Volume XI | Issue 2 | Fall 2011
Some Weed High School students pair at-home studies with elective or interactive classes offered on campus, such as this hands-on geometry class. Photo: Eve Thompson/Mt. Shasta News

Technology drives tomorrow’s schools

The data revolution is changing how education is delivered

One-room schoolhouses dotted rural Oregon’s landscape until the early 20th century. Many of Oregon’s smallest school districts still welcome students under one roof, but inside, teachers have traded in the slide rule and primer for gadgets that power learning in new ways.

Educators see technology continuing to change instruction, perhaps replacing schoolroom walls altogether. But Paul Young, Rogue River School District superintendent, says technology has not yet replaced teachers.

We are right in the middle of the data revolution

“At this time most students learn better in a classroom of peers with a high-quality, live teacher than through distance education,” Young says. “Advances continue to improve results for distance education, but it is not equivalent.”

In the future, Young expects education to look very different. The brick-and-mortar schools of yesterday and today are “a hold-out from the industrial revolution. We are right in the middle of the data revolution,” he says.

Twenty-plus years ago, Young says technology was expensive and didn’t live up to expectations. Later, federal programs like the Telecommunications Act of 1996 helped connect rural schools, allowing schools to pool students and use online tools to offer courses once only available in cities. 

Distance learning

“Around 20 years ago we were just beginning to experiment with distance learning. Schools began to bristle with huge satellite dishes to receive live education broadcasts,” Young says. “We were all very excited about a new technology which would level the playing field for rural schools.”

Mike Ristuccia, principal at Weed High School in Weed, Calif.,  says computers and the Internet have heralded the end of traditional high schools. “I see in the next 10 years the comprehensive high school model being almost obsolete,” he says. “It used to be, you lived in Weed, you went to Weed High School. Now, for comprehensive high schools to stay competitive, we will have to adapt.”

To adapt, the Northern California school has Siskiyou Pathways. The independent study program offers the high school’s 200 students the option to take all or some of their classes at home. Pathways enrollment doubled in the last few years, and Ristuccia sees the trend continuing.

The further tailoring of education may be a response to stricter state curriculum mandates, which Ristuccia says have hamstrung local control over classrooms. As an example, Ristuccia points out Weed’s forest and mountain resources, which teachers use in instruction far less today than years ago.

State standards

“In the past, each community would have its own kind of focus based on what the community needed; now there’s a set of standards that has been set by the state that you need to cover, no questions asked,” he said. 

Ristuccia says traditional schools still “offer that social environment that high school kids really thrive on and need.” Some Weed High School students pair at-home studies with elective or interactive classes and sports offered on campus.

Young says his ideal future school would look like the Star Wars Jedi school, in which each child has a holographic instructor.

“If I got to write the history books, every single child would have an individual teacher who’s specialized in every area,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll be there in 50 years, but I think we’ll be closer. Small schools, large metro schools — that will be a moot point because technology will be pervasive.”

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