Education in a Digital World


The world around us these days is both digital and global. Technology is suffusing everything. We’re globally interconnected with people and places that we’ve never been connected with before. In this digital global age that we now live we’re finding that for the most part our schools are
neither of those. Schools are supposedly knowledge institutions where we teach kids to be masters of information and yet if you look out in the real world beyond schools and beyond universities at how knowledge workers do their jobs ya know, their doing it all with computers Yet, here we are we’re pretending that we’re preparing students for knowledge work in a knowledge economy in a very hyper-connected hyper-competitive global knowledge economy and yet we’re doing it with ring binders and notebook paper. When we look at what does it mean to be a learner these days It’s also very different and I’m not sure that we’re really empowering students these days to take full advantage of the wide variety of learning opportunities. Digital technologies, the internet, and so on. Ways that make them powerful learners not just now but in the years to come So much of our education paradigm for the last 100 years has been focused on factual recall, low-level procedural knowledge The kind of stuff that you can easily and cheaply assess with bubble tests. and what we’re finding is that that kind of
knowledge is ubiquitous these days instead of
suffering from knowledge scarcity we’re suffering from information overload and any fact that’s in any textbook or on any worksheet or any end of chapter practice question or whatever you can easily find on the web in a
hundred different forms we have to skill ourselves up to a
higher level of knowledge work that lower level work which students spend
about 80-85% of their day to day classroom time on doesn’t really have any kind of economic value anymore. We still need to know facts we still need to know stuff. there are…when we go and find information out on the internet we still need to be able to think critically about it and what does it mean but nobody’s regurgitating facts anymore these days and getting paid for it. Instead what they’re being asked to do is what can you do with that knowledge? How do you think about that knowledge? How do you create new value with that knowledge? and so on. That’s all upper level mental work…that’s applying, that’s synthesizing, that’s analyzing, that’s creating that’s doing. So, I think if you’re walking into a high functioning school these days Kids are doing, they’re thinking, they’re creating, they’re making they’re interacting, they’re collaborating, they’re communicating, they’re being critical thinkers they’re being problem solvers they’re more self-directed in terms of their learning so they can be deep and passionate about something and really express that in ways that are relevant and authentic. We have them working on real world projects not artificial problems from the textbook and so on. So, I think that’s what a really high functioning school looks like its one that gives kids greater autonomy, greater choice greater self-direction and empowering
kids to do that work which in most cases means that they’re using computers, they’re using the Internet they’re using video, they’re using you know
collaboration tools, they’re using whatever is necessary to get the job done everything is becoming technology suffused so your hard pressed these days to find a
job out there that pays well where you do any kind of thinking
whatsoever that isn’t heavily technology suffused. So, how do we start getting kids access to laptop computers, iPads, netbooks digital camcorders Whatever they need to do that kind of higher-level academic work, learning work, mental work like is done out in the field. When we make those tools, those hardware systems, those software systems, those online systems available to students. We find that they’re much more capable of doing things than we thought they were before. We have school districts right now where we have seventh-graders that are using the same kind of virtual-reality design software as
aerospace engineers at Rockwell Collins. We have students who are creating robust online conversation spaces. They’re doing professional level video editing. They’re learning to express themselves and communicate and create knowledge products that we used to say you’d have to be 25, 30
and have years of experience in your job in order to be able to do and now they’re doing those in middle school and high school. and so what we’re finding is that when
we can get tools in the hands of our students They amaze us on a regular basis with the level of work that they can do. We’re seeing another movement occurring out there which is that students are increasingly learning from machines and software not from a live human being so that may be a virtual teacher somewhere else it’s increasingly
software, or its a simulation, or its a video game or its some kind of self-paced Internet experience and so on and then of course the software once it pushes that information out can also assess your learning and mastery of those
lower level mental outcomes in a variety of ways just like we’re using worksheets for multiple choice questions, for fill in the blanks, for crossword puzzles, for short essays and
so on The software’s increasingly able to do all that kind of work which means that we have to start thinking as educators what’s our value-added above and beyond what the software can do these days. I
think in the future gonna see that learning software cannot only handle the
lower level mental work but increasingly through simulations and video game like environments the artificial intelligence agencies can
