Episode 90

Navigating technology in schools

January 25, 2018 | Technology
Guest:Dr. John Marschhausen

In this episode of the podcast, host Joel Gagne speaks with Dr. John Marschhausen, superintendent of Hilliard City Schools, about technology in schools and how to “challenge everything.”

Dr. Marschhausen discusses his recent trip to the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, sharing valuable lessons from the company’s employees. He was struck by Apple founder Steve Jobs’ message to employees to listen and then “challenge everything.”

“I think sometimes in schools, we really miss both those points,” Dr. Marschhausen says. “We miss the opportunity to stop and really listen to each other, and then to have the courage to push each other to be better.”

Technology is making a big push into education, and Gagne calls Dr. Marschhausen a pioneer for embracing it – no longer requiring textbooks, having teachers write their own learning materials and gravitating to digital tools.

Dr. Marschhausen embraces the rapid change of technology in schools, but says balance is critical. Technology is not going away and won’t go backwards, but there is a human element that must be cultivated. Dr. Marschhausen talks about building grit in students and cultivating the human element, such as knowing when to put devices down and invest in other people.

“We have to balance the amount of screen time our students have,” he says. “We have to balance the proliferation of the devices in our students’ lives.”

Gagne and Dr. Marschhausen discuss how technology is moving fast, and schools must understand and adapt with it.

“The world we’re preparing our students to be adults in is changing so rapidly,” Dr. Marschhausen explains.

He says it’s important to follow conversations around artificial intelligence and automation, and what the job market’s going to look like for kindergartners who are going to be adults in 2040. They’re going to require the life skills to be lifelong learners.

In terms of technology in schools, differentiation and personalization are important, Dr. Marschhausen says.

Gagne and Dr. Marschhausen discuss how teachers can accommodate students’ devices in the classroom while avoiding distractions. Students should be able to look up a “static fact” and then create and demonstrate mastery of the concept by engaging with their teacher, who is still the expert in the room.

“So if you’re reading in your freshmen literature class ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and you want to know more about the Civil Rights movement, or more about a cultural reference that’s in that book, yeah you can look it up,” Dr. Marschhausen says. “But then for the teacher to ask the question, what does that mean? Static information is great, but it’s the meaning, and how that’s applicable to what we’re doing that we get to guide the young people through every day.”

Students also must learn to differentiate between what’s true and what’s not true, understanding that not everything on the internet can be trusted.

Hilliard City Schools, outside of Columbus, Ohio, embraces technology in schools with its online learning management system and an iPad program, among other initiatives.

At the same time the school district was writing online textbooks, it made the shift to Canvas as its learning management system.

“We were really proud we made that shift to Canvas two years before Ohio State, a year before Miami, Bowling Green and OU,” he says. “Our kids are really prepared when they go to college because they’re in the learning management system that they use in college.”

He says the district continues to challenge itself in the way it equips students with information.

In a four-year period, Hilliard City Schools has gone from, “We’re going to write our own textbooks,” to “We’re going to write our own textbooks in iBook Author,” to, “Should we be writing our own textbooks and putting it right into Canvas?”

Gagne asks whether some teachers push back against the pace of change in Hilliard, especially relating to the technology in schools.

Dr. Marschhausen tells teachers that it’s okay to fail in embracing technology in schools, and that some will be walkers, some will be joggers and some will be sprinters.

“That’s fine, you have to embrace the fact that some people are a little more fearful, some people don’t want to fail as fast as others,” he says. “Within any organization you have to be able to embrace the different speeds at which people work.”

And there are foundations that won’t change: teaching young people to read and write, for example, and teaching them math facts.

“There are some things there are no shortcuts to, it takes amazing teachers and relationships with students,” Dr. Marschhausen says. “Teaching kids to read and write is personal.”

The efforts are paying off. Gagne notes Hilliard is enjoying wonderful support in the community, and recently passed a levy issue with the highest amount of support ever.

“It’s a journey, we still have some who will give you the quote, ‘Well it was good enough when I went to school, I don’t understand why we have to change now,’” Dr. Marschhausen says. “The conversation starts with the world we’re preparing these students for. We’re preparing these kids for a world that doesn’t yet exist.”

He credits Allerton Hill Consulting with assisting in the communication with parents and Hilliard residents.

“People move to Hilliard because we don’t do it the way it was in the past,” he says. “Our board-adopted mission statement is to prepare students to be ready for tomorrow.”

Dr. Marschhausen calls it a “whole different mindset” for teachers and students.

“For the old system of education there was a finish line, it was, ‘Give me a checklist, I’m going to do what I’m told to do,’” he says. “There is no checklist anymore, it is a journey. You have to be willing to say, ‘I’m okay doing the work every day, knowing that I’m going to have to do different work tomorrow.’ And that is a whole different mindset.”

On his trip, Dr. Marschhausen learned about how Apple’s hiring process has evolved, and how that’s shaping his approach. He is thinking about hiring whoever is likely to be the best teacher in five years.

“We used to hire people who were the best candidates at the moment,” he says. “Apple has us thinking, and reviewing and reflecting on our own process. The best person right now might not be the best person in five years. How do you, through an interview process, evaluate capacity?”

And he is learning the importance of cultural alignment from Apple, applying it to bus drivers, cooks, teachers, administrators and parents.

“To create that alignment of purpose and mission where your heart and your mind are in the same place,” he says. “Now there’s the culture that you strive for.”

Dr. Marschhausen notes his blog, Life in Focus, applies quotes that catch his attention to the work he’s doing everyday.

“I do it because it keeps me grounded,” he says. “There are times that I need to press pause and reflect on what’s most important.”

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