Consortium for Digital Learning

Preparing Alaska’s Students for Success in the Global Economy

Workforce of the future or the past?


By Sue Hull

“We can’t afford it. Our employees don’t want it. It’s a big, uncomfortable  change. But…sometimes you have to do it anyway!”

So went the conversation when we were deciding to computerize our business. The truth was: we could not compete and meet our customers’ needs without modern technology.

Alaska’s schools are at a similar inflection point. And the future of our workforce depends on how we make this decision.

As Darwin observed, “It is not the strongest…or the most intelligent species that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

How will our kids compete with students across the globe? Meeting world-class standards will be tough without significant change in what happens in the classroom. We can’t keep doing what has always been done and expect different results.

But there’s good news: classroom teachers in some parts of Alaska have transformed learning to more than double the previously expected learning gains.

How did they do it? By using the tools of today, instead of the practices of the past.

In recent years, there has been an explosion in educational content available digitally, from vibrant, interactive, 3-D modeling and engaging, multi-discipline simulations to personalized learning platforms and master teachers available on demand to accelerate and amplify what goes on in our classrooms. It is almost mind-boggling how quickly even our youngest students can learn with the right means of engagement.

Last year, Governor Parnell wisely proposed a One to One Digital Initiative that would have begun putting these types of tools in the hands of young Alaskans, and over the course of four years would have enabled all students to have access to the world of digital content.

Working with the Association of Alaska School Boards, which has over ten years of experience developing One to One programs, the initiative 1) enables school districts to choose the devices that best suit their students, 2) provides professional development and proven implementation strategies and 3) establishes a four year refresh cycle for keeping pace as the technology changes—all the while taking advantage of the economies of scale from a statewide pool.

In fact, the cost would be less than districts are presently spending on technology purchases.

What an opportunity! Can you imagine what it means for Alaska if being remote is no longer a barrier or if our kids lead the nation in technology utilization? Smart business people already know the power of technology and the challenge of trying to keep pace in a piecemeal fashion, rather than having a strategic vision.

Most schools in Alaska have some of these devices, but generally they are shared among several classes.

Using this thinking, what would we say if kids were told they could use yesterday’s tools, say paper and pencils, twice a week for an hour?

Or, what if we shared one set of text- books among nine or ten classrooms?

And why are we watching teenage boys drop out to play Xbox when they could use the same kind of simulations to learn math?

The Governor’s proposal was visionary and transformational. It was not funded last year. Should we let the opportunity die? I’m hoping it will be considered again next session, with more Alaskans well informed about its potential.

Will Alaska have the workforce of the future—or the past? If our schools fail to adapt quickly, Alaska’s business community, not just its school children, will pay the price.

Sue Hull is president of the Association of Alaska School Boards and a member of the Fairbanks School Board. This article appeared in the July 2013 issue of Anchorage Chamber magazine. Read the original article here.