Education and Technology: A role for philanthropy

The more I visit schools and hear about the challenges for teaching, the more I am convinced that educators must move VERY quickly to make better use of the phenomenal technologies that are available to them. I have met teachers who understand how it works and are transforming the engagement of students in their schools. One sharp high schooler made reference to a teacher that integrated blogging and open-source voice-over IP into the language curriculum. ‘By making these tools available to us, she changed us from students into scholars!”

I remember Eric Nord, entrepreneur and philanthropist extraordinaire, once cautioned our trustees saying that people in the foundation world tended to be risk averse. I find this to be true with far too many of my colleagues from foundations who tend to be surprisingly hesitant about pushing the technology and learning agenda in schools. There are exceptions of course. The work of people at the Hewlett Foundation and the George Lucas Foundations are leaders in seeking innovative solutions to the challenges facing teaching and learning in our nation’s public schools. Edutopia, published by the Lucas Foundation provides examples of how technology serves to usher in new ways that students can learn.

I think that high-stakes testing in schools and even the way States try to fix “the standards” are thwarting creativity in the classroom. Worse, is the system of so-called “assessment” which is emerging as a orgy of testing that focuses on a fixed moment of time in a child’s development. Rather than seeing learning as a process, current assessment tools serve the needs of statisticians but not teachers. Therein lies one of the huge rifts in our systems. There is a bureaucracy in the Departments of Education that appear to fetish-ize data collection and assessments and then there is the teacher in the classroom who feels pressured by the “officials” to give the tests and report back. The current system is an abomination, yet we in the philanthropic field, for the most part feel the need to tinker with the current system rather than seek out and then support systems that promote real learning.

We cannot ignore the power of social software an its impact on the future of education of young people in our schools. Appropriate use of technology can and will result in budgetary savings. One area alone is the textbook frenzy. In Ohio schools, the yearly budget for one students text book is $900 per student. One of my favorite websites is TED. Check the following website that talks about how technology can change the way a school system deals with textbooks in schools. Check out the
I also suggest you visit the Federation of American Scientists site and browse their research on education technology.
Reference related studies by the Federation of American Scientists

Most of my colleagues use their computer in the following ways: 1. an expensive electric typewriter, 2. The thing on which you get and read your e-mail. 3. The thing on which you can occasionally shop. 4. A resource to read information that are typically brochure-like websites.

In addition to philanthropy program officers, too many teachers are comfortable with very antiquated forms of communication such as e-mail and do not understand the new technologies and impact they are having on teaching and learning. They really need to be challenged by visionary superintendents and principles to explore how the tools can enhance learning. More importantly, teachers and education leaders need to understand the way to assess learning with these tools is almost impossible given current assessment tools. Learning with and through technology (especially with the use of e-portfolios) allows teachers to view learning as a process rather than a static moment in time, which is what the current system uses. It is like the difference between viewing a students process on carefully edited video presentation, opposed to a series of photos.

In my opinion, Philanthropy can play an important role by providing teachers and school building leaders with opportunities for focused professional development in these areas. Concentrated programs bringing teachers and software program developers on a regular basis would serve the enhance education tremendously.

We in the philanthropy field do ourselves a great disservice (not to mention our grantees) by NOT engaging in conversations about these important technological tools that are changing the very lives our young people experience…..except in public schools! We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent in this area. I welcome comments.

4 thoughts on “Education and Technology: A role for philanthropy

  1. Laura

    It seems to me that schools went from being places where new things happened to museums of technology. I vaguely remember when only the poorest schools didn’t have equipment. Some of that equipment, I know, came from Apple and Microsoft, but then, it seems, the money dried up and/or the time wasn’t committed to show teachers how to use that equipment effectively. Or maybe the equipment was there too soon. It just feels that schools–even colleges–are so out of sync. It seems overwhelming to think about how to overcome that. And I think you’re right, it has to happen soon, and it will likely happen with the help of philanthropists.

    Great blog, by the way! Going to follow it from now on. 🙂

  2. John

    Thanks for the comment Laura. You point to a chronic problem with philanthropy and that is a lack of stick-to-itness. For reasons that are intrinsic to the way distributions are made, Foundations of all types often stop funding after three years. Typically they expect government or some other entity to pick up when they withdraw funding. Teacher training and professional development is where philanthropy and state/national governments must synchonize goals and expectation. Currently, State professional development programs are, well a mess. They are fractured in content and too often determined by erratic funding. When budget cuts are required, Professional development is one of the first to take hits. That explains why there are so many outdated and underutlized computers in classrooms across the country. The corporations effectively dumped the hardware as a teaser to get schools to subscribe to the software. But they made a mistake, like building a building without providing and endowment for its maintenance and upkeep. Monies should have been provided for at least three to five years of carefully developed training programs to help teachers understand how the technology can be used to foster learning. But we can learn from the mistake and leverage funds to correct it, but we have to do it quickly. The issue you raise is critical and one where State and Federal legislators can and must do a better job in providing focus. From my perspective, it is a kink in the current educational system. Thanks for the thoughts, I will write more on this interesing topic, but welcome additional comments from your and/or colleauges who may agree or disagree.

  3. John

    John ,
    Thanks for sharing.
    The consortium has been holding counselor summits over the last six months with the hope that these folks will help encourage teachers in their school to make better use of technology to help their students become more technology literate and to be better informed and prepared to make career choices that are available in today’s workforce .
    We are finding some major gaps in terms of knowledge and awareness in the this area among students ,parents and teachers .
    You may have noticed in the report that we sent you from the STEMM /21st Century Skills Summit that we helped organize and present last February that there was a recommendation that a summit type event be held that is focused on the workforce area .Without a higher level of awareness about the skill set and knowledge that is needed in today’s economy , students will continue to go through their school experience without attaining the skills and knowledge that they will need to be successful .
    It certainly appears as though the lack of relevance to today’s workforce needs causes young people to drift and not invest their time and energy in these important areas .My sense is that until we are able to build a better case for the skills and knowledge that is needed, we will continue to lag being the gains in student achievement that we know are needed .

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