Public, charter and private schools around the United States are in the transformative process of attempting to eliminate the digital divide between current common practice and increasing trends towards blended learning and full-out digital education protocols. According to a February 5, 2016, Education Week article written by Benjamin Herold:
“Public schools in the United States now provide at least one computer for every five students. They spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content. Led by the federal government, the country is in the midst of a massive effort to make affordable high-speed Internet and free online teaching resources available to even the most rural and remote schools. And in 2015-16, for the first time, more state standardized tests for the elementary and middle grades [were] administered via technology than by paper and pencil.”
Cisco™ corporation, the worldwide leader in IT and networking, (#Internet of Everything) has based its industry position on “transforming the way the world operates,” including playing a part in the future of education. Cisco™ believes that digital learning solutions “have the power to transform K-12 education” including how students receive and retain information and “how teachers are empowered to be increasingly innovative in their teaching methods to improve student success and engage them like never before.” (https://blogs.cisco.com/education/digital-transformation-in-k-12-education).
Online schooling is an idea that surfaced more than twenty-five years ago as the concept of “distance learning.” Where the current problem lies is in the non-availability of curriculum suited to the 21st-century digital world. Educational theorist and writer Marc Prensky recently noted that “The world needs a new curriculum. We have to rethink the 19th Century curriculum.” What Prensky sees as a current-day problem is that most of the online education products available on the market simply parrot existing outdated curriculum and are really just tools or “aids” to help teachers continue to teach what they’ve been teaching for decades and are based on what he sees as the “false assumption” that “we need to teach better what we teach today.”
Digital Education for the Flipped Classroom
Current thinking is that a whole new set of core subjects is needed that focus on skills students can use to prepare for the future work world. Such subjects might include problem-solving, creative thinking and collaboration skills. In addition, the idea of a “flipped classroom” where instruction and lessons are delivered to students via online at home or some other “outside the classroom” location and in-classroom time is used as a sort of “homeroom” or place to do homework, is gaining popularity in U.S. public schools. In a “flipped” classroom, the traditional teacher role transitions to that of teacher-as-guide or facilitator. Students watch lectures at home and interact with teachers and classmates online. What has surprised teachers accustomed to traditional classroom methods is that using this method, students require minimal teaching assistance and are exceedingly able to excel on their own.
Some education theorists believe that, if topical lectures are “standardized” and delivered to students using online videos using teachers as guides to help students get through a certain amount of classroom exercises, the quality of public education can be significantly improved. If the process is supplemented with now-widely-available media content, students are even more likely to engage and excel. (Watching an online presentation of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” is a more interesting way to learn about American history than reading a textbook.)
Video Games and Digital Education
In addition, video games have recently begun to play a more important role in school math and reading curricula because the games hold a student’s attention more effectively than do textbooks. Those who support the “gamification of education” see the method as the gold standard of future educational methodology because the approach provides a teaching tool that allows students to play a more active role in their own learning progression while giving them the opportunity to develop technical skills that will be needed in their future careers. Beyond teaching, video games can also offer useful information about how well a child is learning and can even provide helpful visual displays of that information, says Brian Waniewski, social entrepreneur and former managing director of the Institute of Play, a nonprofit that promotes the problem-solving nature of gameplay and game design as a model for learning in secondary schools. Video games can also provide instantaneous feedback—typically via scores—that teachers and students can use to determine how well students understand what the games are trying to teach them. (Source: Scientific American, September 12, 2014.)
Overall, progress towards maximized use of digital technology in the U.S. public education system has been steady and relatively rapid over the past decade. Schools that have successfully integrated the innovative use of technology in the classroom are being increasingly encouraged. For the past twelve years, the Center for Digital Education’s Digital School Districts Survey Awards have recognized the innovative use of technology by school boards and districts. “School districts, with the support of their school boards, are increasingly focused on learning through innovative technologies,” says Dr. Kecia Ray, executive director for the Center for Digital Education. “As a result, students are using all kinds of cutting-edge tools that assist learning, inspire creativity and help prepare them for the future.”