Beyond iPads: Setting standards for technology in the classroom

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If you have visited a private or international school lately, you probably noticed technology all around you: interactive white boards in classrooms, information screens in the cafeteria, a laptop on every desk and futuristic media labs… While individual tablets for every student have become all the rage, voices in the school community are beginning to question whether all this technology really adds significant value to the learning process.

Increasingly, educators, parents, students and administrators are realizing that to gain the full benefits from the digital revolution, something more is required. The full integration of technology into the curriculum requires new approaches to teaching – and a well thought-out strategy.

Stepping up to the possibilities

ladderIntersection.ch is a Geneva-based start-up which provides a unique consultancy and certification service to schools that wish to adopt a strategic approach to the integration of technology into the education they provide. Dr. Jelena Godjevac, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Intersection.ch, describes four levels of technological integration at schools:

1 At the most basic level, schools use computers to gain efficiency, improve work processes and stay connected: the Microsoft Office suite and Google browsers have made their way into most classrooms and all office environments. Yet desktop office tools, says Jelena, are only the beginning. “Technology replacing paper,” she says, “is the lowest rung on the ladder.”

2 Schools increasingly rely on technology to enhance personal interactions. Sending notices to parents by e-mail, submitting homework via academic portals and connecting students in remote locations have become commonplace. For example, the international schools in the Nord Anglia Education Group connect students across the Group’s 28 international locations via their Global Classroom platform, which enables live video interaction and enhances collaboration. Encouraging students to connect online (outside of school-controlled platforms) is not without challenges: schools now need to help students manage their online identities, learn to protect their personal data and generally look out for their security in the online environment.

3 At the next level, technology can add a new dimension to course delivery: the popularity of online teaching platforms is growing rapidly. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have taken the knowledge industry by storm[i].The arrival at schools of hybrid, or blended, teaching models, which combine some form of online delivery with the traditional teaching model, is only a matter of time, according to Jelena. The online format is great, she feels, to transmit theoretical knowledge and rote information, leaving more classroom time for discussion, hands-on practice, questions, case studies, group work and other skills-learning activities that require real contact in real time. However, for such blended models to be successful, teachers need new skills. Class dynamics will change; the ways in which students interact with one another will evolve and the role of the teacher will need to be redefined.

4 Finally, Jelena believes that the real added value lies in students embracing the technology itself. It will be reached when schools begin to teach students to use these new tools to solve problems. One trend already set in motion aims to teach students coding, or programming languages, to help them master the online environment, create websites and manage content.

Jelena is convinced that schools could go further. She envisages high school students gaining advanced cognitive skills as well as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, scientific proficiency and information technology skills which would enable them later to build the robots, process the electronic signals and design the machines that will help make the world a better place. robot landmineTechnology, in this sense, is the means. The end, or purpose, in Jelena’s vision, includes applications in environmental protection, disease prevention, natural resource management, tackling sociological challenges and other “big-picture” contributions. To teach computational thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, schools will need to adjust their academic programs.

The underlying questions about technology in education need to address digital citizenship as well as security and privacy: how well schools control the content that students see and share on their devices; the definition of responsibilities, rights and duties related to their usage; the technical management and maintenance of hardware and software; and the impact on students’ readiness for further education and employment.

Talk to the experts

Dr. Jelena Godjevac

Dr. Jelena Godjevac

Dr. Jelena Godjevac founded Intersection.ch in 2012 to help secondary and primary schools integrate new technology, an area which she found generally in need of improvement. Jelena holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Robotics from the EPFL. Her career has always focused on the combination of technology and education, spanning both the corporate and NGO sectors, involving entrepreneurial activities as well as teaching positions at the EPFL and the Geneva School of Engineering (HEPIA). She has trained teachers in 48 countries and is an expert in curriculum development.

For the Advisory Board of Intersection.ch, Jelena carefully selected a versatile panel of experts from leading institutions, recognized for their achievements in research and work, often combining several disciplines. There is a leading pedagogue who conducts technology watches, an artificial intelligence expert specializing in digital education, a biotech strategy expert now in charge of research and development at a management school and a robotics expert exploring applications in education. They hail from the EPFL, IMD, the University of Geneva and the Geneva-based Institut de formation pédagogique. Additional partners bring other areas of knowledge in accreditation, certification and the local public education authorities.

A unique methodology

Intersection.ch presents school administrators with an established, documented process, covering the complete path from assessment to action.

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To prepare a complete report for the school management team, Intersection.ch conducts an audit that relies on four sources of information:

  1. An online teacher survey;
  2. Personal interviews with all the key pedagogical positions, the management team and the information technology decision-makers;
  3. Class visits, teacher interviews and student workshops;
  4. All relevant school documents.

The final report includes an analysis of findings and observations, a data summary and, most importantly, a breakdown of the school’s strengths, weaknesses and recommendations for technology integration. In this sense, the report serves as a road map to guide the school leadership through the changes it might instigate, their impact and projected costs. This can form the basis of a strategic plan. Intersection.ch may, if requested, accompany the implementation phase and help the school manage the ensuing changes. “Our primary clients are school directors,” says Jelena, “and parents rank high on our list of stakeholders.”

Furthermore, Intersection.ch delivers a certificate of excellence in teaching, noting one of three levels of achievement. The certificate is delivered both physically (the school can hang it up) and online, on the school’s web site and on www.intersection.ch. It provides a form of quality assessment in this specific area.

