Voices of Digital Communities

Online in School: A Revolution in Progress

If you follow this blog, you'll know that the three founders of ICF have been out on the road visiting the Top Seven Intelligent Communities ...

by / April 17, 2009
If you follow this blog, you'll know that the three founders of ICF have been out on the road visiting the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of 2009.  The visits are exhausting, because our hosts have so much to show us and such a limited time in which to do it.  They are also deeply inspiring, which is what keeps happily us on our feet for those 16-hour days.   

My site visits were all in North America.  During them, I visited three public schools in three different communities and came away with good news.  Educators are using broadband and IT to make teaching profoundly better.  In Bristol, Virginia, USA, the Virginia High School has so many networked PCs that it manages to conduct all standardized testing online.  That may not sound exciting, but it beats the daylights out of Number 2 pencils and pieces of paper in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.

Online in School.jpg In Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, I entered a classroom where everyone seemed to be ignoring everyone else.  The students were at their desks, each silently engaged with a laptop computer.  The teacher faced them from his desk, eyes on his own laptop screen.  Silence.  Nothing going on - at least not in physical space.  But in cyberspace, the kids were reading a blog posted by the teacher containing questions on the reading they were supposed to have done.  Each student was responding by commenting on the blog and everyone could see the interactions in real time.  The teacher reported that this online interaction allowed him to involve all of the students, not just the half dozen who would normally raise their hands.  Kids too shy to speak up in class were more willing to engage online.  But most powerfully, the system logged each student's posts separately, which created individual files of their work throughout the year.  The teacher said he devoted about an hour a day to just reviewing the student's individual work in order to stay on top of their comprehension and development.  He could do this work from anywhere, because the information was all on the server.

In Moncton, New Brunswick, I watched an elementary school teacher lead a math lesson in French.  (Young people in this bilingual province must complete several years of French immersion studies.)  Forget your chalk board and overhead projector.  She was using a smart board, which displayed math problems, allowed her to write on the problem, erase and change, and save the work.  Children went to the front to manipulate animated objects on the screen in order to solve problems.  The level of interest and engagement by the students was higher than I have ever seen in primary or secondary math classes.  The technology brought the concepts to life and drew in youngsters who might normally sit on the sidelines.

Of course, the Top Seven communities were showing me their best examples.  When the people giving out awards come to town, you don't put your failures on display.  What amazed me was how effectively technology was integrated into the teaching.  In the first wave of technology introduction, we stuck some computers in classrooms and hoped for the best.  In the second wave, wedid what we should have done first and taught the teachers how to use it.  Now, a generation of tech-savvy teachers are transforming how they and their students engage in learning.  In the process, the job of teaching is changing, just as your job and mine continue to change.   
Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.