In my estimation, the August 7 “Opinionator” column by Virginia Heffernan in THE NEW YORK TIMES, “Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade” is a must-read. ( https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/education-needs-a-digital-age-upgrade/ )

In reviewing a new book, “Now You See It,” by Cathy N. Davidson, Heffernan writes:

“Simply put, we can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist. We can’t keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills they’re developing on their own. And above all, we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don’t happen to possess it. An institutional grudge match with the young can sabotage an entire culture.

When we criticize students for making digital videos instead of reading “Gravity’s Rainbow,” or squabbling on Politico.com instead of watching “The Candidate,” we are blinding ourselves to the world as it is. And then we’re punishing students for our blindness. Those hallowed artifacts — the Thomas Pynchon novel and the Michael Ritchie film — had a place in earlier social environments. While they may one day resurface as relevant, they are now chiefly of interest to cultural historians. But digital video and Web politics are intellectually robust and stimulating, profitable and even pleasurable.”

According to Davidson’s blog (https://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson ),

“When Cathy Davidson and Duke University advocated giving free iPods to the freshman class in 2003, critics said the university was wasting their money. Yet when students in practically every discipline invented academic uses for the music players, suddenly the idea could be seen in a new light—as an innovative way to turn learning on its head.”

“Here is the issue: if you change the technology but not the method of learning, then you are throwing bad money after bad practice. You’re giving kids a very fancy toy with enormous educational potential and, being kids, they will find exciting things to do with it and many of those things will be beneficial, exciting, and will help them be more adept in the 21st century world of new forms of communication and interaction. If you leave kids to their own devices (pun intended), they will find ways to learn. It’s what young animals of all kinds do. So from that point of view, the iPad distribution is just fine. The user interface on tablet computers is appealing, the multidisciplinary possibilities inventive, and the potential for downloading lots and lots of apps for just about anything — and even for designing apps yourself — is fun. That makes the iPad a flexible, smart device. That is the upside.
The downside is that it is not a classroom learning tool unless you restructure the classroom. By that I mean, there is no benefit in giving kids iPads in school if you don’t change school. You might as well send them off with babysitters to play in the corner with their iPads for eight hours a day. Without the right pedagogy, without a significant change in learning goals and practices, the iPad’s potential is as limited (and limitless) as the child’s imagination. That’s great on one level — but it misses the real point of education as well as the full potential of the device. What iPad and all forms of digital learning should do is help prepare kids for this moment of interactive, complex, changing communication that is our Information Age. This is the historical moment that these kids have inherited and will help to shape. Are we preparing them for the challenges we all face together simply by spending our tax dollars on iPads? Yes. And no.”

For those of us committed to technology skills training in the Process & Manufacturing industries, it is good to see education starting to catch up. Beginning with interactive laser videodisc technology and culminating with CD-ROM and video-based E-Learning, we have seen major advances in skills acquisition as we have progressed into the dominant learning culture of our workforce. While we have watched our education system bogged down in their old ways — with an almost-exclusive use of the “lecture/reading/testing” methodology — it is obvious that with leaders like Davidson, “help is on the way!”
Using technology as a learning tool is one of the important answers to the learning deficits currently present in our education system.

More on Tuesday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Tuesdays & Thursdays)
e-Mail: bwalton@itclearning.com