Local experts discuss impacts of technology on teaching and learning

How is technology changing teaching and learning from K-12 to higher education? Are online classes going to put some four-year colleges out of business?

The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council took on the changing education landscape at another of its monthly Tech Nigh Takeover panels Thursday at The Haven.

“I think You Tube has probably taught my son more than I have in the last couple years,” said panelist Mike Benzian, chief product officer at Teachstone. “He knows all sorts of crazy stuff, including how to build a potato cannon.”

Teachstone, a Charlottesville firm with origins in the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, helps teachers to improve their interactions with children to boost student achievement.

Benzian said video-based lessons like those found on the Internet by his son can play a role in the classroom.

“You can … teach people how to do stuff using video for modeling and as exemplars and then have a demonstration response seen and viewed either by video with a teacher-coach looking at it or in person,” he said.

In 2012, Michael Lenox was among the first UVa professors to start teaching what are known as a Massive Open Online Course on the Coursera platform. He argued that online learning will supplement coursework at some schools and replace teachers at others.

“We can think about online education as both simultaneously a substitute and a complement to existing educational structures and efforts,” Lenox said. “In some places, online education is going to actually be enhancing to the core efforts they do …. For other universities and other schools, it will be disruptive and it will end up being a substitute.”

Lenox, who teaches at UVa’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, said consumers will be scrutinizing the value of a residential four-year university experience.

“I would argue that residential-based education at a university setting is superior and will continue to be superior for a lot of reasons we can imagine to online education,” said Lenox, “but there’s also a potential for a very large price differential.”

For example, he said some Texas universities are discussing how to provide an undergraduate degree that would cost no more than $10,000 and utilize online instruction. The Texas A&M University-Commerce has one such program designed to address the “$10,000 degree” challenge that is offered entirely online.

“At some price differential, people will substitute to online education and online degrees over residential-based degrees,” Lenox said.

One local high school teacher asked the panel how technology can be used to facilitate students taking control of their own learning to enhance their own problem-solving skills.

“I am still struggling with 12 years of ‘sage on the stage’ mentality of the students who want you to feed them the information,” said Carrie Taylor, a physics teacher at Western Albemarle High School.

Panel moderator Joel Selzer, co-founder and CEO of ArcheMedX, which specializes in online learning for health care organizations, recommended a “flipped classroom” approach.

“That means taking the didactic portion — the static content — moving that online and let your students move through it at their own pace to prepare in advance,” Selzer said. “Then when you are actually in the classroom setting, it becomes more like a workshop … where you can work hand-in-hand in a more collaborative fashion.”

The Jefferson Education Accelerator launched earlier this year as a UVa-backed venture to fund and mentor growth-stage education companies. Brien Walton, its chief investment officer, advocated for piloting innovation strategies in K-12 education to quantify what is actually adding value.

“We have a social impact mission, we are looking at ways to improve the quality of education,” Walton said. “We want to establish a beta testing network among school districts throughout Virginia in a way that allows us to have the most promising technology vetted in a school and then we can use the leverage of the financial capital that we have, the power and influence of UVa, plus a proven technology that shows how we can actually change things.”

The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council is a membership-based nonprofit supporting local entrepreneurs and the tech community since 1997. Its next Tech Night Takeover event will be held in February.