Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology.

The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology.
By A. Collins and R. Halverson, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, February 2010.

The article begins by explaining that the history of our current model of schooling stemmed from new technology itself, that of the industrial revolution. The difference in the two education revolutions is that the first created an organized system of education that did not formerly exist; the second and current revolution is posing major challenges and reconsiderations to an institution that exists and has now been in place for two hundred plus years. Policymakers and many teachers believe that schooling is where and how students do and should learn. The reality is with a superabundance of knowledge at their fingertips, students are learning more than ever outside of school. The article states that this is a newer shift, but I believe that most of learning throughout all of life takes place out of school, whether through witnessing events, asking parents questions, traveling, or drawing conclusions about how the world works. It is true, though, that technology allows us incredible accessibility and “has become central to people’s reading, writing, calculating and thinking, which are the major concerns of schooling.”

As an undergraduate student, I took a class called ‘Differentiating Curriculum’ which focused on how to tailor any subject matter to fit the needs, likes and abilities of each individual in the classroom. I remember thinking that as amazing as it would be to tailor each unit and assignment to best suit each individual student and motivate them through letting them explore curriculum by relating it to their interests, with classrooms of 25 students, it seems impossible for a teacher to be able to do that. Through looking over many articles, and especially this one that I finally decided on, I’ve come to conclude that the most amazing benefit of integrating technology into education is that it truly allows customization of learning. In every education theory class or child development class you learn that the biggest link to learning is motivation. If a student doesn’t care about the subject matter or they don’t feel like they’re going to be good at it, it is going to be very difficult to engage them and provoke them to dig deeper and learn more.

Uniform learning and curriculum standardization is so deeply engrained into our current educational structure- whether it’s that there is grading by age, common assessments or standardized testing- that all we do is emphasize that all 25 students from all different backgrounds with all different interests and areas of strength should learn the exact same things at the exact same time in the exact same way. Yet, we wonder why our education system is failing us. Allowing students to use computers and technology permits them to seek out information in ways that suit them, their interests, with a variety of content regarding each topic. The teacher is no longer the expert and the sole information giver, but the students become researchers and experts in a great variety of topics within subject areas. The current model of education, though, has a hard time adjusting “the notion that knowledge is fixed and that the work of the teacher is to present what is known to students.” Yet there is no way any teacher can know every single thing about every single topic within every single subject that may interest any single student.

The No Child Left Behind act has only increased the need for standardized testing in schools and thus requires that all students learn the same things. How can a student that has moved here from Mexico possibly have the same base of knowledge as a student who has lived in Bedford, New Hampshire their entire life? “Whereas information technologies press us to think of new approaches to authentic assessment, standards-based reforms in schools have instead sought to reinforce a single, traditional path towards measuring what students know.” Standardized testing sets up the average or above average student to succeed and leaves everyone else for failure.

Integrating technology into classrooms also proves as a powerful tool in keeping up with current times. Knowledge is exploding in all areas every minute of every day, textbooks just keep getting bigger and bigger but provide just a glimpse into what is going on. While the wealth of knowledge on the internet is a great tool, it also presents educators with a new challenge: Since the knowledge students have access to doesn’t exist only in a textbook, students must learn the right questions to ask and how to figure out what is worth knowing.

There are many benefits to reforming our current method of schooling and integrating technology but the biggest to me is the ability to differentiate curriculum and assessment for students and allowing them to truly interact and get a “hands on” education. Goodbye to the days of students sitting staring at a chalkboard and hello to a classroom full of students searching for quality information that is relevant and interesting. Though there is a lot to be gained, as with every great change that occurs something is always lost, as well. Because this revolution is so new, we’re still amidst finding out what will be left behind.

The article states that if the public school systems don’t get on reform and start making use of all that technology has to offer, public schools will become a place that the wealthy leave behind, sending their kids to schools that utilize all that technology has to offer. Public schools have always been looked at as the means to foster social and economic equity despite segregation and other faults that exist. In the world of technology, “the lives of the economically disempowered are likely to suffer the most, and public schools may become little more than the institutions of last resort.” The other downfall that I see is that if learning through technology means more parent involvement and not being overseen by a government run institution all of the time, is it setting up the “economically disempowered” for failure? In school systems as they exist today, students who have parents who read to them at night, spend time with them on weekends and take time to answer their questions far outperform those who are raised by a single mother who doesn’t have time to expose them to reading before they enter school and has to work weekends to provide. If the turn in the education system requires more personal and family responsibility, is it not solving one of the biggest problems that our current system already faces?

Although I am quite enthused by the differentiation that technology will allow in curriculum and learning, there is also a possibility that one of the major goals of education, expanding people’s horizons, will suffer. If everyone is able to choose what they want to learn about and what is interesting to them, “there is a problem of parents steering children along narrow vocation-driven paths. This means that children may not be exposed to different views on issues and become more parochial in their ideas.” The flipside of that is that education becomes more engaging for students of all ages and that adults will be able to choose courses and find information that helps them reach their career goals.

Overall, the new set of technology faces educators with a new way of teaching and a new set of skills to teach- our main purpose is no longer to regurgitate information we’ve learned, but to teach students how to find, create, explore, ask questions, solve problems, analyze information, create videos, join websites, recognize when they need more information and most importantly, evaluate the information that they find. There is much to be gained in making information more accessible to students and more relevant to students but it starts with the policymakers and educators. In order for the shift to occur within our current education system “our technology leaders need to work together with educators, not as missionaries bearing magical gifts, but as collaborators in creating new opportunities to learn.”

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