Simply put, the value proposition of private schools to families has generally been that they offer a learning environment that you cannot get elsewhere – namely in public schools. However, with the number of private schools growing exponentially, it’s difficult to differentiate along the private versus public lines when in reality private schools are competing against each other. One area where private schools can differentiate against their competition is in their integration of technology into infrastructure and its practical application in the classroom. Other than simply investing in the latest and greatest, there are some innovative ways schools are using technology to stay ahead of their competitors.
Integrate technology early and often.
Adding computers to the learning in environment is nothing new. Many of today’s parents remember their first exposure to Apple computers from those early machines found in many classrooms in the early 80’s. However, back then its main use was for entertainment and some early learning programs. Today, there’s no shortage of uses for technology in the classroom; there are numerous applications from access to virtual libraries to connecting with students from other schools and countries. Some private schools are going “all-in” with technology and equipping students with tablets as early as nursery age in an effort to differentiate themselves from their competition. One school that subscribes to this approach is Avenues: The World School in Chelsea, NY. Starting in fifth grade, all students are equipped with their iPad and MacBook Air. Some view this as redundant, but Avenues sees it as a way to move beyond the walls of the classroom and connect students to the world around them. One private school consultant noted that it would be, “one of Avenues’ claims to fame.”
Invest in professional development of your teachers.
Technology is a wonderful thing and the number of tools available to teachers and students is growing by the day. Laptops, iPads and SMART Boards are some of the great tools at the disposal of teachers. However, in many schools these devices serve simply as glorified textbooks or projector screens. Schools today are spending on new and better hardware, but they’re not investing in ensuring that teachers are trained in how to best integrate technology into their day to day teaching. Schools should look to support the professional development of teachers in order for them to deliver a better learning experience to their students.
Use technology to personalize learning.
In a traditional learning environment, students are generally all treated the same with little opportunity or enablement for teachers to personalize their teaching to the individualized needs of students. Technology can be a great enabler for teachers to create specific lesson plans for individual students. These can be implemented to help students that face difficulty in certain subject areas or can also be used to challenge students that are outpacing the general curriculum. In both instances, the teacher can serve the specific needs of the student without disrupting the overall learning experience for an entire class. Private schools are better positioned to innovate with personalized learning by having the technical resources along with smaller class sizes that are conducive to this type of approach.
Create your own digital content.
With the explosion of free and paid learning content on the web, it’s no longer an advantage to offer the same content in your schools. Families with limited resources may opt for a more cost-effective approach by accessing the same content on the web without the cost of having to enroll in a private school to do so. Leaders in the space are relying less on “off the shelf” content and instead starting to create their own digital content. John E. Chubb, president of the National Association of Independent Schools states, “What’s happened in the last four or five years is that independent schools have begun to get quite enthusiastic and aggressive about becoming creators and suppliers of online content."
Use technology to teach skills and to promote creativity.
To really learn from technology, children need to interact with it on different levels. The Web is a vast repository of information and anyone can easily spend all day just looking at information. To truly enhance the learning experience, a comprehensive implementation of technology in a learning environment also encourages children to improve subject matter skills, math facts for example. It’s not enough to consume information, children must interact in more traditional learning ways as well. Finally, technology must challenge students to create material on their way to learning it. Multimedia projects that are open-ended and evaluated on subjective criteria offer students opportunities to express themselves creatively while still learning valuable skills and information.
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December 21, 2015
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