As we continue to dive into the common "what works in education technology" question, it's worth stepping back to also consider the "how" issues of implementation, funding and other logistics. Because while whether or not a tool is effective at producing desired student outcomes is no doubt an important question, it's equally significant to consider how we create the environments to support such beta tests and research pilots.
In Fall 2011, the Rogers Family Foundation chose four East Oakland schools to participate in a blended learning pilot to see what could be done. The pilot involved four schools, 45 teachers, 1,000 students, along with 379 computers and 21 digital content programs--all within a budget of $1 million. You can find here all the nitty gritty on the classroom design details, including bell schedules, hardware-to-student ratio, and digital programs.
Now, the Rogers Family Foundation has shared updates from this pilot. So far so good, it seems. Bandwidth and wireless access points are working so that "teachers and students are now beginning to take for granted that the computers and internet 'just work,' and they focus more on teaching and learning." There are now "practically zero" daily help desk tickets when teachers and students work with online tools. And Education Elements has done a particularly praiseworthy job at implementing single sign-ons and collecting data from multiple vendors.
The report also noted that "schools that have regularly-scheduled time for teacher reflection show a much higher degree of iteration and experimentation. In schools where PD time has been more sporadic, there has been some growth, but teachers have made less progress with a more surface-level implementation."
As much promise as these initial results show, the foundation is also very clear that support from the central district is critical to scaling these projects. It plans to "fully fund" two or three additional Oakland schools this Fall as part of Cohort II, and is actively reaching out to officials to ensure that a recently voter-approved $475 million school bond will go toward upgrading tech infrastructure.
The Rogers Foundation acknowledge challenges ahead, as "online software and data integration is still nowhere near where it needs to be." Still, the authors sound optimistic and emboldened by the early results. "Part of what is so exciting about implementing high-quality blended learning is that it seems to encourage and enable experimentation and iteration by teachers and schools."