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New education strategies endorsed

Gates Foundation specialist touts wise use of technology

The challenge of preparing workers for jobs 20 to 40 years from now requires a “blended” approach combining technology and hands-on involvement by innovative teachers, says Mark David Milliron, an education specialist with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Milliron was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Greater Spokane Incorporated annual meeting in downtown Spokane. The meeting drew more than 900 and focused on community plans to prepare the next generation of skilled workers.

Milliron said three concepts should guide education reform geared to workforce training: acceleration, technology and adaptive learning.

Acceleration recognizes that many teens are bright and motivated and can gain skills faster than the traditional K through 12 schedule offers.

Milliron cited El Paso, Texas, where five early-access high schools are helping move motivated students through grades 9 through 12 while they’re also taking college-level courses. He said one-third of El Paso Community College’s associate’s degrees are earned by students still in high school.

• The technology factor goes beyond using portable devices, the Web or tablets to teach students. Milliron said schools should adopt more tools to identify struggling or at-risk students and use human intervention more effectively.

One instance is a system used at Purdue University that tracks some science students based on a wide range of personal lifestyle and schedule behaviors.

The system then shows each student logging onto the network a green, yellow or red “digital color” corresponding to how well their behavior matches a performance template.

“It’s one way to identify when students are in danger of dropping out or failing,” he said.

“If a student gets a red light, it tells him that other students who did the same behaviors failed the course, so you need to stop if you want to succeed,” Milliron said.

Adaptive learning, according to Milliron, restates the need to prepare students in critical skills covering a range of subjects.

“We are preparing students, by and large, for jobs that don’t exist yet,” he said.

The Seattle-based Gates Foundation, where Milliron works, spends about $500 million per year on education-related programs in the U.S.

The world we live in, he added, doesn’t allow for society or educators to debate whether technology should be a key part of preparing students. Technology is already teaching students, and the only question is whether we can keep up with its role in young people’s lives, he said.

A blended approach will use technology effectively.

“Instead of forcing students in need of remedial learning to go through one or two semesters of courses, we should get them into intensive labs, with lots of hands-on tutoring, and help them quickly learn what they need to know to do what they want with their lives,” Milliron said.

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