Technology in the Classroom: Why It Needs to Catch Up -- And Fast

American students need to be educated in an innovative system that brilliantly and elegantly integrates the same technology required to succeed in their lives.
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Universities are paradoxical places. On one hand, they are institutions that exist to fire the imagination to embrace the new. And as we know, many of the technologies that have changed the world as we know it, were started on college campuses.

But at the same time, universities are also bastions of conservatism, structured to preserve tradition. Many of those in leadership positions view change with a skeptical eye, seeing themselves as guardians against overly-rapid, unconsidered adoption of new ideas which might be faddish or even dangerous.

The long-standing debate over the role of technology in education - stretching back to the 90s and the role of computers in the classroom, is a perfect example of this inherent tension. The more conservative factions in the university ecosystem, those who argued vociferously against computers as destructive agents that threatened the intimate relationship between professors and students, eventually lost their struggle. And now it's hard to imagine the way it used to be.

During this period, as universities debated the role of technology, business had no such philosophical struggle. Corporations quickly saw that first computers - and than the Internet - were capable of bringing unprecedented efficiencies and economies to their operations. From supply-side integration to inventory management to instant communication between far-flung operations, the technology revolution was responsible for profoundly improved productivity as well as innovation.

Yet, paradoxically, American education did not see nearly the same benefits as American business. Over the last twenty years, as our universities became wired and connected, as large domains of education and instruction were put online, we've seen a decline in relative rankings of American college students compared to their peers worldwide.

The situation is even worse at the K-12 level. Nearly 30 years ago, the National Commission in Excellence in Education warning President Reagan about a "rising tide of mediocrity" in our public schools. Since then, we've seen President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative, and now President Obama's "Race to the Top." There's a chorus warning us that our global competitiveness is at risk, but that chorus fragments in quarrelsome voices about the best solution.

From where I sit, as the CEO of a company that is introducing a new digital textbook concept built expressly for the education market, the problem America faces has been a lack of innovation across the board. We've been starved for new ideas in the development of new hardware, in the creation of a new learning ecosystem built expressly into that hardware, and in integration of that into the classroom. This has been well-documented in Larry Cuban's insightful book about computers in the classroom Oversold and Underused.

Somehow, we've come to believe that simply putting computers into the hands of students is enough to trigger a revolution in learning. But that's like saying that simply putting fancy new MRI machines and PET scans into doctor's offices will create a revolution in diagnostics. An entirely new training system and medical infrastructure was created around scanning technology in medicine, and a parallel new ecosystem needs to be built around technology in the classroom.

Training teachers - yes, that includes university professors with impressive credentials and equally impressive egos - on how to integrate technology into the pedagogical experience is critical. It is the only way, in fact, that American education can recapture the global leadership position it once had.

Our Kno device was designed to hasten this adoption trajectory. The way it integrates video with a professor's own course material and the students' notes - in a rich and fluid environment - points to a new and superior academic experience.

Without a doubt, our competitiveness as a nation depends on creating the next generation of information workers, business leaders, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers. They need to be educated in an innovative system that brilliantly and elegantly integrates the same technology required to succeed in their lives. The device my company has built - the KNO - is one step in that direction. There will be others. It's time to put aside the old debate about whether technology in the classroom is a good or a bad thing. We know it's a good thing. The challenge is to make it better.

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