Pinellas County students and parents could have a front row seat to a transformation of education. That is the vision of SRI International, a California-based research company with a facility in St. Petersburg.
Earlier this year, SRI received a $1 million grant from the Helios Foundation to establish a "Center for Digital Learning." The state budget awaiting Governor Rick Scott's signature includes $3 million for SRI and USF St. Petersburg's College of Education.
Proponents envision SRI evaluating and assessing educational hardware and software, USFSP training teachers in how to use it, and Pinellas students providing the real-life testing.
SRI's Dr. Larry Langebrake said information developed at the new center will serve schools statewide.
"How do you really understand the impact, effectiveness, even the detriment of a particular technology," Langebrake said in describing SRI's role.
Langebrake believes education is in the midst of a cultural revolution ignited by technology, and even futuristic visions are not out of reach. For example, computers can already measure the pace of student's keyboard strokes and determine if he is stumped by a particular lesson.
The software then tries a different way of explaining the same information.
"In the not-too-distant future, you could easily see voice recognition software also measuring that competence and confidence and better optimizing how the information is presented to the student," Langebrake said.
Pinellas school officials are aware of an earlier, successful pilot program by SRI and USFSP. It was called SunBay Digital Math and was used for three years in a few Pinellas middle schools. Pinellas educators are not yet aware the state funding will revive and expand that program.
Langebrake said digital learning techniques can be used to teach any subject, and for teachers, technologies are just tools. "The blended experience where you have a combination of human interaction with a teacher, with technology, provides the best results," he said.
While Langebrake foresees a cultural transformation, Pinellas teachers may have doubts.
"I think there's some skepticism because things have been touted as the next great transformation, but there's a failure to address the infrastructure needs," said Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union.
A recent example: not enough computers to administer FCAT tests as demanded by the state.
"Most transformations generally take more time in an organization as large and broad as ours because they're dealing with human beings," Proud predicted.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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