Educators are on the cusp of being able to bring more technology into the classroom, and some risk-takers are making inroads when it comes to digital learning, Bill Gates told SXSWedu attendees during his keynote speech March 7.
“Just like in health where you either reduce the deaths or you don't, in this space, we either improve the quality of education—in terms of graduation rates, math and reading scores—or we stay flat, like we have in the last few decades,” he said. “A lot hangs in the balance.”
Gates founded Microsoft and is co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a grant-making foundation supporting initiatives in education, world health and population, and community giving in the Pacific Northwest.
He explained the power of the digital platform will only continue to grow, and technology that can recognize voices, handwriting and visual cues will be used to improve education software. In public education, many discussions have focused on whether students should bring their own technology devices to use in the classroom or whether schools should provide technology to established homogenized usage. Gates said both methods will be tried and will likely result in a “hybrid” approach.
Increased availability of technology as well as its decreasing costs over time should mean breaking down barriers between education and technology, Gates said.
While teachers have made the transition from using blackboards to whiteboards—and in some cases, touch-enabled whiteboards that can connect to the Internet—technology and software are still playing a modest role and have room to expand, Gates said.
Educators packed the Austin Convention Center ballroom to hear Gates speak. He also brought three CEOs onstage to talk about their programs and successes—Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning; Diane Tavenner, founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools in Silicon Valley; and Iwan Streichenberger, CEO of inBloom, Inc. DreamBox offers an online education platform, while inBloom is a nonprofit organization that is working with school districts to introduce shared technology infrastructure that will provide teachers with access to educational materials and tools aligned to Common Core State Standards.
“I think this is a special time for technology and education,” Gates said. “I think we're on the verge of really making a big difference for lots and lots of students.”