Technology has undisputedly changed how people learn — both inside and outside of the classroom — but tech moguls are now trying to eliminate the conventional classroom altogether.
What’s already been happening?
Google has been a popular classroom tool for quite a while, but public schools have increasingly been switching to using Google’s low-cost Chromebooks and learning applications.
A former Google executive, Max Ventilla, was behind the creation of the ultra-trendy AltSchools. These schools, which have opened over the last four years in California and New York, are “micro-schools” of 35 to 120 students.
At AltSchools, students get their own Chromebook or tablet with a to-do list, called a “playlist,” and are allowed to focus on whatever topic they want. The students are a mix of ages, with the schools classifying them in lower or upper elementary categories rather than in grade.
AltSchools break away from conventional school labels, allowing students work with “educators” instead of teachers and taking classes in “studios” that don’t resemble traditional classrooms.
Three Silicon Valley executives have also been leading this unconventional education reform: Marc Benioff, Reed Hastings and Mark Zuckerberg.
Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, has been working to enhance the San Francisco public school system for several years.
His partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District began in 2012, when San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee asked Benioff to help students prepare for tech jobs. Then in 2013, Benioff was approached by two city officials who asked him to donate a few million dollars towards better school Wi-Fi and laptops.
Benioff liked both ideas, as they would benefit both students and tech companies, and began donating money through his nonprofit company, Salesforce.org. Benioff pledged $100 million over a decade to San Francisco’s public schools, and he has already donated $20 million.
These donations have allowed schools within the district to do a variety of tech-forward things, from hiring more math teachers to developing advanced computer science curriculums.
The Principal’s Innovation Fund was also created by Benioff, which gave $100,000 to the principals of all 21 of San Francisco’s middle schools.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has also shown interest in advancing the U.S. education system.
In 2009, Hastings heard about a startup math program called DreamBox Learning, which used artificial intelligence to cater math lessons to individual students. In 2010, he chose to give $11 million to a nonprofit charter school fund, allowing schools to acquire this program.
The math program resembles Netflix in a sense, because the predictive algorithm that DreamBox Learning uses curates personal lesson recommendations.
DreamBox tracks student activity and uses nearly 50,000 data points per student per hour to adjust and advance the math lessons that it shows each student. Through tracking clicks, answers, and hesitations, the system can also help teachers understand what concepts students are struggling with.
Hastings is currently on the board of directors for DreamBox Learning, which is now being used by more than two million students.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have also changed how students learn inside the classroom.
The couple launched The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which offers students curriculums that they can study at an individual pace. They also helped develop the Summit Learning Platform, which helps teachers organize and customize lessons to accommodate individual students.
This initiative stemmed from a vision of Zuckerberg’s — students working in groups at laptops, selecting their own assignments and working at their own pace. In Zuckerberg’s system, teachers wouldn’t be leading lessons, but assisting students when needed.
Nearly 120 schools have tried out this student-directed system, encouraging students to organically develop skills like resourcefulness and time-management.
Technology in the classroom isn’t something to shy away from. Tech resources allow students to learn a limitless amount, but more importantly, they allow students to learn in their own way.
With more opportunities and leeway, students will be able to alter how we view and embrace the American education system.
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