Tag Archives: Future of Education

Building A Digital Literacy Agenda

5 Jan

One of our most popular posts this fall was “Why Digital Literacy,” where we talked about the growing set of thought leaders speaking out about the importance of digital literacy. For some it’s a matter of training the next generation of entrepreneurs and engineers. For others it’s about matching skills to jobs and ensuring basic comprehension of the information ecosystem.

The digital literacy debates are escalating as we head into 2012; but as I listen, it strikes me that few have articulated what digital literacy really means.  What constitutes a digitally literate high school graduate? What do I need to be able to know, make, or understand to be a digitally literate adult?  The most thoughtful piece I read last year was by @betsymas at Google, titled “To learn how the Internet works is to learn civics.”  She emphasizes that teaching students to code is not enough:

Understanding how to write code that builds an isolated piece of technology is like understanding how to read and write, or knowing the ins and outs of a particular subject like Biology. But understanding how the Internet works is like understanding the way society is governed. The architectural design should be taught in high school, the same way we teach about the design of the US Constitution.

Last Friday, as I was returning from vacation, I was amused to hear a network segment titled “2012 – the Year of Code” looping in all the airports. It was filled with catch phrases – “Code is the new Chinese.” “Code is the language of the next generation.” “First we teach math, then we teach code.”

The segment was provoked by the recent launch of Code Academy’s New Year’s Resolution Coding Class – “Code Year.”  At Code Year, anyone who adds his or her email to a website receives free coding classes once a week for a year.

The Code Academy campaign is an awesome initiative, and they’ve managed to sign up over 100,000 people so far.  Still, if 2012 is the Year of Digital Literacy, it’s time to dive in and think about a real Digital Literacy Agenda.  We’ll try to unravel this further in the coming months. For now, I’ll leave you with Mashable’s Code Academy video… in case any of you want to learn how to code… whilst we debate!

Re-Framing the NYTimes Edtech Messaging

27 Oct

In a recent article in the NYT, Matt Richtel shared the story of the Waldorf School in  Sillicon Valley, which avoids use of any technology as a teaching aid. The writer highlighted this fact in order to consider whether indeed education technology is an effective teaching aid and supports better learning results. We believe the discussion needs to be better framed. The growing onslaught of anti-edtech articles is confusing the edtech debate and harming both industry and students.  Here are the key issues, as we see them:

1. Parents’ aversion to screens and digital devices.

This is the true topic of the NYT article. The Waldorf “trend” relates to parents’ concerns about childrens’ over-exposure to the “digital screens.” Parents are concerned about their kids watching TVand spending endless time with devices.  This topic has nothing to do with education technology, though eliminating technology in schools can be one answer to this fear.  Yes, one can have schools with no edtech – but such schools are ignoring the reality of our digital life.

2. Effectiveness of Edtech in schools.

This is an important topic that requires a deep assessment of the different technologies used by schools. Edtech should be used as an efficient, interactive means of delivering high quality, personalized educational content. Edtech does not replace the need for high quality teachers, though it may standardize the level of content delivered to students.

3. The use of Edtech to achieve Digital Literacy.

This topic relates to the use of edtech in enabling digital and technology literacy. It is our firm belief that edtech should be used to promote exposure to new, exciting technologies and digital communications tools. However it is also important that students do not use technology as though it were a “black-box”. In the same way students are encouraged to analyze digital works, schools should “open” up new technologies and discuss their composition.

What level of digital literacy should we expect students to obtain within schools? This is the main topic of our upcoming post.

Edtech Investment is Essential For Tech Literacy

20 Oct

The discussion about investment in educational technology should focus not only on learning results but also on its contribution to the digital literacy of future generations.

As school districts across the US enter 2012 planning, there is an increasing debate about the value of educational technology investments. For some, “edtech” is a way to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies in schools. Others express an almost messianic faith that edtech investment will support teachers and drive learning results in core academic subjects – reading, math, science.

On the learning results front, the latest news looks bleak.  As the New York Times recently reported, education technology companies and advocates have grossly inflated the software report card.

In a nutshell, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning. This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements.”

Yet, educational investment is about more than just spurring existing learning goals through new means. Classrooms of the future will play an essential role in ensuring that the next generation of students acquires the basic digital skills needed to succeed in today’s world- from computer programming and online research to analysis of social data and basic web publishing. Furthermore, in a country that continues to suffer from a great digital divide, the classroom remains one of the few places where students who lack computers, broadband connections, or smart phones at home can reliably access these tools.

We are now in the midst of an economic recession, with increased uncertainty upon us. While significant numbers of high school and college graduates live in areas where job opportunities just don’t exist, many more workers are unnecessarily unemployed because there remains a tremendous mismatch between skills and market needs.

It’s time we in the US acknowledge the digital skills gap and define a “Minimum Standard of Digital Literacy,” a standard that every high school and college student should reach by graduation. 

Should we demand that every high-schooler know how to write a basic computer program? Should they know how to analyze a Wikipedia article and decipher it’s sources? What about editing a video or deconstructing a commercial?  We will have to work to define the standard, and there is room to debate the balance of hard computer skills vs. critical thinking abilities.  But the need is there.  Once we establish the Minimum Standard we will then have a rubric from which to design new edtech products, investment in infrastructure, assess student performance, and analyze the value of our tech investments.

We think that the digital literacy of children is an essential frame through which the ROI on edtech investments should be assessed.  In future posts we will propose a Minimum Standard of Digital Literacy and look forward to collectively debating and agreeing on this standard.