The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Ipads, Ipods, smart phones and the Internet give educators new tools to rethink learning and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily from Sesame Street as preschoolers and other learning programs on television to formal classes in schools. As educators we must develop new ways to certify that a student has learned his or her lessons. For example, a student may watch all of Ken Burns’s Civil War or the many videos on World War II and have gained a comprehensive understanding of those history lessons. How does the education system certify these informal learning experiences? There are many blended learning opportunities available to learners.

A student may be active in the Scouts and become an Eagle Scout. Can what the student learns in scouting somehow be considered in accreditation of his or her learning experience? Learning in traditional schools takes up about 1/9th of the student’s time. Can we blend the total learning experience of students into a comprehensive whole? Could some teachers become monitors of nontraditional learning? For example, we have published standards in subject areas. If students believe they have mastered the skills and knowledge in a given area, can they be tested and credited in that area? For example, in English literature, if they have read all the assigned materials, could they set up an appointment with a monitor and be tested and interviewed with respect to his or her knowledge?

Such a test might include a written exam and an interview that explores their knowledge base. This could be a system similar to the way scouting merit badges are earned. It further increases the interactions with expert subject matter personnel because monitors could be practicing professionals. For example, if a student studied meteorology and mastered the basics of weather observations and predictions, they might be tested and monitored by local weather forecasters.

The six-hour school day and 180-day school year are obsolete and inefficient in a modern digital world. The market place of learning experiences should be and can be available 12 to 24 hours daily, year round. The physical schoolhouse with human educators should be open for learning twelve hours every day. The digital resources should be available 24 hours each day, seven days a week, year round. For example, I am writing this at 3 AM and can explore issues on the Internet to support my ideas. Students should be able to schedule their learning experiences according to their needs.

Will students have the self-discipline to organize their learning needs? Students will need the support of teachers, tutors, fellow team members and society to organize their learning experiences. Learning teams develop self-discipline and work to ensure all team members are learning. One example is a school in an inner city where ten-year-old girls were on five-member teams. Sally was delaying her team’s work because she was often tardy and frequently missed the whole day of school. The team realized she lived only a block from school so they arranged to stop by her house and pick her up to get her to class on time. Her mother was in prison and her grandmother often slept till noon so Sally had to get her own breakfast and go off to school. Her timeliness and school attendance improved. It turned out that Sally had some of the best math skills on the team. Judah Swartz’s broken calculator program especially fascinated her. She slowly became a more and more engaged team member and more engaged all-around student. Learning teams not only increase the ability of students but also increase the peer teaching and interactions within a classroom. A classroom dedicated to team learning is one with much more directed student engagement and learning taking place than lecture-based education.

True education reform in the digital age will open the schoolhouse doors to longer days and year round schools. Students and families will schedule learning according to their needs and  blended learning programs will include even home schooling experiences, digital online learning, tutors and traditional class lectures.

The open door to the digital libraries of learning materials will often be through the personal mobile digital devices of the learners.

We must not fail to rebuild our school system along the digital highway. Critical needs are a robust learning management system, a library of high quality learning materials, a citizenry dedicated to quality learning for all, and the vision to build the national system. We must take advantage of economies of scale and the vast knowledge base within our scientific community.

Each of us, in our own way, is a teacher along the digital highway.

17 Responses

  1. […] The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience By Frank B. Withrow Ipads, Ipods, smart phones and the Internet give educators new tools to rethink learning and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily f… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  2. […] The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience By Frank B. Withrow Ipads, Ipods, smart phones and the Internet give educators new tools to rethink learning and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily f… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  3. […] and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily f…Show original Rate this: Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  4. […] The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience […]

  5. […] and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily f…Show original Compartir:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Comentarios (0) Deja un […]

  6. Most progressive educators today should agree that the current (or previous) way of teaching is inefficient. We have lots of discussion about how to fix that problem.

    Whether you call it student-centric or individualized learning or learning to mastery doesn’t matter. Students should not have to more forward in step with each other. Just freeing students from those bonds will increase learning efficiency a great deal.

