Students way out in front of schools

At a Saturday panel session during the annual conference of the Education Writers Association, we heard four striking points from Connie Yowell, Director of Education Grantmaking for the Macarthur Foundation. She focuses on grants relating to public education and on the implications for education of young people’s use of digital media.

  1. The commercial technological and digital world is moving at a faster pace than ever, while schools and classrooms still follow a 19th-century paradigm. Because of their online networking, learning, and collaborative production, many students are way out in front of what schools offer.
  2. From their 19th-century perspective, most educators inhabit a world that would still make Henry Ford feel comfortable. The gap between the current school system and networked opportunities to learn doesn’t have to exist, but it does because people make excuses: schools will eventually catch up, or the educational value of networked learning “hasn’t been proven,” etc. Meanwhile, parents and educators ask the wrong questions about online learning communities. The questions that educators should ask include, “In the future, what will assessments need to look like? In the future, what will schools need to look like? What will classrooms need to look like?
  3. We are seeing a revolution in learning outside schools. Refusal to acknowledge this is affecting the dropout rate, school accountability, and progress. Digital media are a stunning example of peer-based, interest-driven learning communities, and they augment student behavior. Old paradigms (education as consumption, adult-driven instruction, individual learning) have been replaced by new paradigms (education as production, peer-driven instruction, and networked learning) to create a learning environment in which students are engaged, not bored.
  4. We’re undergoing a revolution in learning, writ large. She mentioned the National Writing Project, a professional development network that serves teachers of writing at all grade levels, primary through university, and in all subjects. The nearly 200 local sites that make up the NWP network are hosted by universities and colleges.Yowell said she loves being able to convene the best and the brightest (I have an extraodrinary Rolodex, she says) for brainstorming and for conferences such as this. “I feel like an Amazon bot, running out and finding who’s out there,” she says, and her fellow panelists Henry Jenkins and Mimi Ito are among the best in the world in digital media.


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