By Jay Larsen
President & Founder of the Idaho Technology Council
"Technology" can sound intimidating, but it really just means using tools. Technology is simply the development of new tools to help our society. Today it's responsible for some of the most amazing things in our civilization—from robotic surgery to smart phones, from Twitter to space exploration.
Still, it's important to remember that people count the most. Technology is useless without the people behind it. The mission of the Idaho Technology Council is to do whatever we can to promote our state's technology industries. When I talk to entrepreneurs, their focus—their need—is on people, people, people. People are the talent that help ideas succeed in an increasingly technical world.
That is why we are so excited to see the progress that Idaho is making in introducing technology into our classrooms. It's not just that tools like computers, networks, and online learning can help students learn better—although they certainly do. Just as importantly, the experience produces adults who are comfortable and proficient with the tools of technology, and that is what Idaho needs for the future.
Geography has historically been an economic constraint in Idaho. We have been a relatively small number of people spread out over some very large spaces. That's less of a concern today, when a company's engineering teams may include people hundreds, even thousands of miles apart—perhaps in other countries—connected through the internet.
Some of us may have a hard time getting used to the idea of having a close and productive working relationship with someone you may never meet in person. But for a high school student used to working and collaborating with teachers and students from all over the state—through an online course—it isn't a particularly radical idea.
Yes, it's important for students to experience the hardware and software being introduced into our classrooms. Those are valuable tools. But even more important, they are learning the "soft skills" so valuable to the employers of the future—creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
My son just graduated from Boise High School. When attending high school, he came home almost every day to tell me about a new way he was learning via technology. For him, it's fun. His teachers used clickers, smart boards, tablets, apps, e-readers, specialty websites, even educational social networking sites. It's a much different world than when I went to high school, and the classroom experience will continue to evolve and change as technology changes. That's great, because the world—the work place—is changing. That's reality. It is gratifying to see Idaho's schools change in order to produce graduates with the tools, skills, and mindsets they will need to succeed in our changing world, whatever they do.
One notable effort helping make this happen is the Idaho Leads Project, a Boise State managed program to support teachers in bringing technology into the classroom. The ITC is collaborating with Idaho Leads on the "MyFuture" Student Tech Contest, which is asking Idaho's K-12 students and teachers to help design the classroom of the 21st century.
Participants create short videos explaining things like: What kinds of technology do you use? How do students collaborate? How can you use technology to take tests? What do your art, science, history, etc. classes look like with technology?
These videos are an excellent opportunity for students and teachers to learn and share. Community members and parents can see how things have changed since they were in school. It can be a source of pride for Idaho—illustrating the creativity of our teachers and students.
Community voting, open from September 28 – October 1, will determine the grand prize winners. The finalists will be honored and winners announced at the annual Hall of Fame Gala on October 2. All are competing for college scholarships, virtual field trips, and classroom iPads.
Our state's future is directly tied to the quality of the education that our children receive. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of our technology industries. I congratulate Idaho's educational community for its admirable progress in this vital effort.
If you know a student or teacher who would be a good candidate, encourage them to apply.
Find more information about the MyFuture Student Tech Contest on the Idaho Leads Project website athttp://education.boisestate.edu/idaholeads. The deadline to apply is September 26, 2012.