digital divide

What education needs now: A national repository of educational materials

A brave new world of education requires the transition to digital resources

educational-learning-technologyFor this to happen we need to build a National Repository of Educational Materials (NREM), an online library of lessons in a range of subject areas with pre-assessments, instructional content and media, practice tasks, quizzes, and mastery tests.

The current high-stakes testing in narrow subject areas is costing us billions of dollars that should be put to better use.

Could we build NREM? There is a precedent. The federal government funded the National Genome Project at a time when technological advances made gene-sequencing possible, but the work was fragmented; competition in the field was rampant.

Yet, the entire human genome was sequenced in a single effort, a coordinated database for all scientists to access worldwide. This made possible exponential progress in science because the common good prevailed.

(Next page: Interactive materials available for all students)

Analogously, the Common Core has spurred a flurry of disparate activities to create texts, units, and lessons by teachers, professors, consultants, publishers, state and local educational agencies, and others. Teachers and students don’t have the materials they need at their fingertips. More than 40 years ago, we had a textbook that was the curriculum, complete with quizzes, tests, and tips in the teacher’s edition. Teachers planned, taught, and focused on their students.

But the world is far too complex, the classrooms of today far too diverse for static textbooks. We need appropriate, engaging materials available for all students: for helping struggling students, for challenging proficient ones and for addressing the needs of all students in between. Many elements of these curricular materials already exist: in published and online texts, teacher-created lessons, YouTube videos, online assessments, reference materials, educational games, etc. They need to be vetted, indexed and made available to everyone.

The intended consequence of NREM is to provide access to an appropriate education for all students. With this tool, students could progress at whatever pace is most suitable to them: delving deeper into areas that interest them and repeating lessons similar to ones they find difficult.

Teachers would finally have the tools for differentiation in their classrooms. The Repository would allow the system to break the mold of education by chronological age. Students would be grouped by progress on mastery tests with specific requirements, as in martial arts. Classrooms would be different.

As communities of learners, students could shine in their areas of strength. Students would learn that practice and perseverance lead to success and recognition. Teachers and student leaders could spend time in small groups, clarifying concepts, discussing issues, making one another think, and providing encouragement for the pursuit of excellence.

Teachers would be empowered as coaches, mentors, progress monitors, and discussion leaders. They would have time to know their students, encourage them, and build on their strengths. Sparking students’ interests and passions is how education will give us future successful citizens.

Carol Lach is a retired educator, a former instructional technology coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and a technology specialist in the Framingham MA Public Schools. She holds a PhD in the sciences and has taught in Ithaca NY and Meridian MS.

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