Time to Unleash the Potential of Technology

The good intentions are there: Protect kids from cyberbullying, addictive video games, and uncensored access to the Internet. But at what cost?

According to Dr. Michael Levine, Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at the Sesame Workshop, which conducts studies on the role of digital technologies in childhood literacy, the public dialogue about technology and education has focused too much on it dangers, and not enough on its vast potential.

“There’s a moat between what kids do outside and inside of school,” Levine said in a recent interview. “When it comes to children, the general framing of technology has been largely about safety and protection.”

That’s been one impediment to leveraging the power of technology. The second factor has been an inconsistent record of higher achievement. “So far there’s been lots of hype and bluster about how education technology will transform teaching, but so far that’s unfulfilled,” he said.

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Though much more research is needed in this realm, a recently released study called "Is there an App for That" by the Cooney Center does show that mobile apps help kids learn. I'll follow up on the report again soon, but in the meantime.

Here’s more from our recent conversation:

What will it take to fulfill the potential now that we have all these new tools?

Much more ubiquity. Now that we have new tools, there’s new demand from kids themselves, so we need much broader ubiquity in terms of adopting those tools for kids of all racial, ethnic, and income backgrounds.

How can we move in that direction?

It’s starting. I feel that some of the innovators are beginning to break through these discussions. Now the question is, how are we going to build supportive policy, as well as the capacity to help educators, who may be less adept at technology and keeping up with the momentum, and to integrate it into the classroom.

It’s beginning to happen. It’s a question of when not if.  At this moment, we should be thinking clearly about what we know and what we don’t know about how technology can support new the learning paradigm. We have to reinvent learning across both formal and informal learning environment.

What will it take for technology to be adopted in mainstream education, rather than in rare and experimental programs?

It’s gaining currency. We need to have policy investment to support research and development, change the framing of these public issues, and learn how to scale small successful models.

And we need better training for new teachers to adapt as quickly as children are adapting. We need to think of a new structure of what the teaching enterprise looks like – the actual infrastructure for that.

There’s a big difference in the capacity of using digital technology. So it will take some infrastructure investment, and public/private partnerships to make sure we’re able to afford all ofi t. Silicon valley can step up in new ways. Oracle, Hewlett Packard, Apple, anyone those companies that are interested in these issues.

What about the general public’s awareness of these issues?

Yes, on the public engagement side, it’ll take a lot of bully pulpit work by people like the president, teachers, tech executives who are respected. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison – these are the people who are driving the engine of economy and understand the way the market works. They focus a lot on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) discussion, but not so much about digital literacy. Things like personalized instruction, and being able to use digitalized learning plans for individual improvement.

Both of those factors [private companies and the general public] have to be motivated. We have to have a different kind of conversation with the public about informal learning spaces, where kids are free to use digital devices, and at school. What’s the bridge? I’m not saying we have to have the same bridge. But we have to find some kind of connection between out-of-school and in-school time.

If kids are going to go to school for longer times, it shouldn’t be just at school. This is where technology comes in – virtual schools, digital youth networks -- that’s what we should be investing in.

We’ve spent tens of billions of dollars for smaller class size, reading intervention, and so on, but we’re flat-lined. We have to look at productivity, innovation issues, and think about what are we doing to ramp up performance?

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That’s where the deployment of technology can create a medium for acceleration. We have to get there.

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