By Miguel Davis
Amid the usual negative chatter around Detroit’s school system, folks are often surprised to hear that Detroit is consistently recognized as a breeding ground for innovative school models. Cornerstone Charter Schools, the Education Achievement Authority, Starr Detroit Academy, and Utica Community Schools are just a few examples of schools that have put Southeast Michigan on the map for blended learning, an instructional methodology in which a student learns partially through face-to-face time with a teacher and partially through online instructional software. Walk into one of these classrooms and you might see kindergarteners practicing phonics through a tablet, sixth graders learning fractions through interactive animations on a laptop, or twelfth graders building computer programs in a space that doesn’t look like a classroom at all.
More and more schools are shifting in this direction – realizing the potential that technology has to increase student engagement, augment readiness for a highly technical workplace, and meet the varied needs of learners at different social, emotional, and academic levels. A welcome byproduct of this shift has been an increase in teachers’ fluency with technology.
Unfortunately for our educators the majority of education technology vendors develop their services through close partnerships with classrooms in better known tech hubs like San Francisco and New York City. As a result, most new technologies are disconnected from the unique challenges and opportunities of Detroit’s classrooms. Teachers are constantly on the defensive, adapting to software developed for other states and learning entirely new systems from year-to-year instead of building professional expertise and efficiencies around a consistent platform. What’s missing in Detroit (that’s typical of other innovative learning ecosystems) are the private-public partnerships to cooperatively develop education-facing technology solutions specific to our environment. We have a technology sector booming Downtown yet few people in this sector are turning their talent or attention towards struggling schools. If technology is hoping to take on a more transformative role in revitalizing Detroit’s education landscape, we will need to see this relationship change.
The good news is that steps are being taken to expose our children to careers in technology. Training centers like Grand Circus Co., foundations like Skillman and the Ford Fund, and our local research universities create and promote STEM opportunities like the upcoming #YesWeCode Hackathon. Over the course of this most recent school year I’ve introduced over five hundred K12 students to computer programming through onsite workshops, “Hour of Code” engagements, and Day of Code events.
And to be clear I have almost no computer programming experience, but thanks to a multitude of free online resources it’s now relatively easy to get kids excited about computer programming and to appreciate how technology affects the world around us. The reality is that the best time to take advantage of students’ enthusiasm and curiosity for technology was yesterday – I’ve learned that my responsibility as a professional in education technology is to teach students how to safely navigate the digital space, to explain my understanding of the possibilities in the field, and to get out of the way.
Miguel Davis is a consultant for Macro Connect, a Detroit-based IT, school data, and digital learning consulting and professional development provider. Miguel was a past Challenge Detroit Fellow.