Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Transformative Power of Technology

Along with the discussion about 21st Century skills and 21st Century learning we've seen an increased focus on the role technology plays in schools and in student learning. Having worked in education for over twenty years I have seen this phenomenon before. In the 1980's the Macintosh computer was going to change education forever. Later, in the 1990's we saw the emergence of PC computers and a much wider adoption of computers in average homes. Also, we witnessed the birth of something called the World Wide Web! Finally, this past decade, we have seen unprecedented adoption of technology in many forms. We have witnessed the rise of the cell phone, the iPOD and iPAD, smartboards and boogie boards. Again, the focus (and hope) is on technology "revolutionizing" education.
So far, the most articulate argument I've heard comes from someone outside of the K-12 education establishment. Clayton Christenson is a Business Professor working at Harvard University and is the author of Disrupting Class. His basic thesis is that, at some point in time, students will be able to easily gain access to information that is much more relevant to them than what is being presented in schools - and they will be able to access this information in increasingly cheaper and easier ways through the use of technology. Additionally, they will be able to access instructors and instructional videos from all over the world! Once a "tipping point" is reached it will most likely be impossible for large school systems to react and change.
It is easy for most of us to think that changes, as the ones currently proposed in the BC Education Plan, are unlikely to take hold any time soon. This time, I think some changes might actually happen - although not immediately. I think big changes might still be about 5 years away. With that in mind, are we considering some of the following:
  • What is important for students to learn? What does it mean to be educated?
  • How will we address the socialization of  students if it is so easy to access learning outside of a school (or in your basement)?
  • What will report cards look like in this new learning environment? 
  • How can we manage personalized learning paths for all students in a class? 
  • How will we address issues like social responsibility and tolerance?
Some of these questions will convince people that the change will never happen. I believe that changes are on the way and that educators need to be at the forefront of change helping to guide society towards a positive new system that is equitable and fair for everyone.

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