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3/18/2013
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Educators Share Tech Struggles: From Tablets To Twitter

Educators from around the world shared lessons on how to best utilize mobile, social and other technologies at annual ASCD education conference.

12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT
12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT
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Should teachers use social media? What are the best practices for flipped classrooms? How are educators in other countries using computers and networks?

These were but a few of the 400 session topics at the 68th annual meeting of the ASCD this past weekend in Chicago, where technology's impact on teachers, students and institutions dominated much of the discussion. This year, the nonprofit's three-day conference and exhibit drew more than 10,000 educators and administrators, as well as hundreds of vendors.

But technology isn't a panacea, said ASCD speakers and attendees.

"We must think through how to help students use technology as a tool rather than having that tool rule our lives," Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, declared during his keynote in the first general session Saturday. Rather than focus on tech skills per se, Hrabowski said, "the key skill every student should have coming to college, other than reading, is the ability to ask good questions."

[ Will distributing textbooks in an open source model help schools invest limited funding where it's most needed? See Open Education: Take Back The Curriculum. ]

At New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., which gave iPads this school year to 600 freshmen and 25 teachers, the issue is professional development, not hardware or software.

But finding time to train teachers on best uses can itself be the problem. "The obstacle, in a nutshell, is finding time to develop the teachers in the use of the technology," Linda Knier, director of academic services, told InformationWeek.

Indeed, school administrators elsewhere in the world struggle with many of the same problems. They worry how best to deploy technology into their schools, and then make sure it is being used effectively by teachers and students alike.

"For the first five years, we worried about infrastructure," said Siew Hoong Wong, deputy director-general of education in Singapore, which runs a tightly organized, centrally managed national education system.

But that $2 billion project, completed in 2000, was followed by a bigger one: getting teachers to use the technology for teaching and learning, integrating it with pedagogy, learning and the needs of future employers. Those needs, he said, were about "teamwork, communications [and] solving problems together."

Wong was a panelist in a session Saturday titled "The Future of Education in a Globally Connected World," which attracted a standing-room-only audience of more than 200 people.

Panelist Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation, admitted the role of technology in his home country of Finland was a weakness, both because of a somewhat "outdated infrastructure" and the belief among some teachers that "young people may already be spending too much with technology at home."

"If I had to name one area for concern and improvement," Sahlberg said, "it certainly is the use of technology."

Last year, Thailand bought 800,000 tablets and gave one to every first grader, said panelist Benjalug Namfa, deputy secretary general, Office of Basic Education Commission, Ministry of Education, Thailand.

As Thailand's 40,000 schools and 400,000 basic education teachers now try to sort out the best uses for tablets, the devices are already having an unintended consequence in the rural areas. Because teachers can record themselves reading text, students' parents are also learning basic literary skills, she said.

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