Tuesday, May 15, 2012

21st Century learning: Beyond brick and mortar

Question: Should the public invest in more brick-and-mortar school facilities in this internet age?

The question is particularly relevant as Portland Public School District officials lay the groundwork for another campaign to pass a bond measure for capital improvements, including new schools.

The last measure, for more than a half billion dollars, was narrowly defeated on election day one year ago.

Missing in this year’s run-up is the discussion of how technology is changing the very nature of education. And education is what we should be focused on, not schools.

Communication technology is doing to schools what it has done to “traditional media,” newspapers and television. But because the media are in the private sector, media organizations have to stay focused on the bottom line. As a result they have scrambled and changed to be financially sustainable.

Those that failed to make needed changes have died or are dying. And, not surprisingly, readers and viewers have adjusted too, or they have paid the price of being uninformed...or ill-informed.

On the other hand, schools, as public institutions, have little motivation to change in fundamental ways. They are tied to building-based learning and teachers standing at the front of the class. Even traditional textbooks are still in the budgets.

The only change we are seeing in the schools is reactive, resulting from declining revenues. The change is taking the form of traditional cuts in staff and programs.

Instead, the crisis should prompt a deep reappraisal of what education needs to be, and how it is delivered, in the 21st Century.

I didn’t vote for last year’s bond measure in part because of this institutional myopia. The other part, not surprisingly, was a big jump to my tax bill in a time of financial hardship. I doubt I was alone in the way I reacted.

The two parts of my reaction are related. As we know, we live in an information age, and information is at the heart of learning and of economic success. If we are to be a competitive society in a world economy, we — our educational leaders, our governmental institutions, our businesses —must use technology to advance learning and innovation.

From all appearances, our children are more than ready to embrace this technology (if not always in the best ways), but are we adults? And are we willing to create the norms that allow young generations to get the most out of powerful emerging and changing communication/education technology?

HERE is just one development in how technology could reshape education.

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