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iPads welcome: The Oregon School District is helping to lead a high-tech education revolution

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Kids have been trying to sneak portable electronic devices into classrooms for decades. From the old Coleco handheld football game to today’s smart phones, anything that glowed, made obnoxious noises, and could fit neatly inside a knapsack was enough to satisfy kids’ appetite for distraction.

Well, here’s some bad news for students: Your ongoing rebellion will now have to take another form. For fun, try sneaking a slide rule onto campus. But bring your iPad. You’re going to need it for class.

“The way that technology has provided mass customization to many other industries, it’s starting to do the same thing for education.” – Jon Tanner, Oregon School District

The technological revolution that’s overtaking the business world, our social lives, and nearly every other nook and cranny of society is quickly reshaping education, and locally, the Oregon School District is among the leaders in the movement.

At the December School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education (SLATE) conference, participants identified preparing for advances in technology as the number one issue facing Wisconsin schools.

For the Oregon School District, that means getting ahead of the curve and fundamentally re-evaluating the education model that’s been in place for most of the last century. Traditionalists may hearken back to the intimacy of the one-room schoolhouse or the military precision involved in teaching rows and rows of attentive, gleaming ’50s schoolchildren, but according to Jon Tanner, technology director for the Oregon School District, the watchword today is “personalization.” And that means tablets, cell phones, and other one-time contraband have to be part of the pedagogical mix.

“The way that technology has provided mass customization to many other industries, it’s starting to do the same thing for education,” said Tanner. “So right now, Amazon tells you what they think you’re going to like, Netflix has rankings, you can do things online with banks and shopping and everything like that. Technology is starting to influence education that way now, too, where we can find different and better ways to deliver instruction and to help students learn than we could before, and the biggest example of that, I think, is what people call individualized or personalized instruction.”

According to Tanner, modern technology is making it easier to customize education so that each child can be taught in the most efficient way possible.

“We can try to teach things to a kid in a way where they learn the best, so instead of the batch model we’ve been using for about 100 years, where you get a whole bunch of kids who are about the same age and you put them in a room and you teach them for the exact same amount of time in exactly the same way, we can start to do that a little differently,” said Tanner. “We can let kids progress at a different pace, and where we have them learn in possibly a different way, and the only way to do that is to have technology do some of the more efficient work, where we don’t have a teacher who’s doing some of the more repetitive things or some of the data tracking, things like that. So it’s starting to change how we deliver content.”

Suitable software

There are three main components of the personalized learning model, says Tanner. The first involves teaching students in a way that they learn best, so highly auditory kids might be well served by listening to a traditional lecture, whereas a highly kinesthetic kid would be given something to do with her hands. Secondly, kids are given the opportunity to progress at the pace they need to, so if they catch onto something really quickly, they can use the extra time they now have to work on areas where they’re not as strong. Finally, students get customized learning paths so they can choose how they demonstrate proficiency.

“So when you have those three components, they’re very flexible and so you can do things in a lot of different ways,” said Tanner.

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