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Panelists: Digital tools expand learning opportunities

Sept. 21 discussion examines the implications of mobile devices and broadband access on education

Access to digital learning opportunities is critical for U.S. students' success, panelists said.

Access to digital learning opportunities is critical for U.S. students' success, panelists said.

The nation’s director of education technology called on schools to replace textbooks with mobile learning devices, and the head of the Federal Communications Commission said his agency would be voting this week on whether to lift some restrictions on the use of federal e-Rate funds to help deliver broadband access to more students, during a Sept. 21 panel discussion about the implications of digital-age learning.

Investments in broadband access and mobile learning devices are essential to helping students learn the skills they’ll need to compete on a global scale, said panelists during “Back to School: Learning and Growing in a Digital Age,” hosted by Common Sense Media, the Children’s Partnership, PBS Kids, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

“In some ways, this country is in a serious crisis when it comes to education and the underinvestment in our kids over the last 30 years,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, during his opening remarks.

“We may not have classrooms of the 21st century, but we clearly have technology of the 21st century,” he added, referencing the “warp speed-like” changes in media and technology that enable today’s students to stay constantly connected to the internet and social media.

“Whether we like it or not, [these changes are] starting to affect the schools and classrooms that all of us care about so deeply,” Steyer said, calling this phenomenon “both a crisis and an opportunity” for U.S. education.

Three imperatives face U.S. education today, Steyer said: Every child should be digitally literate before graduating from high school, all parents must be informed about their children’s digital media lives, and every classroom needs to be a 21st-century learning environment.

Technology is making a major difference in the lives of U.S. students every day, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Children use multiple digital media devices to consume 11 hours of content a day, and teenagers send an average of one text message every 10 minutes while they are awake.

“It is striking how much technology is a part of kids’ lives today,” Genachowski said.

And while parents and teachers must find practical strategies to mitigate the risks of new technologies, including safeguarding students’ online privacy and security, “the opportunities of new communications technologies for our kids far exceed the risks,” he said. “The risks are real, but the opportunities are even larger.”

To that effect, the FCC launched Parents’ Place, a portal with information on how parents and caregivers can help keep children safe when using technology and the internet.

“Technology can, and must, be a key part of the solution to the problems that technology creates,” Genachowski said.

Major changes in store for the e-Rate

Access to broadband service creates countless opportunities for innovation and workforce development, Genachowski said, adding: “We fail our students if we don’t teach them basic [digital literacy] skills.”

That’s why the federal e-Rate program is so important, he said, noting that his agency plans to vote on Sept. 23 to make much-needed changes that will bring about a “major modernization” of the e-Rate.

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Comments:

  1. jagad5

    September 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I remain skeptical that some of the ideas touted here actually represent progress. I do think everyone reading the article agrees that school needs to prepare children to become productive members of society, teaching them skills they will need in the workplace. I didn’t see any skills being developed here as being particularly useful in my 21st century job. My Fortune 500 company has not bought an e-reader for every employee.

    The single most important 21st century skill students need to develop is the ability to think, both objectively and subjectively. A student who can use a computer is not necessarily adept at either kind of thinking. Until I see technology that helps teach those critical skills, I will continue to resist spending money on solutions that don’t address the problem.

    Now that I’ve irritated a lot of people who will no doubt claim I have a low tech, stone age job , I have degrees in math and engineering. I spend my days designing and analyzing critical components for advanced jet engines enables me to warm my feet. Cooling fans in my two office computers keep 10 CPUs in my office from melting.

    Perhaps the biggest weakness of education today is not that students can’t use a computer (who knows a kid without a Facebook page) but rather that students think that every answer from a computer is right. In reality, the computer’s answer is right but often the question solved asked is wrong, because they didn’t think.

  2. jagad5

    September 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I remain skeptical that some of the ideas touted here actually represent progress. I do think everyone reading the article agrees that school needs to prepare children to become productive members of society, teaching them skills they will need in the workplace. I didn’t see any skills being developed here as being particularly useful in my 21st century job. My Fortune 500 company has not bought an e-reader for every employee.

    The single most important 21st century skill students need to develop is the ability to think, both objectively and subjectively. A student who can use a computer is not necessarily adept at either kind of thinking. Until I see technology that helps teach those critical skills, I will continue to resist spending money on solutions that don’t address the problem.

    Now that I’ve irritated a lot of people who will no doubt claim I have a low tech, stone age job , I have degrees in math and engineering. I spend my days designing and analyzing critical components for advanced jet engines enables me to warm my feet. Cooling fans in my two office computers keep 10 CPUs in my office from melting.

    Perhaps the biggest weakness of education today is not that students can’t use a computer (who knows a kid without a Facebook page) but rather that students think that every answer from a computer is right. In reality, the computer’s answer is right but often the question solved asked is wrong, because they didn’t think.

  3. lynnemb

    September 27, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I can’t disagree that critical thinking skills have been, and remain, very important. The study cited in this piece, “Results of the pilot project revealed a 30-percent increase on participating students’ end-of-year course exams.” is very exciting news and hopefully other programs will yield similar results. Perhaps what is so 21st century, is that collaboration is more the norm now than the exception. Digital tools enable this group thinking in ways never before possible. I think that most people today do need to collaborate when designing those jet engines, and new technologies make that so much easier.

  4. lynnemb

    September 27, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I can’t disagree that critical thinking skills have been, and remain, very important. The study cited in this piece, “Results of the pilot project revealed a 30-percent increase on participating students’ end-of-year course exams.” is very exciting news and hopefully other programs will yield similar results. Perhaps what is so 21st century, is that collaboration is more the norm now than the exception. Digital tools enable this group thinking in ways never before possible. I think that most people today do need to collaborate when designing those jet engines, and new technologies make that so much easier.

  5. PatrickA

    September 29, 2010 at 7:23 am

    This is what we at DigiEd Corp have been trying to say for 5 years. I left MH – 87 once I saw the future of digital publishing. I realized the publishing industry would not be here when I reached 50 and tadaa!
    New students – new expectations and experience.
    If you want to keep clandestinely alluding to the issue that computers make students stupid keep going down that road and see where you and the country wind up. Basically students learn by example. If teachers (and BTW I am a full time tenured academic for 25 years) do not lead the way who will? We want to blame 12 year olds for driving a car improperly? We need to teach them to drive but first we have to learn how to properly.
    http://www.thecampuscenter.com – take a look.

  6. PatrickA

    September 29, 2010 at 7:23 am

    This is what we at DigiEd Corp have been trying to say for 5 years. I left MH – 87 once I saw the future of digital publishing. I realized the publishing industry would not be here when I reached 50 and tadaa!
    New students – new expectations and experience.
    If you want to keep clandestinely alluding to the issue that computers make students stupid keep going down that road and see where you and the country wind up. Basically students learn by example. If teachers (and BTW I am a full time tenured academic for 25 years) do not lead the way who will? We want to blame 12 year olds for driving a car improperly? We need to teach them to drive but first we have to learn how to properly.
    http://www.thecampuscenter.com – take a look.