Last Wednesday, we returned with our online TechTable series, “Reinvent America,” in partnership with the Reinventors Network. This particular discussion was centered on reinventing digital education and was anchored by Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org and T4A.org board member. Other participants included Geoff Ralston, Founder & Partner at Imagine K12, Sherry Smith, Managing Director at Making Waves Foundation, Mandeep Dhillon, Co-founder & CEO of 1StudentBody, Nell Hurley, Director of Communications at EducationSuperHighway, and Ketan Kothari, VP of Marketing at Edmodo.
The question posed to the group was this: How should K-12 education in the 21st century differ from that of the 20th century if we took full advantage of digital technologies?
To focus the discussion on the changes we’ve seen and those we anticipate seeing, Hadi and Peter Leyden, series moderator and Founder of the Reinventors Network, set up the table to focus on three primary changes:
- What students learn
- How students learn
- How infrastructure has and needs to change
Updating what students learn in the classroom is widely discussed in Silicon Valley, if not the nation. Unemployment is high, yet many companies are struggling to find enough engineers or individuals with great technical skills. To close this gap, the group agreed that computer science education needs to become a priority and needs to be accessible to students across the nation. While this solution seems simple in theory, it is a bit more difficult in practice, particularly because of the outdated infrastructure of our education system. For example, if we had computer science to the curriculum, what do we have to give up? How will adding this subject change what we learn on a day-to-day basis?
Another obstacle is internet access. Many students have access to little or no strong wifi at their schools. And even among those that may have internet at their schools, many do not have access in their homes. There is as, Sherry Smith put it, a digital divide that will continue if we don’t address these infrastructure problems.
We also have the problem of adapting how teachers teach and are taught. While we have seen some advancements in recent years, education infrastructure has remained largely unchanged for 200 years. Because of this, many instructors are uncomfortable with or hesitant to bring technology to the classrooms. As Geoff Ralston pointed out though, technology shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for teachers. Rather, it should be seen as a means to allow them to refocus on what’s important. For example, instead of prioritizing grading math homework that could be done by a computer, teachers can instead focus their energy on how their children are learning and what individual needs are not being addressed. Ralston also pointed out that tech allows teachers to diversify their lesson plans and create something new and exciting everyday.
The growing emphasis on digital education has also changed how students learn. In the past, we have relied on lectures and rote memorization. Technology allows us to expand this and lets students learn in a more hands on, critical thinking way. We have also entered an age where information is close to unlimited. As Mandeep Dhillon explained: In the past, without technology, students could only know what their teachers and parents knew and what they could find in a public library. Now, as he put it, our children will never not know something again. This dramatically changes how and what we learn.
We are not living in the same world that we were 200 years ago. Everything has changed from where we live to how we get around to how we communicate with others. But one thing has resisted this change: education. We need to be sure our students are prepared for an increasingly tech-driven world and that all starts in our schools.