Joe Robertson | Teachers bravely step ahead with new technologies

Joe Robertson
Joe Robertson TAMMY LJUNGBLAD/Kansas City Star

The setup looks great.

Start with a freshly minted algebra teacher like Michael Medeiros. Bring in a class like these freshmen at Cristo Rey Kansas City and give every one of them an iPad tablet computer.

You know that something amazing should come out of this new digital world of instruction. Somehow. Someway.

But the reality is that Medeiros has joined other teachers with prime seats on education’s 21st century version of the horseless carriage.

The history of innovations almost invariably looks back on awkward baby photos.

Like the first automobiles.

Keith Krueger of the national Consortium for School Networking flashed one of those sepia-toned beauties in front of a room full of area school district technology officers at a conference in Raytown this fall.

This was a car they were looking at.

Within 50 years everything would be changed. Sleek metal machines would send communities sprawling, defining them by their roads, their parking, their cruising strips and their fast-food lanes.

But the contraption in the photo really was just a horseless carriage — a befuddled man sitting on a lounge on a wooden box with four wagon wheels, holding a stick instead of reins.

To his credit, Medeiros is stretching out for the still-emerging possibilities of digital education.

Many of his students are tapping on online instructional video resources, prejudged by Medeiros, to build on their book lessons.

The teacher is doing less lecturing and instead circulates around the classroom, where many of the students are working in small groups, moving through the curriculum at their own paces.

Many days after school he has met with advanced students to get their feedback on what’s working and what’s not.

He’s not going to pretend he knows where this carriage of innovation is headed.

“I don’t have old habits to break,” he said. “I’ll change midstream.”

But for the most part, Krueger said, digital technology has not yet changed the fundamental ways schools deliver instruction.

The world outside schools is moving from a “consumer culture” where media package information to a “participatory culture,” he said.

We have the technology now to surround students in personal learning environments where they can take and give knowledge in constant collaboration with their peers and the world.

Augmented reality can lace facts into their world as they experience it and be shared instantly, advancing team projects or instructional games.

“But what risks are we willing to take?” Krueger said.

Many will fear those standardized-testing speed traps and the fog in the blind curves.

But a lot of teachers like Medeiros are eager to hit the gas.