Stacey Childress, who leads the Next Generation Learning group at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has a very timely piece in the current issue of Harvard Business Review. In "Rethinking School," Childress outlines the foundations that support the vision of a more effective and practical education in the United States.
As expected, Childress underscores the importance of technology in advancing this vision. She immediately touches the 'third rail' of education: teacher productivity. "U.S. public schools have been largely impervious to the productivity gains that other sectors have realized from technology, for two main reasons. First, until recently, they hadn't widely adopted technology: Education ranked dead last, a 2002 Commerce Department study reported, in deployment of technology relative to number of employees. Second, when technology was deployed, it wasn't being used to do anything differently--a problem many industries have long since confronted and resolved" (78-79).
Rather than berate anyone for not adopting more technology, she (happily) spells out exactly what technology can now offer the education sector. "A new generation of sophisticated adaptive courseware and schools that blend the best of teacher- and computer-delivered instruction are making personalized learning approaches feasible and affordable, not as a replacement for teachers but as a way to give them the tools they need to become dramatically more effective" (79).
She goes on, "Adaptive software makes personalized learning practical through a combination of data analysis and pattern recognition technology--something like a more sophisticated version of Netflix's recommendation engine--which tailors instruction by offering up different content and exercises depending on how students did on the previous one" (79).
We're just starting this phase in education, she points out. This writer has to wonder, however: how will independent schools respond to adaptive software? Will we take the typical "wait and see" route, or will we be bold in pursuing blended classrooms that take advantage of the best that face-to-face has to offer and the best that adaptive software has to offer?