MindShift: Exploring the Future of Education

Girl on iPad
Photo: courtesy Tina Barseghian

As students and teachers return to school, some will be in the classroom reading from books and writing on blackboards (true, it's more likely white boards these days) as educators and children have done for generations. Others, however, will be sharing information on iPads, watching instructional videos on YouTube, and studying using apps on their smartphones—often using technology developed by companies in Silicon Valley.

Tina Barseghian writes about technology, learning, and the future of education on the KQED blog MindShift—part of a collaboration with NPR that brings blogs covering specialized topics to member stations. Her work has become required reading for many educators, and as a result, it's one of KQED's most popular online features. Tina recently answered some questions about MindShift and education innovations.

How would you describe MindShift's area of coverage?
MindShift focuses on innovations in education, specifically how technology is changing the education landscape as well as how kids learn.

What's been the most interesting thing you've recently heard about?
I interviewed an expert on educational games, who told me about a video game where students and players would be able to pinpoint tumors on radiology scans. I have to follow up on that!

How quickly are school districts adapting to new technology?
It depends on the district. For some, it's not a high priority because they must first deal with a whole different set of issues, like safety of their students in high-crime communities, chronic truancies, debilitating health issues due to poverty, families in a constant state of flux. In those extreme cases, it's hard to know where to invest the few dollars they get from the state. Negotiating whether to use Facebook or YouTube in school seems like the least of their problems.

But even in those schools, technology can actually play a big role in addressing issues like truancy and high dropout rates. If educators can reach out to disenfranchised kids by engaging them in tech tools like using their mobiles phones and Facebook for learning in class, as well as issues that interest them and have direct relevance in their lives, those numbers might actually drop. We might see kids more interested in school, regardless of their economic standing. What makes this a more urgent issue is that the "digital divide" or "participation gap"—whatever term you like—will grow even more if low-income students aren't taught how to use important tech tools they'll need to survive outside school.

Apart from schools in low-income communities, there still seems to be a general feeling of apprehension when it comes to using technology in schools: Inertia on the part of school administrators and teachers; the powerful lobbying dollars behind established industries like textbooks and testing that might have to upend their business strategies to keep up with technology changes; fear of allowing the "wild wild west" nature of the Internet into the hands of children; and reticence in investing valuable dollars in passing tech trends.

But one of the issues that interests me most is what I call the "control shift"—the idea that parents and teachers no longer have full control over what information children have access to. The Internet has made all manner of information fully accessible to anyone, and that means the roles of teachers and parents as "owners" of information has changed. They have to find a different way to interact with kids and impart value to the information kids have already Googled.

Tell us a little bit about your background as a journalist and education writer.
My first job as a journalist was as a reporter at El Segundo Herald in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, my first big series of stories was about a teacher's strike. Prior to launching MindShift in late 2010, I was the executive editor of Edutopia, but my journalism career has spanned a wide range of subjects. I was a travel writer for many years, covering Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, and Hawaii. I've also edited magazines about architecture and design.

What's it like reporting on technology so close to Silicon Valley?
It certainly makes it easier to meet and interview the innovators coming from Silicon Valley. I'm more apt to get to meetings and seminars and conferences that are so close to the office. Also, it's exciting to be so near where so much of the innovation is happening, not just in education but to our culture.


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