Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is this the most exciting time in education history?

"It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine."


The potential for innovation and new solutions to deliver education has never been so high.  Traditional learning models, like those many of us grew up with, are being transformed.  It seems every few months a new idea for learning is being introduced.  In just the last few years, we’ve seen examples such as, distance learning, blended learning, personalized learning, and flipped classroom models take off.  Many in the education world believe we’re just getting warmed up!  I am optimistic because the capabilities technology and the web deliver are creating powerful tools that will continue to advance and become more readily available to everyone. 

During this time of transformational innovation, it is critical we keep our focus on learning and not on technology.  We have to make sure we aren’t just automating education, and/or making it more efficient.  Turning a textbook into a etextbook or moving from delivering a lecture in a class to delivering a lecture on video are examples of what I mean. 

I am passionate about education because I know first hand that education can be the silver bullet for millions of children and their families living in poverty.  Education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty in just one generation.  I believe this because like countless others I’ve met throughout my journey, I am living proof.  

The worry I have is that the education I received isn’t suitable for the world we live in today and not nearly suitable for the world we are constructing.  It’s an absolute certainty that students are going to need more advanced skills.  For example, we often talk about collaboration and global competency skills.  Today, we can work with anyone, anywhere in the world but our schools are still treating students as individuals who must work alone.  What would you do if you were a teacher and two students walked up to the front of your class, handed you a test, and said, “We did this together!”  Why is collaboration cheating? 

We need to make sure their learning experiences provide them the relevance and engagement they need as they build the skills for the future. It’s more than just building digital citizenship skills; they need to become digital leaders. 

In order to make this a reality, we need to focus on three key areas.   

First, we need to make sure schools have adequate broadband access.  We would never run a school without lights or heat.  For many schools, Internet access is considered a “nice to have” commodity, not a necessity.  Yet our education system is preparing students for a world where the Internet is ingrained into higher education, business practices, and our daily lives in general, a world where many of the latest teaching tools run on the web.  

Second, we need to leverage the power and prevalence of the web as we create new learning models.  Most students nowadays are growing up with the understanding that the web is where they go to get the knowledge and resources they are looking for.  By recognizing that how we learned is different than the way our children learn, school leaders can take advantage of the habits this tech-literate generation have developed.  This became painfully clear to me when my daughter and I were buying her a ukulele when we visited Hawaii a couple of years ago.  As we were leaving the store, I noticed instruction books and DVDs on how to play the ukulele.  I asked my daughter if she wanted to pick some up so she can learn how to play (after all, that was how I learned).  She looked at me like there was something wrong with me.  Of course, she doesn’t need an instruction book or DVD.  She is going to learn by watching YouTube videos.  As educators, we are starting to understand the impact the web can have.  Videos, web applications, interactive content, and collective pools of knowledge make the world’s information accessible from multiple devices 24 hours a day seven days a week.  

Third, we have to put tools in the hands of teachers and students so that they can access the rich content of an ever-expanding web.  School administrators need to choose devices that not only give students and faculty access to that content, but that are also pain-free and easy to use.  The devices have to be near invisible so that the focus remains on the teaching and learning, not the technology.  What school leaders need is to think about is what happens when you go from having 30 computers in a classroom, to 30,000 in a school district.  How you scale and how you manage the technology is a critical part of planning how to integrate it into the curriculum.  Just as important, we have to let teachers develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to take advantage of these tools.  Today’s teachers are the ones who are going to create the new learning models we will use for generations to come!  Great professional development has never been so important.

This is an exhilarating time in education.  I know if we continue to be innovative and open to new ideas, education can be the silver bullet it was for me.  I am looking forward to watching the traditional model expand into engaging and relevant methods that will prepare our students to live in what is becoming the most stimulating and exhilarating time in history!