The Digital Challenge for Educators

Frank B. Withrow - The Dawn Patrol

Humans developed oral aural speech and language to share publicly their private sensory experiences. In the beginning of civilization there was the WORD. About 5000 years ago humans developed a stable form of speech and language. The written form of language was made possible by the creation of a phonetic alphabet. They stored experiences and knowledge in libraries and could transport this information over space and time, handing it down from one generation to the next in scrolls and books. Then they developed the printing press, which made books more accessible.

Perhaps two of the most significant changes came with the development of wearable glasses and the electric light that vastly expanded the time a person could devote to reading. These factors remain critical even in today’s digital world. Wearable glasses on the personal level allow people to read their entire lives. The printing press and inexpensive books and the electric light enable modern schools to be developed. Teachers working with students with textbooks can impart the knowledge of all mankind from generations past to new generations.

Wearable glasses enable individuals throughout their entire lives to continue to explore and learn new knowledge and skills. The electric light allows people to read anywhere day or night. Consequently, wearable glasses and electric lights remain primary technologies that can expand learning.

The digital world with iPads and ebooks and the vast amount of stored skills and knowledge on the Internet may bring about a change in the way we design and think about education. We have glimpses of what that new world of learning might be, but so far we have just tinkered around the edges of the old system.

We are in an age of major change. We can bring learning to all the world’s children if we seek to use the new technologies. Essential to such changes, the wearable eyeglasses on a personal level and the electric light remain major players. We can bring the skills of reading and writing to all children. We can create digital libraries that include video lessons of building a human habitat on Mars or step-by-step repair of a motorcycle.

The change is upon us with digital technologies. The question is whether we will have the wisdom to break away from traditional schools to create true learning environments for all children around the world. Or whether we remain tied to yesterday’s dreams. The challenge is up to you to design, develop and create learning uses for our new tools. Some visionaries like Rupert Murdoch see the software industry as a gold mine to be exploited. I see the change as a chance to provide all the world’s children a viable education.

Where will you be in this changing revolution?

3 Responses

  1. The paradigm change will happen as it has in the distant past. We must decide how to handle this change, which no one can exactly predict. We cannot rush forward into an unknown future, and we cannot hang back and resist. I’d like to see a little more acceptance of the new ideas enabled by our technological revolution.

    And, yes, business opportunists such as Rupert Murdoch are circling like vultures hoping to make lots of money from the change in education, even hoping to guide the change. Despite the label of visionary, Murdoch will not be doing the innovating. He just hopes to find the real innovators, buy them, and use his huge media leverage to profit from them.

    I can tell you that it’s much easier to be the rich person profiting from already-proven innovations of entrepreneurs than to be the latter. However, few of us have Mr. Murdoch’s money and freedom to wield power.

    I think we all can discount Rupert Murdoch’s motives while analyzing his comments. He is, after all, a very smart and very experienced person, and he has things to say that we should hear and consider.

  2. Innovation may come from the Murdoch’s of the world because they are not as inhibited and tied to the traditional as professionals are. They often also have the money and background to take a chance.

  3. Frank, re:

    …The challenge is up to you to design, develop and create learning uses for our new tools. Some visionaries like Rupert Murdoch see the software industry as a gold mine to be exploited. I see the change as a chance to provide all the world’s children a viable education. (…)

    There is an interesting EU-funded but international project called VOICES. From the project’s “about” page:

    Presently, there are over 5 billions mobile phones in the World, a great number of which owned by poor people in urban or rural areas. (…)
    In the last few years, a small number of success stories have demonstrated the power of simple mobile services to address some major development challenges. However, most of these success stories have been based on SMS technology, which is available on all phones, but hardly usable by people with low literacy, or speaking a language that is not supported by phone keyboard. The aim of the VOICES project is not explore a new direction, voice-based services, that have the potential to overcome some of the limitations of other technologies such as SMS.
    Expected Outcomes

    • Platform and Toolbox: Designing and implementing a free and open source platform with essential functionality for building and delivering voice-based services;
    • Business Models: Identifying relevant and applicable business models for such services;
    • Language Support: Designing new methodologies to build low-cost high quality
      text-to-speech and speech recognition engines;
    • Capacity Building: training entrepreneurs and students on how to create such services and make them self-sustainable.

    All these elements will be tested and validated on two pilot projects in Agriculture and Health. These pilots will be deployed in Senegal (health) and Mali (agriculture).

    The part about text-to-speech and voice recognition could be crucial for the further education of people who are illiterate or semi-illiterate due to lack of education opportunities.

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