Schools around the world are increasingly infusing tech tools into every aspect of a student’s education

Design Lab at International School of Beijing
Design Lab at International School of Beijing

( — October 12, 2018) Beijing, Beijing —

In virtually every forecast of the future of the workplace, we’re warned of dystopian scenarios where half or more of all jobs are automated and the human worker is left to fumble through a society that’s yet to evolve a stable place for them. Some studies predict this change will happen as soon as the next ten years.

But in many cases, these forecasts are tempered with optimism. The lost jobs, they say, are the ones that have always required us to become a bit like robots anyway. They’re the ones with repetitive tasks that require little brainpower beyond the initial training period and tend to zap us of our humanity.

The new jobs will be ones that require us to nourish and strengthen the skills that make us human. And when society does finally adapt, the automation will provide a net gain in jobs for the humans.

So let’s go with that scenario.



Whatever happens, it’s beyond doubt that the job market of the near future will prioritize a very different set of skills. To find success, workers will need to be able to engage with and find applications for the rapidly evolving technological innovations that hit us in wave after wave. It’s no longer about simply learning how to use the new tech – it’s about having an innate feel for how the new tech can be applied to any number of disciplines, or markets, or world-altering crises.

So for the educational institutions that must prepare their students to enter this new workplace, the primary challenge is creating opportunities for them to develop that innate feel. Many of them have embraced this challenge with a complete shift in their approach to teaching.



One of the best examples of these is the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a public boarding school just outside of Chicago. Dubbed ‘Hogwarts for Hackers’ by Wired magazine, the school was recently ranked the #1 public high school in America. Most schools anywhere in the world would envy its access to resources and tech toys like 3D printers and DNA sequencers, but it’s their philosophy of guiding students to engage with these toys that can truly be a beacon for those hoping to evolve their school’s approach to education technology.

IMSA was created as a laboratory for inquiry-based learning, an ancient idea that has come full circle with the drive to integrate technology into core curriculums. Students often design their own projects and learn by doing and asking questions as they go. There is no teaching scenario at IMSA that doesn’t require a student’s getting their hands dirty with finding a solution or a pathway to grasping the concept. This approach is a breeding ground for entrepreneurial thinking, and the school has churned out dozens of luminaries in the tech world since it’s founding in 1985.

There’s no world in which this approach would be applicable to every school and every student. IMSA is a unique educational laboratory with gifted students and unconventional, often untrained educators who are innovative professionals in their field. They have the luxury of tearing down virtually all scaffolding and allowing their students to fully forge their own paths.

But because they have the freedom to experiment and explore new teaching methods and new approaches to project-based learning, they’ve hit on several successful models that can be adopted by any school and applied to their own curriculum.



These kinds of shared tricks of the trade are increasingly accessible to educators around the world. There’s a collective drive to collaborate and create connections between both educators themselves and innovators in fields of technology. Developers of new tech often seek out schools that prioritize tech integration as a kind of laboratory for their ideas. These connections are increasingly facilitated by a fairly new position in education – the Ed Tech Coordinator.

The most forward-thinking schools are creating this position to facilitate the integration of technology into standard curriculums. While most education planners and school districts agree that this integration is essential, there’s a rooted resistance to change amongst the schoolteachers themselves. One of the most important roles of an Ed Tech Coordinator, or Coach, is to help relieve the stigma and ease the fears of building tech tools into the lesson plan. 

At the Stamford American International School of Singapore, the Ed Tech Coach, Adam Torrens, noticed a shift in perception amongst teachers and staff when it came to utilizing the school-issued iPads. In 2011, every elementary school student at the school received an iPad, and for the first few years, the focus was on finding education-based apps to enhance learning. The school, like most others, employed ICT specialists (like IT guys, but for education) who hosted once-a-week workshops for students on using the iPad. These usually focused on playing education games – like a modern day version of playing Oregon Trail on the class computer in the 80’s.

But with the evolution of more creation-based apps, students and teachers began to find opportunities to design, collaborate and present using the iPad. It became increasingly clear that the iPad needed to be a part of every aspect of the student’s education. The school’s ICT specialists evolved into Ed Tech Coaches, helping teachers plan lessons while optimizing the use of creative technology. The goal was to build the kinds of skills that students will need in a tech-infused workplace, like ‘creative communication’, ‘digital citizenship’, and ‘global collaboration’. They began infusing that innate feel into their students from a very early age.



An important aspect of tech integration is the willingness to accept that the workplace of the future is unpredictable. This leads to an openness to adapt and evolve as new forces take shape and new learning models appear to address them.

One school that has built its approach to learning around this openness is the International School of Beijing. ISB has developed a curriculum framework they call “Learning21@ISB” or L21, designed to build the kinds of skills students will need for the 21st century. At its heart is a focus on standards, but the school has created its own unique vision of how to instill these standards into their students. A key component of this vision is ‘technology infusion’ throughout all aspects of the curriculum.

ISB’s Ed Tech Coordinator, Clint Hamada, is an integral part of designing this curriculum. He works with the school’s Director of Learning, Stacy Stephens, to build technology and digital concepts into lesson plans, assessments and classroom experiences. He also facilitates professional development for teachers and staff, usually through one-on-one coaching.

Hamada is emboldened by the support he feels from ISB’s leaders for experimenting with learning strategies. “We have more resources here than at any school I’ve been in. There’s more support from the entire school. If there’s something we want to do, and we can show that it will have a positive impact, we’ll go for it. There’s a freedom to explore, and the teachers are willing to take risks.”

Hamada won support for building a proper, industry-quality design center at ISB.  “We’re still in the process of completing it, but we’ve started to experiment. When you’re there, you’re a designer. These are industry-level tools you’re working with. So when you go to the workplace, you’re ready. It’s almost a modern-day vocational school for tech.”

Hamada believes that the process of design can be a powerful educational tool. “Our department wants to instill design elements into every class. Whether it’s physical or digital design, we want to use that process to make deeper connections with our core classes. We try to bring the process of creation to life, where we can physically see the problem solving that went into it. It’s laid bare and students can learn from that or respond to it. We then leverage those experiences to teach standards.”

This aspect of demonstrating the process of learning is one of the key advantages of technology in education. A student’s ideas and core intentions are put on display in an engaging, exciting way, and other students and teachers can both grasp them more easily and build on them more effectively. The sharing process often leads to opportunities for innovative, transformational experiences that don’t happen with pen and paper. It can facilitate collaborations with other students both within the school and around the world.

Hamada sees those transformational experiences as the guiding light for Ed Tech. They create the hunger for building the kinds of 21st century skills that ISB emphasizes. They make innovative entrepreneurs and global, digital citizens out of math students.

“We’ve had a knowledge economy for a long time, but we’re moving fully into a service economy,” says Hamada. “Service is about building empathy and understanding the deeper causes of problems – not just responding to the symptoms. Our students will need to have a nose for ways in which they can use the tools we have to help people, to address needs for both society and industry. So we want to build that vocabulary, that fluency in our students, where they see more possibilities and they’re not bogged down too much by what’s come before. We want to instill an optimistic viewpoint in them.”

The global shift towards leveraging technology to build empathy and understanding in the coming generation of students is indeed a reason for optimism. They’ll need to continue nourishing those things that make them human to be successful in an increasingly automated world.

( — October 12, 2018) Beijing, Beijing —

International School of Beijing

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