One of the best ways to prepare students for the future is to fuse curricula with tools to bring those ideas home. Investing in 21st century classrooms exponentially increases opportunities for teaching and learning.
Today's classrooms bear little resemblance to those of my youth. Look around and you're apt to find a treasure trove of technology: wireless computer carts laden with netbooks or notebooks, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, projectors, digital displays, response systems, video conferencing and even digital textbooks. In turn, these technologies have changed how students learn and how classes are taught.
Thanks to 21st century technologies, students learn more effectively. Take Glen Cove School District in Nassau County, N.Y., which earlier this year earned an award from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The school deployed whiteboards, response systems, video and film production, and Web 2.0 tools. Glen Cove schools use these technologies to promote creativity, innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Pennsylvania's Classrooms for the Future program has placed more than 140,000 notebooks and other instructional technology in high schools throughout the state.
It's through these technologies that institutions can create new learning opportunities in the classroom; for example, through distance learning and targeted programs for special-needs students. After all, equitable access is one of the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS•S) essential conditions for effective use of technology.
One exciting aspect of interactive learning tools, such as response systems (or “clickers”) and game-based learning, is that teachers can use them to gauge student understanding and tailor their teaching on the fly.
IT investments in education also facilitate project-based learning and student collaboration. Research from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, for example, indicates the state's Classrooms for the Future program has helped to improve student instructional pace and quality of work.
And it's not just the students who are more motivated. Access to the latest technologies helps reinvigorate the classroom and boost morale among educators.
Once exposed to new technologies, even teachers who didn't want to use, say, a document camera and a whiteboard, now can't imagine doing their jobs without them.
Educational return on investment can be difficult to quantify, given intangible factors such as increased student engagement and motivation. But don't let that stop you. In New Mexico, Albuquerque Public Schools gauges ROI by determining whether or not a tech project increases opportunities for teaching and learning.
Indeed, investments in 21st century classrooms are critical. After all, why shouldn't we give children every opportunity and advantage to succeed?
Making every classroom a 21st century classroom is a top goal for 72% of entrants to CDW•G and Discovery Education's annual Win a Wireless Lab sweepstakes. However, only 25% of respondents rated the state of technology at their school as good or excellent. And one-third of entrants reported using technology in class once a week or less.
Bob Kirby is vice president of K–12 sales for CDW•G, a leading technology provider to government and education.