Book Review: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson, seeks to tackle the changes that are underway in the ways youths are using technology to learn and the disconnect with schools. Collins and Halverson first lay out the historical perspective of education, weaving in the argument that people learn best when given choices for engagement within a framework of curriculum. They also note the many barriers in place that thwart change, including our scheduling of blocks of learning time, uniform learning approaches to all student of all abilities at the same time, and learning by assimilation as opposed to learning by doing. When schools move towards a “one style fits all” pattern, we start to find students disengaging from their learning and turning elsewhere to become engaged.

This “somewhere” is all too often outside of the school, and often into the myriad realms of technology, including social networking and gaming, argue Collins and Halverson. The two writers do a good job of acknowledging the opponents of technology (under the umbrella of the “classical curriculum”) while pushing forward with the view that we must make some changes to the classroom now because the changes in the way young people learn has already begun, and can’t be dialed back by schools.

They note that resistance to new technologies are as old as the concept of schooling, and cite three ways this resistance takes place:

  • Condemn the Technology by arguing that the technology diverts attention away from the real learning taking place.
  • Co-opt the Technology by using elements of the technology for other means, such as converting a computer lab into a place for standardized testing.
  • Marginalize the Technology by having educators utilize a small component of something larger, using it for a specific purpose and calling it “technology integration.”

Some of the suggestions for a way forward into harnessing the potential of technologies, as put by Collins and Halverson, include developing a knowledge “certificate” program for high school students that would allow them to pursue an area of expertise on their own terms and then graduate at any age (although, they note that the rigor of the certificates needs to be high); have students choose a discipline field that has real-life value at an early age and then develop learning opportunities (including the use of mentors on project-based learning) as offshoots of that discipline through the years; and encourage teachers to look at the world of gaming as a model for learning.

Gaming, according to Collins and Halverson, encourages collaborative problem solving, use of scarce resources, understanding complex instructions and a motivation to push forward to the end.

“Helping teachers understand how system-modeling games like Civilization, Railroad Tycoon and The Sims could help students better meet content goals could serve to introduce technologies into everyday school practice.” — Collins and Halverson (119)

This book also calls on teachers and administrators and parents to work together to form a foundation for integrating technology into the lives of young people in meaningful ways, and urges us to know and understand the technologies of our children and students. It’s only by understanding the technology that we can consider the possibilities for the classroom.

I agree, and this book — while somewhat dry in places and often rehashes similar ideas from different angles — is a good one for teachers and parents to mull over. I like that the last section is directed towards school administrators and government officials, who are urged to do more to balance accountability with freedom of learning, and also to pay heed to the deepening digital divide that is taking place between the wealthy (whose schools can either afford new technology and qualified teachers or whose parents have the cash for the after-school programs that seem to be the home to much innovation) and the poor (whose schools struggle with the basics and easily get hemmed in by the need to meet standardized curriculum goals that leave little room for exploration by either the teacher or the students.)

Peace (in the future),

  1. Another good post/book review. I appreciate the idea that many students are losing out on more personal and interactive learning experiences because so many teachers use the old tried and true methods instead of integrating technology. It still takes a lot of experience, effort, time to get at the online tools that will meet the curricular needs. Searching alone can take a huge amount of time because simply having a page of search results doesn’t mean you have the best material in front of you quickly and ready to go. That very effort keeps folks away. For myself, the idea of creating a game to facilitate the learning seems like an overwhelming task – and I am an explorer. The creativity piece still eludes me and I suspect many other folks as well.
    This digital divide that you and the authors speak of feels like a tsunami just beyond the horizon. There will be a day of reckoning. Will the system change or will public education be replaced, brought on by a public outcry, “Why aren’t our children learning?”

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