Thursday, 4 June 2009

School of the Future (SOF) Philadelphia

Back in 2005 (or perhaps 2004) I was in the audience at a very excited and self-congratulatory presentation about this planned new school that Microsoft was supporting. Lots of money and clever people were involved in the design and the impression I got was that we in the UK should be able to learn enormously from this visionary project.

The school opened in 2005 and after 3 years Microsoft got together a panel to look at how successful the endeavour has been. The answer is sadly - not very. The panel discussion is reported in eSchool News (well worth a look), here. You'll have to subscribe to read it all. It seems harsh that the writers of the eSchool News Report have entitled it School of the Future: Lessons in failure. The school is only three years old and obviously developing. The fact that Microsoft have been so open about the weaknesses of the project is to their great credit. That said, the issues the panel outline are very familiar to anyone involved in supporting schools make the most of their technology.
  1. People - '"We naively thought, I guess, that by providing a beautiful building and great resources, these things would automatically yield change. They didn't," said Jan Biros, associate vice president for instructional technology support and campus outreach at Drexel University and a former member of the SOF Curriculum Planning Committee.'
  2. Process - the school planners worked 'to design the underlying principles and goals for the school' using a Microsoft framework but '"Working within this framework often felt more like an academic exercise than a productive process," said Biros'
  3. People Development - 'The training that Microsoft gave teachers prior to the school's opening also was extremely limited, panelists said. Educators' participation in the project was confirmed only weeks before the school opened, and as a result, many educators could not adequately work the technology needed to enhance classroom learning.'
  4. Support - there 'was no dedicated technical support', all learning content was supposed to be supplied via wireless 'Yet educators frequently encountered problems accessing the internet, because the school's wireless connection often would not work.'
Thanks to Barry Phillips for pointing out the comments at the foot of the article where a couple of students have sprung to their school's defence. These couldn't be taken to articulate the views of the student body, but they do make for an interesting alternative point of view.

My experience makes me think that BSF planning seems much better than the process described here. There is an attention to detail regarding what actual stuff students and teachers will be using and how they will use it that the SOF preparations didn't achieve (if the panel report is accurate). I am not so sure that the professional development preparations are so much superior or that the ongoing sustainment costs are any better thought through. Happy to be corrected by those more closely involved.

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