    If you’re reading this, you probably agree that technology can help this process. You’ve also probably been disappointed by some attempt or other to introduce technology into schools. How do we make sure that the right technology at the right price comes into the school lives of our children?

    Frank gives an example of a learning group. When and where to use groups in learning continues to be, in my mind, uncertain. I see cases where they help greatly and cases where they hinder. My personal experience with them was completely negative, but that may be a function of who I am. Nevertheless, using learning groups must take into consideration children such as the one I was. I see such a push now for project-based learning and see that virtually all advocates mention that projects have the advantage of working in groups. Yet, individual projects are very possible, e.g. science fair projects.

    I think that we’ll navigate our way to great educational technology. My one concern with all of this wonderful new stuff is how we ensure that each child has the motivation to achieve fully. I know that I sped ahead in some subjects and dragged my feet in others. I was a “good” student, yet I did minimal work in many of my classes.

    Whatever we do, we must find ways for students to experience the joy of learning, the thrill of finding out, the excitement of creating something new and unique. What so often passes for learning now must be demoted to its proper place as mere stepping stones to learning rather than learning itself. The last thing we should have now is technology cementing in place that fake learning.

  7. I thought about this a lot. This is an idea, the Digital Promise idea that has been and is being cooked up in Washington over a number of administrations. Maybe it takes that long to get partisan approval.

    Broadband is needed for a digital promise to work. We all know that there are many groups that are disconnected and without the digital promise no matter how hopeful they might be.

    The FCC , has talked a lot about the National Broadband Plan.
    I have been talking about it since the end of the first initiative to connect schools, libraries and community centers.
    I appreciate that the ideas are front and center again now.

  8. […] The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience […]

  9. Change is some times slow and messy. However, I see young teachers today that are technically logical and moving towards real change in the learning systems around the world. I believe we are living at a time when learning is under going major changes. It is both an opportunity for individual growth and collective growth. I think the formal education system is probably behind the curve, but the learners and young teachers are actively making changes. I think within the next decade we will throw off the old shell we think of schools and create a more rigorous learning system for all that is year round and all encompassing will multiple learning spaces.

  10. Thank you, Frank. Do we really have to throw off the old shell, though? Digital tools facilitate the team learning you are advocating, but team learning has been going on in some schools for a long, long time. So would it not be better to help teachers recognize this as an approach that they already know well, with new means thrown in?
    On June 12, 2007, George Siemens, who cannot be suspected of neo-Luddism, posted “It’s not about tools. It’s about change“. That was shortly before the first iPhones went for sale (June 29, 2007). But what he wrote still obtains, perhaps more now than back then. Excerpt:

    …It’s the change underlying these tools that I’m trying to emphasize. Forget blogs…think open dialogue. Forget wikis…think collaboration. Forget podcasts…think democracy of voice. Forget RSS/aggregation…think personal networks. Forget any of the tools…and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated.
    But to create real change, we need to move our conversation beyond simply the tools and our jargon. Parents understand the importance of preparing their children for tomorrow’s world. They might not understand RSS, mashups, and blogs. Society understands the importance of a skilled workforce, of critical and creative thinkers. They may not understand wikis, podcasts, or user-created video or collaboratively written software. Unfortunately, where our aim should be about change, our sights are set on tools. And we wonder why we’re not hitting the mark we desire. …

    This is why I have added his post among the resources tagged “digitalpromise” in the ETCJournal Diigo social bookmarking group, even though it was written over four years before the recently launched US Digital Promise initiative.

  11. […] The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience By Frank B. Withrow Ipads, Ipods, smart phones and the Internet give educators new tools to rethink learning and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily f… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  12. […] The Digital Promise Must Be a Total Learning Experience By Frank B. Withrow Ipads, Ipods, smart phones and the Internet give educators new tools to rethink learning and schools. Today there are many learning places that our children engage in daily f… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  13. […] The digital promise must be a total learning experience – Teachers can leverage the internet and other technologies to provide a more customized learning environment geared for the individual student. […]

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