The heart of the matter

The Intersection.ch audit criteria include nine focus areas:

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  1. Strategy: has the school articulated its goals and objectives for technology integration? Has it documented concrete steps to achieving them?
  2. Information technology department: is it viewed as a strategic partner in the school’s academic decision-making?
  3. Teachers’ technical know-how: how skilled are teachers in using technology and teaching it? Are their competencies assessed, tracked, developed?
  4. Communication: how, and how well, does the school administration communicate with its stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, alumni…? What tools and formats does it use?
  5. The digital working environment: what role does technology play in the administration? In the classroom?
  6. Teacher training: what professional development opportunities are available that focus on various aspects of technology?
  7. Technology in the classroom: what level of pedagogical integration is achieved? Is it uniform across classes, teachers, disciplines?
  8. Student use of IT: how much access to technology do students have? What uses do they make of it? Does it measurably improve their learning? How much supervision and training does the school provide?
  9. Computer Science teaching: what learning outcomes has the school defined in this area? To what extent do these include office tools, computers, programming/coding, mathematics, higher mathematics/computational thinking, applications in other academic disciplines?

What’s in it for us?

“I created the start-up because, as a parent who is also well-informed about technology, I felt frustrated with schools struggling to embrace new developments. It felt like the technology was evolving too fast for schools to adapt,” recalls Jelena. The Intersection.ch report and road map can help parents understand exactly where the school is situated in the pedagogical and technological landscape and track its progress. This facilitates dialogue both with the school and with other parents: everyone uses the same terms and has a common frame of reference. “Ultimately”, concludes Jelena, “you gain a better understanding of where your school fees go.” Parents are reassured that the school is making reasonable, responsible and efficient use of technology to continually improve the quality of teaching.

The school leadership has much to gain as well. “It is no longer enough to distribute iPads to students to attract new families,” says Jelena. “The level of technological integration has become a unique selling proposition and our audit can represent a reality check for the school leadership.” In the increasingly competitive marketplace of private and international schools, these institutions can clarify their positioning – relative to other schools – by making a clear statement about their institutional strategy for incorporating technology into curriculum design. External communication gains in clarity and visibility.

In this sense, the quality certification is a formidable communication tool. “It is the visible tip of the iceberg,” says Jelena – the store-front public recognition for the school’s commitment to self-assessment and improvement.

Most importantly, the Intersection.ch audit encourages the school to be deliberate in its internal decision-making process, setting goals and benchmarks, defining metrics and allocating resources. In the long term, this can lead to a proactive approach, anticipating future needs with competency and capacity-building plans, rather than playing catch-up to technological advances that find the school unprepared. The focus of the conversation can shift from the challenges to the solutions.

Teachers receive invaluable feedback on their work from external, objective pedagogical experts. Sometimes, the Intersection.ch survey is the first opportunity they have to express their opinions and make their needs heard. They, too, can be reassured about their use of technology and in some cases, receive much needed professional training.teacher role

Students are also thrilled to take part in the audit process and make their opinions heard. Ultimately, they get to participate in making their school better.

Finally, with clarity on strategy, positioning and projects, it is easier to keep alumni and partners informed – and involved. As former students progress in their academic and professional careers, synergies are easier to identify and opportunities arise for them to help their alma mater stay up-to-date pedagogically and technologically.

The bigger picture

Given her passion, knowledge and experience – in short, her caliber – it is not surprising that the founder of Intersection.ch is aiming beyond the Swiss education market. Swiss education has long enjoyed world-wide recognition of its high quality standards. Prestigious Swiss boarding schools have been attracting large numbers of foreign students for decades. In parallel, the public system, with its emphasis on excellence in vocational training, has started attracting international attention[ii] from academics and economists. Swiss standard-setting in general has been widely acclaimed internationally, and Intersection.ch sees no reason why this would not extend to technology in education. “We are already getting initial interest from overseas,” Jelena confides. In just one school year, Intersection.ch has successfully audited four of the leading private school in the Geneva-Lake Léman region: Collège Champittet, Ecole Moser, Ecole La Découverte and Institut Florimont. Gaining new clients overseas would certainly take this start-up to a new paradigm, and it would be equally beneficial for the branding of Swiss education, standards and quality certification.

Ultimately, a school that has undergone an Intersection.ch certification process is well-positioned to improve its teaching and its educational value proposition in general. One school at a time, one geographical area at a time, the benefits can be wide-reaching for the entire sector. Will today’s students build the electric car that will improve tomorrow’s environmental outlook? “We can hope so,” enthuses Jelena. “And in the meantime, my next meeting is with the Geneva public education authorities!” We shall stay tuned.


[i] Bachmann, Helena. « Who Needs College ? The Swiss Opt for Vocational School » in Time, October 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/10/04/who-needs-college-the-swiss-opt-for-vocational-school/print/

[ii] It is difficult to estimate the size of the MOOC market. A 2013 report published by the Wall Street Journal attributed 5 million students to Coursera, the largest MOOC provider, and an additional 1.3 million to EdX, funded by Harvard and MIT, to name only two.
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303759604579093400834738972

Sources

http://www.intersection.ch/

http://www.nordangliaeducation.com/

http://www.nordangliaeducation.com/our-schools/aubonne

https://flipboard.com/section/mooc%2C-spoc-and-docc-b5Gs8L

Photo credits

ScottieT812 via photopin cc

Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho via photopin cc

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