Digital Challenges


The integration of technology into the classroom – or the 1:1 learning that happens when students are online out of the the classroom – present a range of challenges that affect everyone in education.  Below are a few brief descriptions to a handful of them and then links to actually taking on the Challenges.

Even from the earliest days of the Web, many heralded an era of disintermediation. This essentially means “taking out the middle man” or intermediaries.  When someone wants a book, they can buy or download it immediately. They do not need a “bricks and mortar” bookstore.

When someone wants to access a wealth of information, they can access it. They don’t need to pay for a textbook or expensive encyclopedia. They do not even need a teacher.  This does not mean the end of schools, but to a kind of schooling. Book stores did not disappear, nor did travel agents, stock brokers or bank tellers.  But the Web has changed these industries.  What  they have learned to do is to “add value” to their products.  Personalized service, helpful suggestions and expertise, these are some of the “extras” that add value.

When students have immediate access to the world’s rich, interactive and personalized data, what is the role of the educator?

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Wikipedia is a great example of how a different approach helped a fledgling software application become one of the most used sites on the Web.  Created by volunteer, Wikipedia went from nothing to become an encyclopedia with over 3 million entries in the English language version alone.   This growth has occurred in less than a decade. No matter what you think about Wikipedia, compare its model to an Industrial Age approach.

What systems, technologies, culture, etc. would need to be in place so that schools
might experience a Wikipedia-style intrinsically motivated blossoming of knowledge?

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The more we live our lives online, the more digital breadcrumbs we leave behind.  Will they show us the way home or lead us astray? The best of the Web 2 companies make these crumbs their business.  Think of Google instead of YAHOO or the iPhone and Loopt instead of an iPod.  With the marketers and crumbware sifting through our ones and zeros, what’s being done with this information? Orwell thought the government was Big Brother.  We’re still trying to figure out if Google will truly “do no evil”.  But what if all this snooping were honestly for our students own best interests?  What if data were compiled lovingly to nurture our students’ budding self-initiative rather than crack down on the slightest indiscretion?  What if education could become our loving Big Mother?

What policies and approaches should schools have in place so that students know they are
supported by “Big Mother,” not snooped on by “Big Brother”?

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Carl Bereiter provides a lucid metaphor to illustrate how our thinking about assessing learning needs to shift.  Before the era of great Greek sculptors, the criteria for determining the artistic merit of a work was how “human” or “life-like” it looked.  Observing the primitive or stiff figures of earlier eras this approach was useful.  But for the Greek masters, such mimicry was easy, their challenge was to capture the essence of moments, emotions and an individual’s character.  Similarly, in a world of limited information, “knowing the facts” was a good criterion for learning.  But with our era’s easy access to an exponentially expanding body of knowledge, assessing student learning through products that can be copy and pasted from the Web makes little sense. How will education come to validate significant student learning?

How can education validate significant student learning in our Digital Era?

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If we take on board the changes that happen when students learn with 1:1 computers — and we hope to achieve the lofty goals for successful learners — the basic tasks of the teacher must change.  “Deep and logical thinking” require authentic challenges.  The ability to “plan activities independently, collaborate, work in teams” requires active learning.  The “capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning” requires student ownership for their learning.

What new strategies and approaches will you use to help student develop into “successful learners?”

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