eSN Special Report: Convergent Education

Trends spurring change

One major trend that is speeding the push toward convergent education is the availability of a far greater amount of educational content than ever before.

Content providers include traditional education publishers as well as new organizations such as the JASON Project, Curriki, and Thinkfinity, a literacy, education, and technology initiative from the Verizon Foundation, that offer content to educators and students–much of it for free. Because online content can include audio and video, simulations, and games, among other things, it is far more interactive than much of the traditional learning that takes place in schools, and more likely to engage students.

“We focus on hands-on science and doing science in the lab like the scientists do it, which gives [students] a better understanding of science,” says Patsy Magee, preK-12 science supervisor for the Beaumont Independent School District in Texas.

Beaumont is using the JASON Project for its middle-school science curriculum. Textbooks are not the way scientists learn in the field, she explains. Incorporating the JASON curriculum, with its online and offline multimedia materials, gets students involved and excited about learning science, and motivated to continue learning.

Texas is one state–California and Virginia are others–that is moving away from the linear teaching model by using more online textbooks, which can incorporate multimedia aspects to engage learners.

Distance or virtual learning has begun to spread as well, and many schools now take advantage of opportunities to offer courses outside their main curriculum. For example, 25 percent of the nation’s high schools do not offer advanced courses, claims Horn–no chemistry, no physics, to say nothing of Advanced Placement courses. But with distance learning, students can report to the computer lab or media center to take an online course.

“Progressive schools are then unbundling the completion of those courses from seat time, and are focusing on mastery,” Horn says. He believes that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school courses will have a strong online component.

Another trend that is just beginning to happen is that some school leaders are changing their mentality of providing “one device for every child.” Many districts have tried to move to a one-to-one computing environment–but the high costs of this approach have largely kept it from becoming scalable.

Students historically have not been allowed to bring their own devices from home and connect to the school’s network. Today, however, a few schools are experimenting with a guest network, where students and teachers can bring their own devices. When this is allowed, it changes the whole economics of the issue, as schools are then providing devices only for the students who cannot afford them. The one-to-one model becomes viable, and more students can be connected.

The proliferation of collaborative tools such as wikis, blogs, social networking, and communications tools such as Skype is another trend that is speeding the move toward convergent education. These are emerging technologies for learning that are being used by the most creative teachers around the world, says Krueger. And the proliferation of mobile devices, which put information in the hands of learners wherever they are, is spurring the change as well.

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