Innovative Technologies Celebrated on Digital Learning Day

Nearly two million students and thousands of teachers in hundreds of school districts were encouraged to embrace innovative learning technologies that provide students with a rich and personalized educational experience.

On the inaugural Digital Learning Day, students across the nation were encouraged to try something new, showcase success, kick off project-based learning, or focus on how digital tools can help improve student outcomes, writes Katherine Shulten at the New York Times.

The intention of the day is to promote vital new learning resources and look to advance the important questions on the “digital divide” — like examining the educational value of the Internet, how machines can augment teaching and if computers are changing the way we think.

With iPads making their way into kindergarten classrooms from Maine to Tennessee, it may seem like a given that American education is embracing technology for the rising generation, writes Stacy Teicher Khadaroo at the Christian Science Monitor.

However, only 40 percent of teachers in the country claimed to use some kind of computer regularly during instructional time. Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, believes that it’s time for that to rise.

“It is time we stop asking students to ‘power down’ when they go to school and instead to ‘power up’ and use their interest in technology as a new way to learn,” he said.

Richard Halverson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, believes that one of the biggest barriers for K-12 school systems is suspicion.

“You have this real split awareness…. For the people who use [such tools] … they are invaluable. [But] for many K-12 schools, it threatens the existing relationship between teachers and students, and it’s seen as … something to be controlled and banned rather than something to be exploited for learning purposes.”

Lawrence H. Summers is former president of Harvard University and former secretary of the Treasury. He spoke to the New York Times on the difficulty of changing the philosophies behind higher education curriculum in the face of new technologies:

“With few exceptions, just as in the middle of the 20th century, students take four courses a term, each meeting for about three hours a week, usually with a teacher standing in front of the room. Students are evaluated on the basis of examination essays handwritten in blue books and relatively short research papers. Instructors are organized into departments, most of which bear the same names they did when the grandparents of today’s students were undergraduates. A vast majority of students still major in one or two disciplines centered on a particular department.”

Summers doesn’t believe that this kind of system reflects the structure of society anymore.

“For most people, school is the last time they will be evaluated on individual effort. One leading investment bank has a hiring process in which a candidate must interview with upward of 60 senior members of the firm before receiving an offer. What is the most important attribute they’re looking for? Not GMAT scores or college transcripts, but the ability to work with others. As greater value is placed on collaboration, surely it should be practiced more in our nation’s classrooms.”

Summers believes that these new technologies will revolutionize the ways in which knowledge is taught:

“Electronic readers allow textbooks to be constantly revised, and to incorporate audio and visual effects.

“Similarly, it makes sense for students to watch video of the clearest calculus teacher or the most lucid analyst of the Revolutionary War rather than having thousands of separate efforts.”

He also wants to see more video technology used in classroom, citing medical students at Harvard who use accelerated video lectures and are said to feel more focused and able to take in more material faster than when they attended lectures in person.

“We are not rational calculating machines but collections of modules, each programmed to be adroit at a particular set of tasks. Not everyone learns most effectively in the same way. And yet in the face of all evidence, we rely almost entirely on passive learning. Students listen to lectures or they read and then are evaluated on the basis of their ability to demonstrate content mastery. They aren’t asked to actively use the knowledge they are acquiring.”

He believes that “Active learning classrooms,” whereby students are clustered at tables with integrated technology that helps professors interact with their students through the use of media and collaborative experiences are the best examples of where technology meets learning in the most effective way.

But more is required than just flashy devices. He adds:

“Still, with the capacity of modern information technology, there is much more that can be done to promote dynamic learning.”

To mark Digital Learning Day, the NEA Foundation joined with Microsoft to launch the Challenge to Innovate (C2i) Competition, which looks to engage young people with using new technologies in innovative ways.

The challenge invites educators to trade ideas about how to use interactive technology and game-based learning to meet students where they want to be — having fun while they learn. Ideas can be posted, discussed, and evaluated on the Department of Education’s Open Innovation Portal and ten winning ideas will receive $1,000 cash awards.

Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation, said:

“Nine out of 10 kids, between the ages of two and 17, play electronic games in the U.S, according to a recent national study. Should these new tools be limited to simple fun, or can they open new doors to learning?

“The next great teaching frontier is light years away from chalk and erasers. If we change the classroom conversation from a one-way exercise to an engaging process that is constantly being renewed and refined, what would happen? Can gaming and education be combined in effective ways?”

In this new age of technological innovation, the Foundation wants to explore ways to exchange ideas and identify innovative solutions to a range of instructional challenges.

To date, more than 9,350 individuals have joined the C2i community.

Proposed solutions for the gaming challenge will be accepted from Jan. 23 through March 5, 2012.