Technology is Vital for Strong Education


Billions of dollars have been spent wiring schools over the past decade — and when you get right down to it, this near-universal and unprecedented investment has been in many ways an act of faith.

Technology's potential to transform teaching and learning captured the imagination and the pocketbooks of educators, officials at all levels of government and corporate America — including the cable industry — without much up-front, definitive evidence that all this machinery would make students better and smarter learners.

Our industry alone has poured millions of dollars into free cable access and service for schools, convinced that the combination of technology and good teaching could create an explosive learning force. And now we can say how smart cable leaders were to move on that act of faith. The body of research we recently have assembled underscores that plainly.

Thanks to Dr. James Marshall, a researcher and educational technologist now with San Diego State University's Department of Educational Technology, we have a new report assembling current research attesting to the power that media and technology can bring, and has brought, to the learning process. The report, Learning With Technology: Evidence that technology can, and does, support learning,
commissioned by Cable in the Classroom, is being released this week to the national education and policymaker community at a Washington, D.C., roundtable event.

The report concludes that when quality media and technology are used purposefully and for defined outcomes, they can support and facilitate learning. Marshall cites numerous studies that credit television programs such as Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues
and computer technology with enhancing mental facility and, in many cases, academic achievement.

According to these and other compelling research studies cited in the report, regardless of the means — television, computer or even computer-delivered streaming video — when the right combination of technology and content is presented in the proper way, learning can expand. It can help children create new associations, learn through new pathways, and make curriculum meaningful. It is infinitely adaptable and multi-sensory — a hands-on, visual, and auditory experience that makes material memorable.

For teachers, technology can be the tool that allows them the flexibility to make learning exciting and memorable for every student. Using cable modems, teachers can customize the teaching and learning experience to meet evolving standards and the ever-changing needs of individual students; support different learning styles and paces; meet challenges presented by time and distance; and provide students with hands-on, interactive experiences to foster their engagement in academic subjects.

All of this is excellent news for the 8,500 local cable companies and 39 cable networks, which have made a unique, unfaltering, industry-wide commitment to providing schools with educational content and cutting-edge technology.

Though Dr. Marshall's report does sound a note of caution. There is no guarantee that technology always begets learning. Poorly designed content that lacks an instructional foundation; or casual, purposeless use of technology in the classroom; or lack of alignment between desired learning outcomes and the application of educational technology can sabotage the most impressive technology environment.

CIC's new work will help our member companies create and provide schools with the most educationally rich resources and offer educators the opportunity to connect, contribute, and collaborate via online learning communities. Many cable companies and networks are currently working closely with some of the schools in their service areas to ensure that cable's newest technologies are being used for teaching and learning purposes.

As part of a $27.9 million contract, Cox Communications Inc., for example, recently teamed up with LearningStation, Inc. (an application service provider) to deliver Internet-based educational content and services to all 1,250 Arizona schools. This means that all of Arizona's students and teachers can access their work at any time from anywhere through any device linked to the Internet.

The most vital of essential education technology components continues to be a living, breathing human: the teacher. Theirs is the absolute art that distinguishes a good program from a weak one and culls from available technology the pieces that will make learning happen for this student, in this subject, at this time. Teachers have always been the master diagnosticians who made the difference, analyzing what's needed and finding the right prescription to activate the minds own capabilities. CIC will continue to support educators via new online resources that local cable companies can offer their schools.

Knowing what we know, the next steps are clear. CIC will lead the charge in gathering and disseminating information to further our industry's understanding of how to use media and technology to support teaching and learning. Along with the education and technology experts we are working with, we need to define the characteristics and principles that make content meaningful.

CIC is beginning to identify and compile the characteristics of the best television, video, online and print educational resources. These quality indicators will set the standard for our industry's work in education.

Now that most schools are wired, the next big challenge for the cable industry is to put those wires to work in a new way, by enhancing the development of the highest caliber content and preparing teachers to integrate technology's offerings into the exciting work already underway in their classrooms. This report takes a lengthy stride in that direction, by rounding up the research that shows how technology enhances learning and underscoring the key role that teachers play in making technology part of the educational experience.

The cable industry has an impressive 13-year track record of supporting education at the national and local level. We are now in a unique position to strengthen our stake in the $7 billion-per-year instructional technology market. Cable's broadband technology and educationally rich content ought to be a critical part of a good 21st century education.

This new report sheds more light on how we can best serve the needs of teachers and students, while reminding our customers and policymakers of our commitment to the communities we serve. You can check out the full report on our Web site,
Good teaching and good learning are the most potent forces on earth. Without them, the best technology is powerless.