enhance our intellect just like the proper use of a bicycle can enhance our muscles. Technology has the power to transform and redesign education in ways that will benefit all stakeholders, including students, teachers, and entire communities. As I point out in the book, Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model, which is based on his extensive research on the Maine Learning Initiative, says educational technology can be used in four primary ways: as substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition. Unfortunately, the primary way it’s currently being used in classrooms right now is as a substitution. What we must do, though things like adaptive learning and challenge-based learning, is to begin moving more towards redefinition.
Q3: I have found that resistance to using tech in schools comes mainly from adults. How do we win over educators that don’t like to use tech in their classrooms?
I have classified people as digital natives, digital immigrants, or digital aliens. All students today are digital natives having grown up with technology, but they’re being taught mainly by digital immigrants or even worse, digital aliens. I think it’s important that we introduce the most relevant technologies to all educators so that they are able to use them in meaningful ways themselves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People can only perceive what they see,” so unless educators have direct experience with technology and what they’re students can actually do with it, we can’t expect them to get behind it. It’s also important that educators get the training they need to use these technologies in effective and efficient ways.
Q4: Computers have been in classrooms since at least the mid 1990’s yet we haven’t seen the needle move too much on student achievement. What have we been doing wrong?
Again, it comes down to how the technology is being used. When technology is used as nothing more than a substitution for things that can just as easily be done without it, it makes that technology almost useless. For example, if we have students reading from a website rather than a book, that’s using technology, but it’s really not doing anything different. The same goes for watching a lecture on video rather than watching it live or having students take tests online instead of using a pencil and paper. Technology in educatio n must go beyond substitution and start augmenting, modifying, and redefining the learning process.
Q5: You are obviously no fan of the “sit-n-get” type of instruction. When you were with Apple, what did your trainings look like?
It is primarily case studies from various industries that were relevant to the challenges of Apple’s future success. We looked at real-world examples and were then challenged to use critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration to apply what we learned to the things we wanted to do. Rather than memorizing easily found information and being tested on it, it’s imperative that schools learn to adopt this type of real-world learning.
Q6: You state “Rewiring education is all about a series of challenging and relevant experiments that play off pre-existing experiences where an engaging and sometimes unpredictable, learning process ultimately leads to a clear understanding of the results.” Sounds great, but who pays for that complete paradigm shift in how we teach?
First of all, it’s students that are currently paying for it by not being adequately prepared for real-world success, whether that’s in college or in the workforce. Society is also beginning to pay for not making these changes. We must get out of the business of thinking short-term and prepare for longer-term success, and kids can no longer wait for us to get it right.
Q7: How do you see the role of the teacher changing in the future?
The rapid rise in technology is making access to information easier and faster than ever, which means that teachers will no longer be needed to simply regurgitate static information. Teachers will need to play more of a facilitator role than ever before, being a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. Their role will become much more focused on helping students put things in context and showing them how to more efficiently access the right information, how to critically think about it, and how to best utilize it to solve problems.
Q8: How do we overcome the silos of tech companies trying to sell product to education and actually making things that truly EVERYONE can use?
Not all technology is created equal. Apple Education has always focused on empowering the creativity of students, which is why we made all of our creativity applications free. The choice really comes down to whether educators are more interested in standardization or innovation, but if they want to improve the learning experience in significant ways then only the latter will accomplish this. Students really need to be at the cutting edge of technology if they are to be ready for a changing world of opportunities.
Q9: How do we as a nation, address the equity issue when it comes to Educati onal Technology? Technology can solve lots of educational problems, but if you don’t have access to it, then you are screwed.
All students must have access to a reliable Internet connection and a device of some sort to access it. Several years ago, the federal Connect ED program started to address this issue by providing Internet access to all schools. As Apple’s representative, Apple funded a 100-million-dollar program where we supported 114 96% reduced lunch schools in 29 states with infrastructure, computers, content and teacher training. Research is being conducted and available. We dedicate an entire chapter to access in the book, including some pretty innovate ways that districts and schools are tackling this problem. Financial issues will always exist, so it’s important that we learn to throw creativity as the primary solution to these problems rather than a checkbook.
Q10: Do we suffer in education from a paralysis of choice? Too many shiny objects, too many differing pedagogical choices? So much so that we can’t decide which ones are good and which are not? How do we overcome that?
It’s important that we don’t lose sight of what schools are all about—the students. As Harvard professor and best-selling author, Todd Rose, points out in his book, The End of Average, there is no such thing as an average student and so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reaching and teaching them. Every student is unique and should be recognized as individuals and the only way to do this to scale is with the help of technology. So, when trying to decide which technologies to use over others all you really have to do is ask yourself which of them is most capable of helping students reach their fullest potential as individuals.
Rewiring Education is available all over the place.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.