also tell us not just what you know but what can you do with what you know? How do you apply what you know? One thing we have to recognize is that
online learning is exploding. Online learning still has a fairly minor role here in Iowa. We have a few online learning opportunities available to students but nowhere near what our capacity needs. These new communications tools are enabling all kinds of new capabilities Were starting to wrap our head around the idea that a teenager could have a global audience in the 10s of thousands, 100s of thousands, millions even It’s not uncommon now to go to YouTube and see some video that some adolescent made that’s you know racking up five, ten, twelve million views we’re seeing writing spaces like fanfiction.net where kids are doing interest-based fiction writing around book communities…uh books or movies or TV shows that they love and their writing stories set in those…in those settings…in those universes with those characters. and they’re writing 10s of thousands of words simply because they love those characters and those literary or media universes so much and they’re actively soliciting feedback, right, they want to be better
writers So what the internet does is it enables us to have a voice Right, so many of us are able to
have a voice they were never ever able to have before. It also allows us to find each others voices and then to work together in ways that we weren’t able to and that enables a lot of really interesting collaboration opportunities and learning opportunities. We haven’t gotten past the geographic mindset yet that geography matters and unless you job is location dependent, geography matters not a whit. What we’re finding is that your not…ya know, as has been said, you’re no longer competing with people just in your county or your state but you’re competing with people all over the country and all over the world for whatever you’re doing. So, whatever you’re selling, or whatever you’re offering, or whatever kind of charity you’re trying to raise money for, or whatever service you’re providing or whatever idea you’re trying to raise mind share around there are hundreds, if not thousands, or tens of thousands of other people all around the world who are also doing that. So, this new globalized interconnected economy has huge implications for the economic side of things in terms of workforce preparation and the kind of skills we need to maintain as individuals and as workers and employees throughout our entire lives. I think where we’re still slower to change is what does day to day instruction look like? What does day to day learning look like? and I think we’re still very much stuck in older ways of thinking and doing and being. We seem to want to just add on to what we’re currently doing. We never take anything off our plate. and there’s lots of creative ways to
stop doing things that we’re currently doing and do other things that are more important or that better move us in the directions that we need to go. One of the common refrains we hear from many communities board members, superintendents, parents,
etc. is that you know budget times are already tough they’re already tight, how do we handle this? I guess I would say two things to those folks. The first one is, recognize that there are other school systems that look a lot like yours alright, they’re operating in the same policy environment, the same regulatory environment, the same funding environment that you are they’re about the same size as you, they’re similar kinds of communities and yet they’re making this happen. Go find some of those other places that look like you, roughly right, and then talk about how did they make this shift? How did they re-purpose personnel and funding streams and so on to get where they need to go? The biggest thing they’re doing is they’re facilitating instructional change. The tenor and tone of the classroom looks different. If 85% of kids day to day classroom work now is lower level factual recall and procedural knowledge how do we start shifting that up towards
the upper end of Blooms Taxonomy? for example that they’re doing higher level work…and that’s really where the leadership needs to come in where we say look, we’re gonna walk away from some things that maybe we’ve held dear in the past the world is changing around us, we have
to change too and that means that learning looks different, that means that teaching looks different, that means that curriculum looks different, that means that resourcing looks different, that means that staffing looks different. I think that everybody’s recognizing that we’re in a transition period. It’s very tumultuous, it’s very turbulent and to take teachers who sometimes have been teaching for several decades and tell them this is the way you should be an instructor and now all of a sudden well you’ve gotta do all this new stuff instead you’ve gotta move from lower-level cognitive work to higher-level cognitive work You’ve gotta figure how to pull these learning technologies into that in a way that’s powerful. The technology is a tool and means to an end but the end is ultimately higher-level learning experiences for kids. What does the world look like now? What will the world look like, ya know, 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now? How do we start preparing kids for that? There’s lots of really neat stuff that’s out there and available to us. We just have to decide we’re gonna do it and get rolling.

4 thoughts on “Education in a Digital World”

  1. I think this turned out great. Thanks!

    FYI, a typo in my blog URL. No worries… Should be dangerouslyirrelevant [dot] org

  2. Thanks Scott, It was really fun to work with you! And sorry about the typo…I added an annotation, so hopefully that helps clear any confusion ; )

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