Friday, July 26, 2013

The Technology Fee Question

Since posting my first blog post yesterday, I have received several emails from parents concerning the new technology fee that was instituted by the Board of Trustees last spring.  Parents have asked me the following questions:

1). Why are we paying a fee that costs more (over the course of the lease) than buying our own MacBook would cost?
2). Can we buy our own device and bring it, thereby, avoiding the full cost of the technology fee?

Let me explain the rationale behind the lease (which predates my arrival, obviously).

I have been at a school for the last five years which has operated under a "bring your own device" model.  In short, it was an unmitigated disaster from a pedagogical standpoint.  When students "brought their own device" students had a wide range of devices. These devices varied from handheld devices, to tablets, to MacBooks, to Notebook PCs. Teachers were unable to plan or integrate technology into their lessons because the students had such varied devices with divergent capabilities within the classroom.  Basically, teachers were relegated to having students surf the web.

In order for technology to be truly integrated into teaching and learning, I firmly believe students need to have the same software and devices as their teacher, AND the school needs to have some degree of control over what is downloaded onto the computers.  Our goal, after much study and research, is for the MacBooks to be a transformational device -- a "game changer," if you will.  Whatever, the quality of other devices out there, we think it important for the technology that the children use in the classroom to be the same.

In addition, if we allowed everyone to bring their own devices, we would not be able to pay for current program and lease (to which the Board has made a commitment). The technology fee does not merely cover the costs of the MacBooks, themselves. It is going to pay for infrastructure (such as wifi), server upgrades, software, hardware, repairs, faculty development and training, and staffing (which has had to increase with the 1:1 initiative).   In short, if we let everyone bring their own devices, we would have to shut down the program we have, entirely.  That being said, we are at the cutting edge of educational change in our region. Unfortunately, being on the cutting edge is expensive. The Board instituted the program at no cost to our stakeholders and gave everyone their MacBooks "for free," but we are going to have to charge everyone, going forward, if we want the program to continue.

 I know that for most of us, an HA education is a huge financial commitment. However, it would probably surprise everyone to know that, while we have sound finances and operate in a fiscally responsible manner, HA tuition does not cover the entire cost of educating our children here. Our teachers are paid significantly less that the public school teachers in the area, and our tuition is significantly less than our NAIS peers throughout the Southeast.  Obviously, we do not receive state funding, so fees like the technology fee are essential if we want to continue to provide the finest education in the Wiregrass.

I hope that addresses your collective concerns.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

HA and 21st Century Learning

George Washington, so the story goes, wakes up one morning and finds himself magically transported to the year 2013.  President Washington wanders out of Mt. Vernon and sees a row of large, metal boxes on wheels, and he’s amazed! He asks a tourist about these strange contraptions, and the tourist explains, “Oh, those are buses. You can go inside one of those, and they will take you to other places – way faster than horses could back in your day.” 

“Wow,” exclaims President Washington, “That’s amazing!”

So our 1st President gleefully hops onto a bus with the intention of  discovering how his country has changed.  He travels around Washington, DC, the city that bears his name, and he is overwhelmed by the airplanes, computers, cell phones, televisions, highways, and all the other trappings of modern society.

Finally, President Washington comes across a local school.  He walks inside the school, and is stunned to see a big screen television in the foyer and a media center full of all kinds of contraptions that he does not understand.  

Inside a classroom he sees pupils quietly sitting in rows taking notes, while the teacher sits at his desk and delivers his lecture. With relief, Washington exclaims, “Thank goodness, there’s something that hasn’t changed!”

While this joke is funny, it’s also poignant. The world has changed, but in many important ways, education has not. Education is a field that has been particularly adept at resisting change. To this point, I recently read a quote from a Vice President of McDonald’s corporation: “The difference between your industry [education] and mine is that in my industry, we have to change before we need to, while, in your industry, you won’t change even when it’s clear that you must.”

By taking the bold step of initiating a 1:1 laptop initiative, we are already ahead of other educational institutions in the Wiregrass. As daunting (and expensive) as that move was, putting wireless technology in hands of our students and teachers was the easy part. Now comes the hard work of using that technology to transform education as we know it at Houston Academy.

If you look back at my blog post in December of 2012, I reference the verity that giving students computers means very little if it does not change educational practice.   

In my mind, technology is not necessarily an end; technology is a tool for our students to engage in 21st Century Learning. In case you’re not familiar with this now ubiquitous term, “21st Century Learning” is the buzzword in today’s educational vernacular. Researchers and business leaders have identified six key competencies ("the 6 C's) that students must possess in order to be successful in the world and in the workforce.  Those six competencies are (in no particular order):

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity  
  • Critical thinking
  • Cross-cultural competency
  • Character

I will expound on these competencies in future blog posts, but for now, suffice to say that the educational literature suggests that we can significantly impact student learning in competencies 1-5 through our 1:1 laptop program.  However, we have a tremendous amount of work to do in order make effective use of our technology.

The truth is, however, we must change the way we educate our children, and we must do it now. The Houston Academy Board of Trustees has laid out an ambition strategic plan, which calls for nothing less than transforming way we approach education here in the Wiregrass. Using technology as a tool to give our students the 21st century skills they need to be responsible citizens in a competitive, global workplace should be a proverbial “game changer.” As far as I can tell, we are the ONLY school in our region that has embarked upon this arduous task. I hope you are as excited as the teachers and faculty are about the educational journey upon which we are about to embark.

I can’t wait for the school year to start!