eSN Special Report: Convergent Education

Yet schools are still, for the most part, entrenched in teaching in a linear fashion, starting on page one of a textbook, moving through the last page, and then testing to ensure the students have learned the subject. And they’re not allowing students to use many of the very tools–social networks, YouTube, and their mobile devices, to name just a few–that keep kids anchored and learning within their own communities.

This has led to a feeling among today’s students that schools have become less relevant and meaningful, and dropout rates are increasing.

A recent survey of students showed that 66 percent say they are bored in class each day, says Caleb Schutz, president of the JASON Project, a nonprofit subsidiary of National Geographic founded by Robert Ballard, the oceanographer and explorer who discovered the shipwreck of the Titanic. Moreover, a National Science Teachers Association study showed that the No. 1 problem science teachers face is a lack of motivation among students.

“The longer they’re in school, the more it’s like a prison. That’s a greater and greater problem as we get to middle and high school,” says Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking. “Kids have to power down as they walk into a school. They have to turn off the technology they use and go back to a traditional lecture environment. No wonder kids are bored and disengaged.”

Yet it is difficult to get educators and school leaders to tackle the problem, because of the existing school system infrastructure. “There are long-term pacing guides and scope and reference guides, and those dictate what a teacher will do every day of the school year,” Schutz explains. Those pacing guides need to be made revolutionary and exciting for real change to take place.

The JASON Project, for example, works with the National Geographic Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Energy, and other leading organizations to develop multimedia science curricula based on its cutting-edge missions of exploration and discovery. By providing educators with those same inspirational experiences, and giving them the tools and resources they need to improve science teaching, JASON is able to motivate students to want to learn science. Innovative and creative teachers have always found ways to keep kids motivated and engaged by using resources such as the JASON Project. But many in the education sector worry that the system does not encourage such innovation, collaboration, and creativity.

This schism between how schools have traditionally taught and how students want to learn is bringing education ever closer to a tipping point.

All too often, technology is simply absorbed by schools, with educators using the technology to make their jobs easier but basically conforming it to the way education already operates–as, for example, when students take tests on a computer rather than on paper.

“When you cram any innovation, in any sector, into an existing model, that model basically usurps it, conforms it to the way the model already operates,” says Michael Horn, a co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. “It doesn’t fundamentally change that factory model in a way that’s student-centric. It doesn’t give each student what [he or she] really need[s].”

Yet a number of trends are driving the adoption of innovative technology in education, and these are, indeed, beginning to change how education works. In many cases, technology has been used as an enabler to teach in new ways. This so-called “convergent education”–the series of developments, aided by technology, that is changing how education works–is creeping across the country, forcing transformation.

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