What Happens to Schools and Teachers in the Digital Age?

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

The purpose of schools is to transfer the skills, knowledge and history of one generation to the next. In the past this was most often done through apprenticeships. About five thousand years ago writing of the spoken word was developed. This allowed mankind to transfer knowledge over both time and space. The printed records in books and libraries transferred information across generations and across geographic boundaries.

Learners had to develop moral, literacy, scientific and most importantly self-government qualities and skills if they were to serve as citizens in a modern scientific participatory democratic society.

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For many years knowledge was transferred via apprenticeships. With the printing press and libraries modern schools could be developed where learners came together with teachers to learn in a classroom in a school. Knowledge and history were stored and retrieved via books and libraries. Teachers guided learners through the books. The apprenticeship model of learning gave way to classrooms and teachers. Learners were brought together in classrooms within schools to be guided by teachers through the stored knowledge of the society. In the 20th century learners could be gathered together and guided through the knowledge and experience retrieved from books and libraries.

In recent history, films, videos and computers have supplemented books as the storehouse of human experiences and knowledge. In the last few years the digital age has transformed the way we store and retrieve all information. As print on paper has been transferred to the digital format we now have vast libraries of full motion color videos, printed materials and even interactive simulations accessible to the learner. A student studying World War II can not only read about the speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt, but they can see and hear them. They can see videos of the battles and in addition they have access to fictional movies about the war. In addition, there are German and Japanese primary resources available. 

More importantly these resources are available 24/7. Simulated trainers for space shuttle astronauts or airplane pilots can allow a Navy pilot in training to land a simulated aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier or an airline commercial pilot can fly a simulated airliner and land at simulations of various world airports under different weather conditions. A medical student can do a simulated brain operation using the images of an actual patient.

We now have a common standard curriculum that gives us a road map for the content of K-12 education. Digital content can be associated with every element of that curriculum. High quality content can be packaged in video, computer, and eBook resources that meet these standards. Such libraries of materials can be made available to learners worldwide. In other words the content of education can be delivered 24/7 year round in homes, classrooms and even workplaces. Families can subscribe to these materials worldwide.

If content is delivered from digital libraries, what happens in schools and what do teachers do? Teachers become guides, mentors and counselors. Schools become laboratories where teams of students work together to produce products that meet specific challenges. Challenges might be:

  • to build a balloon at a Mars habitat with a payload that can detect temperature, pressure and radiation
  • to fly the balloon and collect the data
  • to develop a robot for disabled persons that can load 120 pounds of groceries into their car, unload it on a gravel driveway and take the groceries up the porch steps and into their house
  • in a history class, to create a reenactment of five of the founding fathers developing the U.S. Constitution with appropriate historical documentation of their positions
  • to video the historic demonstration and hold a press conference to answer questions

We now have the common core curriculum that acts as a road map for K-12 education. We have digital libraries of sophisticated multimedia materials that include video, computer and text media. We have challenges that allow learners to use their skills and knowledge to meet a series of circumstances and actually produce products to meet the challenges.

We can and must develop authentic assessments of the skills and knowledge learned. We can develop digital assessments of the content materials. A board of teachers, fellow students and representatives from the community can review products developed by teams to meet challenges.

Digital resources are changing the way we think of learning and teaching. Schools can become very different places that unleash the potential of all learners. Schools must be learner centric, designed to provide human and technical resources that address the needs of individual learners and enhance team learning, allowing learners to meet educational challenges. In such an environment learners are applying the skills and knowledge they gain. Teachers work with learners as mentors, guides and tutors to ensure that every learner meets his or her potential.

4 Responses

  1. […] By Frank B. Withrow The purpose of schools is to transfer the skills, knowledge and history of one generation to the next. In the past this was most often done through apprenticeships.  […]

  2. […] By Frank B. Withrow The purpose of schools is to transfer the skills, knowledge and history of one generation to the next. In the past this was most often done through apprenticeships.  […]

  3. […] By Frank B. Withrow The purpose of schools is to transfer the skills, knowledge and history of one generation to the next. In the past this was most often done through apprenticeships. About five t…  […]

  4. The problem is who decides how and when and where and if teachers are allowed to do this work. I am acquainted with the ideas as I was able to do these things in times when innovation was accepted.

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