The Transformative Power of Digital Learning
Contemporary technology transforms educational opportunity and educational access. It fundamentally changes how students learn, and their motivation for learning.
Students with their own laptops learn to control their own digital learning environment. They choose between multiple Internet browsers, between word processing systems, between Text-to-Speech systems that support their reading. They learn, with our support, how to best use the tools of their century.
They also learn connected to the world. They no longer are tied to a single explanation in a textbook, are no longer limited by the teacher's knowledge, they can reach out to every library, every museum, every scientific community, and analyze the information available.
The work of school - the things students have always done - becomes more effective as well. Students working in Google Docs can work together for peer support and can demonstrate progress through a teacher's ability to see every revision. Teachers can provide more effective and more immediate feedback, and, of course, papers never get lost.
Students working with on-the-computer calculators can record their work and copy/paste it into documents, showing proof of their understanding of process. Students working in science can work with digital measurement tools. Students in history can reach for source documents at any hour, any day.
Our children live in a new world of learning resources and communication tools, and the digital tools in their hands will help them learn to navigate their future.
In a third grade classroom, students studying Simple Machines find themselves in a debate: would a drinking straw be a Simple Machine? It is not, of course, on the list the Greeks developed 2,500 years ago, it is not on the list for the Virginia tests, but, say some students, it is "the same thing." It multiplies human force in a very simple way.
In a past century, the teacher might have quieted the room and moved on, but this is today. The teacher puts the question out on Twitter using the account he has created for his class. Within minutes, answers and debate start flowing from around the world. The argument gets so complex that the teacher quickly creates an open Google Document to bring in responses much longer than 140 characters.
Throughout the day, as the students continue their work, they keep checking in with that document. Scientists, museum curators, PhD physicists are all debating this question. People from around the world are challenging each other. Diagrams appear, and pictures. The construction of knowledge, these third graders learn, is not so simple, not so absolute.
This is a learning experience these children will never forget.
A High School theater group is working on a new play, and through social media connects with one of the actors who starred in that play on Broadway. She joins the cast and crew via Skype, and Broadway star and high school cast sing together.
A connection impossible even a decade ago.
Middle School students studying disabilities and reading about children with cancer use CAD software on their personal laptops to begin designing prostheses - replacement body parts. They print test versions on 3D printers available in both science and engineering classrooms and analyze function. They begin to research how they might recycle plastics from the business community in order to print actual replacement hands for people who cannot afford more complex solutions.
This is work which opens the world to our children. This is work unimaginable in the last century.