November 6th, 2011
10:47 AM ET

The promise of networked schools

Editor’s Note: Robert J. Hutter is Chairman of Edmodo, which aims to "help educators harness the power of social media to customize the classroom for each and every learner", as well as a Managing Partner of Learn Capital, a venture capital firm concentrating on the global education sector. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert J. Hutter.

By Robert J. Hutter - Special to CNN

Technology has long had its supporters and detractors in K-12 education. But until recently, regardless of one’s view, technology has had a minor role to play in the everyday work of K-12 schooling. This is now changing at rapid speed.

Advances in easily portable computing devices and the growing presence of wireless Internet access in schools have quietly worked to create a genuine tipping point that classroom educators are now leveraging to change the very scope of their ability to teach.

Thanks to new devices, their connectivity and the rise of cloud-based collaboration services designed for school, teachers are turning their classrooms into always-on learning communities. They are bringing the educational power of the web directly into the fabric of their conversations. I believe this will lead to one of the most dramatic improvements in K-12 learning ever seen.

Thanks in large measure to the genius of Steve Jobs, today’s ultraportable computing devices have long battery lives, are durable, and are as powerful as yesterday’s high-end desktop PC. Many of these devices already cost less than a graphing calculator and are just a few dollars more than a new science textbook.

At these price points, iPod touches, iPhones, iPads, Android devices and netbooks have already scaled the schoolhouse walls. A recent Project Tomorrow study cited in Education Week pegged a full two thirds of U.S. parents as expecting to purchase a device for their kids to use in school in the upcoming 12 months.

The Internet can at last be harnessed in education for what it actually is - the largest repository of learning objects in existence. On the Internet, instructional content lives beside content that is only incidentally instructional, but any item of content rapidly transforms into something educational when, curated by a teacher, it occupies the center of a classroom conversation.

Because the cloud connects teachers too, educators quickly share knowledge with each other about what practices are more powerful than others – and which resources are more appropriate for students at vastly different places in their learning journey. With just a few clicks, fifth grade teachers can let students track data as it is live-streamed from a radio telescope pointed at the Andromeda Galaxy; tenth grade teachers can provide their students with the tools to interpret this data and can even let them guide the telescope’s controls itself.

As educators begin to directly incorporate powerful web resources into their lessons, they not only engage their students at levels that maximize excitement and attendance, they also help create a connected network of classrooms and learners that allows a constant cycle of improvement to take root.

These forces are already driving a generational change in the nature of educational experiences available to students. The acceleration of this change is only just beginning. With it comes the promise of a new normal of deeply meaningful, highly collaborative learning that will have a profound impact on education outcomes across the globe.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert J. Hutter.

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Topics: Education • Innovation • Technology

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. L. Kumar, EdD (sci)

    I have had experience with education issues in the science, math and technology areas. One major block to the use of technology in schools is the IT chief in the schools. Teachers often want to use technologies such as videoconferencing, blogging, online collaboration, etc., but are not allowed. Students are even further ahead – they want to use their own devices in the school. But no. There's always a fear of a lack of responsibility by students – a very US trait – students here are given very little credence. Even when policies that relax older Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) are passed, they are often negated by Boards (a second large block to creative education). The idea of cloud storage is a further problem. The IT issue is most often (forgive me Mr Gates) an IBM/PC/network mindset, where IT people feel the need to be super-controlling. There's no need for all of this. The issue of online and/or hybrid education is another block, in this case by teachers. Most educators (this includes administrators) never ever, will never ever, read research (another block), and have no idea of the learning benefits to the general or specific learning styles and populations. I could go on and on about science. Suffice it to say that the main issue there is the turn-off by teachers thinking science is a game of memory. This is driven by the AP tests of the College Board, and is a complete strangle on the ability of students to truly experiment, and love, any of the sciences. A complete shame.

    November 6, 2011 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Amyscha

      Hi, this is a ceonmmt.To delete a ceonmmt, just log in and view the post's ceonmmts. There you will have the option to edit or delete them.

      February 12, 2012 at 1:10 am | Reply
  2. V. Werner

    I am not an educator but am old enough to know how education used to be, i.e. not rammed down one's throat. Have to agree with the above post to some degree about the "blocks" he talks about. Education should be a creative experience, allowing one to think outside the box especially in the sciences. We have become so rigid in how everything is supposed to be that students learning and growing has become stifled. We live in such a rich world of technology but many fear the gateways to learning that it opens up. As far as Bill Gates goes, do you really think he cares? He's one of the richest guys in the world, never graduated from college but he says he was good at math and knew how to use his math skills to get him where he is today. He is far from a good example for today's youth. Really did not know what Bill G. was talking about and I do not think he did either. Suffice it to say, money or lack thereof, is not the answer to a good education. Personally, I think it is a calling and the ones who have the calling would die on the vine in today's educational arena.

    November 6, 2011 at 11:43 am | Reply
  3. Shirley Haering

    Like your show even though I am a conservative, interesting conversation ..I can only listen to Liberals just so long, total honesty is not always there..The school problems are many but more money for teachers are not the answer..When students walk out of high school at 2PM that is a teacher problem.....Our children had many opportunities for job because minium wage was more reasonable 49 plus years ago...Everytime the minimum goes up, the jobs become fewer....In the last few years schools have eliminated shop, gym and other subjects that kids need to be prepared for the real world... Libs have changed History books to show this country in a bad light...We have made many mistakes under all parties..I wish parties would disappear and have the good of the Country be first in all minds.......Thanks

    November 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  4. Jef Kurfess

    As counter-intuitive as it sounds, we will get more college grads if we make college harder, not easier, to get into. We have set up a tiered system of education that promises a college degree for everyone, regardless of high school preparation. California's community college system, the largest in the country, with 112 campuses, has no entrance requirements whatsoever. It is pitched to our kids as the first choice, the cheap, smart choice for college. So, our kids, knowing this system doesn't care what courses they take, what grades they get, or whether they even graduate from high school at all, proceed to blow off high school. They get to the local CC and discover it's hard and drop out. We are producing generations of kids who are not prepared for college or anything else either.

    Stop encouraging the mistaken notion that higher education if for everyone. It is not. There is no easy way to get a good education. We need to get back to our more free market roots, to instilling the notion that you get what you work for.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    There shouldn't be a standard procedure for educating children. In well-to-do circles they are individually catered for by teachers and sometimes parents. Yet many in public schools can still receive a good education without this privilege.

    November 7, 2011 at 6:11 am | Reply
  6. ajd041

    You all are so wrong in every way because none of you are an actual high school student like me. I'm here to tell you that I've always felt technology was helpful in a classroom environment. At my school students are ENCOURAGED to bring their own devices to school its up to the teachers if students can use it in classrooms. In fact I'm using my tablet to type this comment rightnow before my classes start. Most of my teachers don't really care if I use my tablet to take notes our do other school related things when I have some free time during class. My teachers also use an online program to post grades and homework etc. With assignments online students can find them even if theyre sick. I agree with the comment before mine and say by having a standardized form of education students suffer because that form will only cater to a small group of students. The remaining students willmost likely not do as good through no fault of their own.

    November 7, 2011 at 8:56 am | Reply

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