Education Nation: Questions for Milton Chen, Cont'd

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In the first part of our Q&A with Milton Chen, author of Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools, we discussed the importance of training teachers to take advantage of tech tools, exemplary schools that are embracing technology, and finding great content on the web.

Our conversation continues.

Q. What are some of the hurdles in transitioning to digital textbooks in California schools? Do you think the transition is inevitable?

A. Of course, the move to digital textbooks requires providing teachers and students with the computers to use them. There are models in which the "textbooks" are published online and then printed at district and school sites, but the real goal is to enable schools to access rich, multimedia resources online, rather than only content that can be printed. Calling these "digital textbooks" still implies print media, so I prefer the term "multimedia resources."

So, many districts are looking at both the hardware and software costs. It would certainly help if California and its foundations and corporations took a more unified approach to making sure that we have well planned and researched pilots in different types of districts.

Funding is one big barrier, but already many groups across the country, including teachers themselves, are publishing free lessons and course modules. These curricula don't map entirely onto all courses in K-12 right now, but it's a matter of time.


CK-12, based in Palo Alto and founded by Neeru Khosla, is one organization that has responded to Governor Schwarzenegger's initiative. Its "Flexbooks" have received high marks for meeting California's standards for high school math and science.

Q. What are parents' roles in helping to pave the way for the reform you discuss in your book?

A. Parents can play two roles:

1) As co-educator for children, beginning during the 0-5 years. The gaps that children start kindergarten with are due in large part to how parents interact with their children during their first five years. And parents can do so much to support school instruction during the K-12 years.

2) As advocates for more modern schools. Many parents settle for classrooms that look pretty much the same as when they went to school. Our hope is that, if parents were to see more of the kinds of classrooms Edutopia has profiled, they would go to their principals and school boards and say, "Can't we have a 21st Century school instead of a 20th Century school?"

For more about Education Nation, watch a webinar or download the presentation by Chen. Or read more details about the six leading edges of innovation.