Wednesday, July 29

Technology Is Transforming Education Right Before Our Eyes

Education is experiencing a tech revolution, but it's only a single facet of our near future landscape. As much as some standardization is seen as an opportunity to level the educational playing field, technology is simultaneously making education and educators accessible for anyone who wants more.

Some parents, myself included, are becoming keenly aware of the opportunities technology affords our children as it pertains to education. I became especially attentive to it two years ago after discovering that my daughter's reading proficiency wasn't keeping up with her course work.

This summer, thanks in part to a reading program I developed for her, she is reading The Hobbit, which is three to five years above her grade level. Sure, she still struggles with some of the words, but that's the point. I want her to feel challenged.

In fact, since then, her summer education program has expanded beyond reading. Between sites like education.com, skillshare, and code.org, there is no shortage of educational content. It keeps her balanced between free play and other activities like art camps or softball clinics or guitar lessons.

It also keeps her up to speed on core subjects while introducing her to skills that she will be unlikely to learn in school (like coding or graphic design) at her age. And for me, as a university instructor, it provides a sense of how to improve my own classes as well as education in general.

Five opportunities for the next generation in education.

• Standardization will lose out to innovation. Given that an overemphasis in standardized education can lead to stagnation as the bureaucracy that oversees curriculum becomes too slow to adopt new concepts, a next generation solution will help educators get ahead of a subject curve. Best practice lesson plans could eventually populate state or national education centers, with the best of them raising the bar on what the nation considers "standard."

Teachers would be given much more flexibility if administrators received grants and additional funding for best practice lesson plans produced by their schools. The system could also provide incentives for teachers to innovate, giving them a reason to think of their jobs as year round.

• Educators will be rewarded for engaging students. As technology continues to remove proximity from the equation, administrators will discover that their educators are assets to the institutional brand. As it happens, the surge in filling courses with adjunct professors to save money will shift toward attracting top talent that the high school, college, or university can market.

After all, when you can take an online writing course from James Patterson for $90, it makes it much more difficult to justify the $600 course taught by an MFA graduate. As a result, universities will have to get back to the business of bringing in marketable talent — professors who can excite students.

• Liberal arts will evolve into liberal tracks. There continues to be pressure to transform the educational system into something much more vocational. The push to create more vocational schools is mostly attributed to STEM education programs, especially technology, as more people see the field as being future proof in terms of career opportunities.

While this is true, some professors are seeing some slippage in other skill sets that used to be covered as part of a liberal arts education. Specifically, tech savvy students sometimes struggle with public speaking, presentation, psychology, communication, business, and other skills that are associated with liberal arts. New classes (including history and philosophy) will be reintroduced as mandatory electives.

• Employers will reassess how they see candidates. Isolating job candidates based on holding a bachelor's or master's degree (or years of experience) will be supplanted with new measurements. Educational achievement will be balanced to consider an applicant's body of work (such as their programs, applications, campaigns) and ancillary continuing education in addition to their degree.

For example, candidates who have completed emergency management courses offered by FEMA will be recognized as having more educational experience than those who took one or two public disaster communication classes as part of their liberal arts degree. Likewise, a design portfolio or computer program could prove much more predictive in choosing the right candidate.

• Initiative will become a most valued commodity. While initiative will likely never become a class on its own, it will eventually become one of the most sought-after attributes for candidates to demonstrate throughout their educational careers. As such, it needs to be baked into education.

Those students (and, subsequently, candidates) who have a track record for meeting whatever "standards" are set and then go on to do more — sports, extracurricular, leadership, advanced students — will quickly discover that they will have more choices in choosing their educational paths and careers. Where education can stimulate such a trait is in creating a layered approach to education where students can take on additional projects or course material beyond what's required.

My daughter is on two education tracts — one at school and one at home. 

It's easy to become excited by the potential for technology in education, but it isn't technology alone that creates a new landscape. It will take teachers to develop new programs and find suitable methods of application for a variety of audiences. It will take programmers and designers to make the material feel intuitive, and it will take parents to offset everything their children can learn.

For my daughter, her summer program includes math, reading, and writing with science, history, and art on alternating days. In addition to these fundamentals, she also invested a half-hour in guitar and a half-hour in coding before her days ended with softball or baseball practice. She loved every minute.

While some people were taken aback by her enthusiasm for summer homework, she was as passionate about learning as she was for some of the incentives. And that, more than any other measure, reinforced to me that innovation, engagement, diversity, integration, and initiative are what's needed most in education. As for technology, it's potentially the best tool to help us deliver on it.
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