Cutting-Edge Schools Published 2006-05-24

It is interesting to speak with different stakeholders in the educational process.  Each has a different idea of the importance of technology in their schools.  But one thing that most have in common is their concept of “cutting-edge” technology.  Their ideas usually include the latest super-powered computer (PC or MAC) or the latest release of a software package or non-traditional hardware/software such as voice recognition software or INK technology.   Coupled with these ideas is a pairing of cutting-edge technology with cutting-edge schools.  To be a cutting-edge school, you need to use cutting-edge technology.

Ok, maybe I am exposing my bias but when I hear “cutting-edge” I think of the latest and greatest.  The term not only includes a time coefficient but also a quality component.  To this point, a cutting-edge school should be characterized as one that is affecting learning with the latest and greatest processes and tools.  This may or may not include what I call flash technology, or technology that makes news headlines.  (Apologies to you Macromedia/Adobe Flash users for stealing your term.)

Let me illustrate by examining two schools: Apple High and Orange Elementary.

Apple High has recently introduced a project that will outfit the school with a new multi-media conference room.  In discussing funding issues with the independent school’s development office, it was clear that raising money to pay for this project would benefit from the fact that it is about flash technology or technology that sells. 

Orange Elementary is limited by their stock of old computers, but they are introducing a different set of cutting-edge technology – Blogs and RSS.  The funding for this project does not benefit from flash technology.  An RSS feed by itself is ugly.  Have you ever heard of a capital campaign to raise money for RSS or an eRate grant for RSS?  Ok, RSS is free but you get the point.

So which school is cutting-edge?  Clearly, one cannot tell by just looking at the technology introduced by each of the projects.  Both schools are introducing what I would characterize as cutting-edge technology, but it is what they do with the technology that will determine if they become cutting-edge schools.  Apple High has a big budget project and with the technology, the school has the potential to really enhancing learning.  But it will be the instruction on digital storytelling that will be the true hero.  Similarly, Orange Elementary can introduce formative assessment and reflective learning with their blogs and RSS feeds.  Again, it will not be the technology that defines the school but the penetration of novel educational techniques that will affect learning and thus improve the quality of the school.

My concern is that too many of the stakeholders in education are incorrectly restricting cutting-edge technology to (usually expensive) flash technology and identify a school as cutting-edge because they have this flash technology.  In an article from the Economist magazine, I read about a particular under performing school in Los Angeles USD.  A representative from the teachers’ union suggested money for new technology will help the school.  What a cliché!  The money should be for a project to improve learning and if that project includes a technology component, great.