Open your mind to edtech

Every teacher has the opportunity to demonstrate their incredible talent.

Easier said than done, but I doubt anyone would disagree with this statement. However, in the history of American education, this vision has proven difficult to realize. When I talk to teachers, one of their biggest concerns is that they don’t have the tools they need to do their best work. A poll of teachers shows the same results.

I am optimistic that all of us who are passionate about education can solve this problem. One of the main reasons I’m hopeful is that advances in technology will make it easier to give teachers the support they deserve. For example, a teacher can upload her own videos to get advice from her colleagues, watch the world’s best teachers at work, and get real-time feedback from students. The software can also help identify which students are having trouble and adjust to their own learning styles, giving teachers more time to focus on students who need special attention. (We wrote more about how software is improving education around the world in last year’s annual letter.)

Developers play a key role in these advances. I recently spoke at the ASU GSV Summit, an educational technology conference in San Diego, California, and had the opportunity to speak with many of the leading companies doing this work. I encouraged them to work more closely with teachers to understand their needs and ensure that our products deliver tangible results in the classroom. Technology has the potential to revolutionize the way teachers and students collaborate. But only if we base our approach on evidence of what works.

You can read a transcript of my on-stage Q&A below. I also gave a speech. There is a lot of exciting research going on in this field, and I left San Diego feeling better than ever about technology’s potential to support teachers and students at scale.


You’re concerned about the pace of change and whether we’re making the right impact fast enough, and I’m curious if you have any advice for entrepreneurs considering it. How can we accelerate this pace and have a greater impact on our students?

Bill Gates:
Well, in K-12 areas, the way we choose products and how we budget for them should really change over time. We need to free up more funding for professional development. We need to get some product examples that are obviously very successful and really open people’s minds to what the role of technology is here. I’d say we’re pretty early in that process.

There are many teachers who are trying to be pioneers in this field. We’ve had some adoptions so far. There are many cases where you try to go beyond that and get district-wide adoption. We need to seriously consider why actual usage is not as widespread. Because other people will hear it and they will be very reluctant.

But we have the advantage of digital tools that combine PCs, tablets, and mobile phones. Three of them approach universality. The idea that connectivity is holding things back, or access to devices is holding things back, hasn’t gone away, especially when some experiences can be run on a small screen, even when you leave the US. is. Access levels are starting to get quite high.

There is a very positive framework. The need is felt because higher education actually faces a set of severe constraints as people look at the number of college dormitories, the number of graduates, and the overall cost equation. Therefore, that should help drive demand.

I feel like we’re reaching the proverbial tipping point in embracing personalization and understanding what it means to adapt and what it means to personalize. What do we see in the next five years? Indeed, what is the prognosis for both K-12 and higher education?

Bill Gates:
Well, personalized learning is a pretty clear definition. But I think there’s a lot of different things under that umbrella.

Mathematics is the easiest. Because it’s a very efficient way of evaluating knowledge and thinking, “OK, if you can really answer these questions, then let’s move on to other areas.” It is much more specific than, say, writing or history.

Last time I visited the summit, I saw how they covered all the different areas and gave students some sense of choice in what they were doing, giving them a real sense of what they needed to accomplish. I was quite surprised to see how he was able to understand it.

The idea of ​​agency is that students know how much they have to do and then make some choices that actually create a different relationship between student and teacher. So in terms of mathematics, we hope to see a very wide rollout within the next five years.

Schools need to be open-minded because when you go to a new classroom location, it’s more than just a regular classroom. They are allowed to remodel some of that space. So the kids are moving around and it’s great. But there was an upfront investment and a decision to engage all teachers in that new model.

If today’s physics classrooms were organized by teacher, it would be much easier. There are some things that apply to that. But the biggest impact is where we can make changes to these things as well, and that’s how we do things throughout the school.

As you progress into higher education, it becomes much easier because the assumption is that students are primarily motivated. Students know what they are doing. And there (in higher education) we’ve seen a dramatic return on interactivity, on personalization, especially in remedial courses, where we’ve made the most progress.

This year’s summit includes a section called “Tomorrowland.” Do you think the introduction of new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality will accelerate the adoption of personalized learning?

Bill Gates:
Yes, I think virtual reality can make things more appealing. And there are certain things that you have more of a sense of. For example, you may not be able to assemble a car in the virtual world, but sitting there and assembling parts can feel like you’re doing much more than that. It would also be practical in the real world.

There’s a lot of pedagogy around understanding science and mathematics (principles), and putting that into a virtual reality framework doesn’t really change that much.

Motivation is always important in school. This content has been in textbooks for a long time. In some areas, not much has changed. If you can use that to attract people, that’s very valuable.

I just started doing this for some of the videos I’m doing, like going to refugee camps and developing countries and actually making virtual reality films. I mean, people actually have sentience so they can see what it was like and look around and feel it.

Yes, we are aware of that when we are creating early stage stuff. We’re seeing a lot of engagement. And instead of just distracting, combine it with the underlying concept.

In science learning, making things too lively or too colorful often distracts from what you’re actually trying to do: focus on some basic concepts. . So, like any new technology out there, I believe virtual reality will be exploitable.

I think when it comes to a lot of things related to design and engineering, there are a lot of places where it can play a practical role and hopefully attract people.

And the cost, especially the cost of taking out your phone and reusing it, you don’t have to wait 10 years for this lower version to provide accessibility. If you have a higher-end version, $500 to $1,000, that you can use as a shared device, you should deploy it in many places as well.

One of the things I admire most about you and Melinda is that you are proactive. He’s an avid visitor. You visit the school. I have already talked about some of them many times. You visit the school. You visit a university. What were the key takeaways from your recent visit? What are you hearing from educators in the field and incorporating into your work?

Bill Gates:
Now, it was very interesting to find out who online (learning) is working for. And for now, many of the people who are active online are working students who have difficulty coordinating their schedules, but it’s easier because they come back for a reason. In other words, I made the choice to become a nurse. “I want to get a degree in engineering.”

So, online, that’s what worked for our initial audience because we’re able to adapt to that flexibility of time and the willingness to persist.

But now there are people using it in other cohorts, including ASU. And they’re trying to take modern content that’s much more engaging than what we’ve had in the past and make it work for everyone.

I think there are two types of visits in educational settings. When you feel discouraged and think nothing is going to happen, go to KIPP, Green Dot, High Tech High, Summit and tour classrooms, or visit Rocket Ship. Rocket Ship is actually doing something very interesting. thing.

When you go to a school where everything really comes together – great teachers, new approaches – you remember, “Wow, this would be amazing if we could do this for every student!” So, if you’re thinking, “Oh my God!” This is great. “Then go to a college with a 19 percent completion rate or go to an urban high school and get a sense of the sense of decentralization there and the amount of resources needed to ensure a safe environment.

So we have a lot of opportunity to see both. I visit more companies that are doing well. Because that’s the best practice we want to spread.

My most recent trip this fall was to Appalachia and I thought it would be a mix. But most of what we saw was uplifting, as Kentucky has invested in its schools over the past decade. These are public schools, these are very low-income kids, and it was really inspiring to see those communities come together around new curriculum and better professional development. So that gives you the motivation to do it even more for maybe a year or two.

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