Is Education Ready for a Digital Upgrade?
I fully support ‘upgrading’ education for the digital age, as suggested in the text. From my interpretation, she is not just talking about utilizing modern technology in lesson planning and the lessons themselves, but also a general upgrade of practices, policies, and pedagogy from the rigors of the outdated classical system we have been using for decades. Creativity will need to be a large contributor to this idea of educational evolution because we are all so used to the traditional version of education as lecture-take notes-assign homework-study-administer test.
While a complete revamp of the educational structure is long overdue, it is not likely to be widely accepted for many reasons. First off, educators would need to be completely re-educated on new teaching methods. This would be costly for the individual or the administration, especially considering the budgeting stress that already plagues education in the US. Technology is much easier to absorb if it is something you grew up with, and not all of today’s educators did, be it that they are older or did not have access in their youth. The physical, tangible necessities like computers, software, tablets, at home internet access, and a myriad of other emerging digital tools may also prove monetarily out of reach for some districts, especially those in impoverished neighborhoods. When a school cannot afford books, or safe classrooms and building, or the parents cannot afford clothing, food, and shelter, technology will be the furthest thing from their mind. There would inevitably be push back from teachers, administration, and parents who value the current system, do not understand what is wrong with it, and/or simply fear changing something they do not see as broken.
WARNING: this following paragraph contains views and opinions that could be considered political in nature and may not be suitable for all viewers. If you have a delicate sensibility, or fear progress and views from outside your personal bubble, please skip to the next paragraph. Thank you.
I want to expand on the growing distinction between the haves and have nots in regard to education. It is no secret that wealth disparity in our society is at a critically high point. The cost of living compared to wage stagnation is atrocious; most states in the US would require a minimum of 65 hours per week at a minimum wage job in order to afford a 2 bedroom apartment (some states would require over 100 hours of work per week, I’m looking at you California and New York). The strong middle class of America’s Golden Age is nearly nonexistent. Communities, especially in urban environments, are trapped in a never ending circle of poverty, crime, and abuse. School becomes nearly impossible for youth when they do not have: access to supplies, proper nutrition, a study space, healthcare, shelter, clothing, access to technology, and/or meaningful family support. Children who grow up in ghettos have little hope of making a better life for themselves because there is little opportunity for them and little attention paid to the extenuating circumstances of their situation. How can they do well in school when they are worried about where their next meal will come from, or are cornered for their parents, or deal with bullies over hand me down clothes. They cannot complete homework or score well on tests. For a long time, federal funds have been allocated on scholastic performance, which would clearly set schools in these communities at a disadvantage when they are the ones that need the most attention. Crime breeds in these conditions when you give a population few choices and an impossible path to navigate a better life for their families. Most of these communities are non-white “minorities” or of African descent. Technically segregation ended years ago, but through practices that blocked these populations from accumulating generational wealth, they are caught in a loop of poverty. I am very concerned that we are discussing the implementation of emerging technologies in our classrooms without acknowledging that there is a fair portion of the US that will not be able to benefit from any of this. Before we try to revolutionize the system of education, we really need to consider uplifting the segments of society we try not to think about to the basic standard the rest of us have had for generations. It is my belief that a great many of our nation’s most dire problems could be remedied if we made a heavy investment in our education system. If I could feasibly run for President in the next election, I would base my entire platform on how education, while we would not see many of the benefits for a decade or two, is the smartest and most cost-effective way to ensure the advancement of our nation.
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If we were to ignore the aforementioned issues and assume the cost, social economics, and dissenting opinions hypothetical non-issues, I see a huge opportunity to incorporate new technology into classrooms. Technology such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, and social media are already being consumed by the youngest generation at rates that are previously undocumented. If the old(er) thought that technology advances exponentially by doubling each decade is correct, the next ten years hold more
While I enjoyed reading this article, and agree the system is well overdue for an overhaul, I think it is missing an element of reality that gives it a naïve, silver-spooned, country-girl-meets-the-city quality. While the concepts are great but I do not see how they could be successfully implemented. Yes, politicians have zero idea what is really needed to prepare students for the future. In their questioning of Mark Zuckerberg it was painfully obvious they do not know how to use the Facebooks, let alone comprehend what life is like in the job market. In that same vein, a professor at Duke University probably has little knowledge of what the classroom looks like on the south side of Chicago. I do give her credit for putting the idea out there. Heffernan observed a systemic problem and gives some alternatives to consider. There was little detail on any suggestions other than allowing students to blog, but this is an internet article not a peer reviewed scientific thesis. After all, I have never written a book or published my ideas for an education revolution, so I myself am a hypocrite for passing judgement.
Here are ways I think we can make changes within the current system that will benefit our students. Alternative assignments, like blogging, creating video content, researching new technologies, building web games, would integrate the processes students already prefer to use in a way that can still be educational. I do not think research papers, book reports, or testing can be completely phased out of the system, but they take on a different role than they are. Instead of making exams worth a large percentage of the final grade, make them worth so little they only hold significance as a knowledge check. Instead of assigning individual papers, have students work in groups to research a topic and then post it on a class website or a relevant forum. They will learn more about socialization, criticism, and the responsibility if it is through a medium they enjoy rather than a standardized regurgitation.
How do we prepare students for a future that has yet to be invented? The answer is that you don’t; there is no way to predict what their future will look like. We can only learn from our experiences, reflect on the changes we have witnessed, and teach them how to think outside the average Amazon delivery box. Fostering creativity, adaptability, problem solving skills, and emotional maturity is the best way to prepare someone for the unexpected.