Comments on “Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century”

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Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century (PBS)

I just finished watching the PBS video Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century and I’m so inspired to engage students by using technology!  Before I saw this video, I had a narrow idea of how to use technology in the classroom. I have become adept at showing YouTube videos to my students, making  Powerpoints to highlight direct instruction, or finding games to help students practice math, but this video opened a whole new world to me in terms of how we can change education through technology.

Digital Media showcased 5 different learning environments around the country where instructors are using computers, iPhones, GPS technology, and recording/photographic technology to create incredible learning experiences for young learners. The first segment,  takes the viewer inside Quest to Learn, School for Digital Kids in New York City. I wish my own children, both techies, could have gone to this elementary school.  At Quest to Learn, children learn through gaming: both playing and designing video games.

Although one of the teachers explained that educators at Quest to Learn follow the New York State standards “to the letter” and that the school uses rigorous assessments, a narrator explained that it is possible to make such a rich learning environment that assessing and learning become synthesized.  An example of this is in games where you can’t get to the next level until you accomplish all the learning in the current level and completion of the game becomes as the assessment.

One aspect of this segment that really hit home for me was the double standard that exists around technology. The child who stays up all night reading a book is rewarded and recognized as having dedication and intellect whereas the child who puts the same amount of effort into solving a video game is a source of concern to parents and educators. Often these children are accused of having an addiction. I am guilty of this in my parenting. I value activities such as playing outside, painting, or reading a book, while I don’t appreciate my children’s creativity or intellectual efforts on the computer. I have worried that they are addicted to the computer and that they are being too passive when in reality my daughter writes extensively on several blogs and my son also has several blogs and  does a great deal of computer graphic design.  Hearing the narrator discuss this double standard really changed my view on my children’s endeavors and in how I approach technology in the classroom.

Another aspect of  making technology a valued component of classroom learning is going much deeper  than simplistic or violent  games where the object is to shoot aliens or something similar. In education, children can learn “classic” information and actually process that information and produce something creative with that information using technology. For example, one class at Quest to Learn was reading Aesop’s fables. They chose a fable to work with and they were creating characters and sets to translate the fable into a live 3-D game environment. I believe this is a perfect example of taking something ancient and translating it into something meaningful for the 21st century.

Education is profoundly changing to meet the needs of our current and future society. The point was brought up in the video that it is not possible to teach children everything they will need to know for the rest of their lives anymore. We need to teach problem solving, where to find and analyze information, and how to adapt to new ideas and technologies. I love this quote from the video attributed to John Dewey, the early 20th century philosopher and education reformer: “If we teach today’s students the way we taught them yesterday, then we rob them of tomorrow.” This quote is even more relevant in the quickly evolving world of the 21st century than it was when John Dewey verbalized this idea.