This piece doesn’t talk about Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, but is definitely in that spirit — thinking about the role of the human in technology-based education, and how to appropriately structure it. Two challenges come immediately to mind on the human capital front. The first is the impact of new technologies on teachers. Do they want them? Will they use them? Can we use technology to make the job of teaching more sustainable by helping teachers teach and spend less time on busywork? Technology holds power here (IMPACT in New York City and, more recently, Drop the Chalk), but as a former teacher who used a pencil-and-paper grading book (in the 21st century) and whose row of shiny Mac Pro desktop computers sat idle at the back of the room for the year (I didn’t know what I should be doing with them), I would like to see tech evangelists grapple as much with behavioral economics—the science behind why people do what they do—as with the gadgetry behind the next big product.
The second challenge will involve rethinking how human capital is deployed in schools. Technology does not just exist and create change in a vacuum. Some of the most promising and talked-about technology innovations in education—including School of One and Rocketship Education—all require reconfigurations of human capital. At School of One, teachers still teach, but they are supported by a range of other actors including teaching assistants and tutors, both online and in-person, and software-based lessons. All of these actors support the system together and make it run. Rocketship Education is a non-profit elementary charter school network that is creating a hybrid school model, combining a traditional classroom setting with tutoring, both online and offline, and online technology. Like School of One, these tutors are the human capital “glue” that helps Rocketship’s innovative financial structure fly.