Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Digital Game Changers

Recently a reporter from Courier-Life Publications in Brooklyn, NY, asked me some questions about my views on the future of education. She had run across my paper, "Future Trends Affecting Education," that I'd written for Education Commission of the States some years back. I'll share my thoughts in several posts.

What are some of the main changes you see happening in education and why?
We are certainly seeing education opportunities multiplying. Online education is one of several forces expanding the options for learners enormously, and it is "disruptive" as Clayton Christensen et al describe in Disrupting Class, in the sense that it is spurring educators and policymakers to re-think the model for public education. It's exciting to see school districts using online and blended learning to supplement classroom activities or replace the traditional classroom if the student needs such an option. Jefferson County Schools in Colorado presents an interesting model in that the superintendent is in front of this blended learning approach and as such, the level of inter-departmental cooperation on this is very high. In many large districts, the technologists, online learning folks, the curriculum and instruction specialists, and the assessment people operate in separate worlds. In Jeffco, they are collaborating to bring more and varied learning opportunities, including a hybrid (or blended learning) high school and extensive offerings in its Virtual Academy. This sort of expansion in options is good news for learners!

Through Colorado Online Learning and other providers, students in rural Colorado now have access to classes and teachers that can be hard to come by in resource-scarce areas. For example, students in remote areas can take classes in Mandarin Chinese or Latin, study AP physics, and earn dual credit / college credit for their high school courses. Online learning opportunities go a long way to take the student's zip code out of the access-to-quality-education equation.

School districts compete for students much more so now than they have in the past. Charter schools, magnet schools, and schools within schools are among the many choices available to students and parents searching for learning experiences that fit best with their interests and learning styles.

At the Council on 21st Century Learning, we are excited to see teachers collaborating and using digital tools to work with peers, as well as to provide similar learning experiences to their students. Teachers in the Digital Learning Collaborative in Longmont's St. Vrain Valley School District are embarking on a year of action research to test the effects of various tech tools on student learning. These new ways of connecting to people, ideas and content are just beginning to take hold, and they are game changers. If you have a choice (and of course you do), you want your child to be learning from people who are active learners themselves, and who explore new ways of learning and collaborating.

We are seeing the "content is king" mentality shift toward a new focus on students acquiring essential skills, like those espoused by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. In Colorado, new state standards call for incorporating 21st century, postsecondary and workforce readiness skills. (By the way, no one really knows how to teach or measure these skills yet, but we're on the right track.) These are all encouraging signs.

The single most exciting development I'm seeing -- and it's directly related to the trends cited above -- is the growing ability and willingness to individualize learning. This is a huge and much-needed shift, one that is slowly but slowly taking hold.

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