Teaching techniques in schools must adapt as new information technologies are introduced and their impact on society is better understood
It’s “back to the future” in education today.
Following in the big footsteps of the 19th century educational pioneers who worked to create public schools fit for the new, disruptive Industrial Age, America’s most visionary educational leaders are striving to revitalize America’s public schools for our new globalized, disruptive Information Age.
Charter public schools are, of course, an innovative approach at the very forefront of these efforts. Yet charter schools today account for just about 6 percent of all public schools. Those who are quick to criticize charter schools seem to forget that they are still a relatively new model of public schooling — only about 25 years old.
And precisely because charter schools are, inherently, so much more flexible than traditional public schools, they are that much more capable of learning well from failures of the past — by adapting new techniques to create successes in the future. That is an attribute that will likely grow in importance in the years ahead.
The job market of the Information Age will increasingly demand critical thinking skills, creativity and flexibility, and the capacity to adjust and adapt to change. Our schools will need the same characteristics — because the Information Age’s digital technology may be affecting learning, or the lack thereof, in unexpected ways.
(Next page: Studies say technologies reduce attention span)
Recent studies and surveys of teachers, for example, are revealing that new technologies may be hindering the learning process. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey reported that almost 90 percent of teachers surveyed said that new technologies were resulting in an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”
Another survey of teachers, by Common Sense Media, had a similar finding: 71 percent of teachers indicated that they believed that “entertainment media” (including the Internet, texting, iPods, and video games) was damaging attention spans either “a lot” or “somewhat.”
Other surveys have found a striking difference of views about technology in the classroom between school administrators and students and parents.
A 2011 Project Tomorrow survey of 416,000 students, parents and educators reported that 56 percent of middle school students and 59 percent of high-school students indicated that they would like to use their own personal mobile devices as learning tools in the classroom, with considerable support from parents; however, 52 percent of school administrators said that they do not permit students to use personal mobile devices in class.
How will these administrators react in the not-too-distant future if robotic teaching aids become available?
In an uncertain technological period such as ours, fixed, rigid thinking about approaches to teaching and learning will likely be recipes for failure. Teaching techniques may have to continuously evolve, as new information technologies are introduced and their impact on society is better understood.
It should thus be apparent by now that the only constant in the Information Age will be change — profound changes in the way we work, in the way we learn, in the way we live. Flexible schools that can easily adapt to these changes, that can foster innovation and creativity while remaining highly accountable for performance and results, must no longer be seen as educational alternatives but as educational imperatives.
Our rapidly evolving new age will likely tolerate nothing less.
Marc Brailov is a freelance writer, with over 20 years of experience in public policy and high-tech corporate communications. For Ameritech, in 1999, he developed an internet education CD-ROM that was distributed to K-12 public schools. Most recently, he lobbied Congress on behalf of the Charter School Lenders’ Coalition.