Preparing Our Schools for Digital Natives

February 6th, 2013

Category: News

This guest blog post was written by Ernest “Ernie” Dianastasis, chair of Vision 2015 and managing director of CAI. As part of our blog series on education technology for Digital Learning Day, this post speaks to how technological advances have impacted education globally. To read the first post in this Digital Learning Day blog series, “A New Vision for Education,” click here. To read the second in the series, a post about the role of technology to support personalized learning written by Howard High School of Technology teacher Ashley Sorenson, click here.

The kids entering our schools today are fluent in this new digital world, while many of us are still wondering why we have two clickers for our TV.  Our kindergartners enter a world of touch screens and iPads that didn’t exist when their third grade brothers and sisters were their age.  With a hand-held device, that same child can now access the most current information in the world in seconds.  The challenge and the opportunity with this development is that the other seven billion people across the globe can, too.  This new world opens up possibilities that we are just beginning to understand.

This shift has the potential to melt borders.  Our children are growing up knowing that a tsunami in Japan has an impact on their environment and that a financial meltdown in Greece can impact their pocketbook.  Not only will employers be able to find the best talent in the world, but it suggests what the most successful adults are going to need to be able to navigate this new world.

So how does this shift impact our schools?  We’ve known forever that students learn at different paces and have different strengths. This new set of tools will enable every child to meet the content where they are.  While more than 10 million U.S. college students are taking some or all of their courses online, our K-12 system has been slower to empower teachers and students with the tools and supports necessary to innovate.  Advances in educational technology offer a new vision for education: one in which students become the center of the learning environment.

Working with teachers and technology to support a personalized learning experience both inside and outside the classroom has the power to provide students across the spectrum from high-need to gifted and talented students the opportunity to access a more individualized and rigorous learning experience.  It can be focused on their strengths, skills, and interests. This practice is something that great teachers have been doing for decades, but now we have an opportunity to do so at scale.

Not only will students be able to personalize their learning, but their teachers will be able to expand their toolkits and skillsets via access to online coaching and support.  They can not only watch excellent instruction in real time, they can network with their peers across town or globally.  That said, while we know this transition is starting to happen, we are at the early stages.

Today is Digital Learning Day, a national campaign shining a spotlight on effective uses of technology in classrooms across the country. In recognition of the day, the Delaware Department of Education is hosting its inaugural Online Professional Development Conference this week. Designed for educators (and open to the public), the conference offers sessions such as “Personalized Learning with the iPad,” “Digital Citizenship,” and “Media Literacy in the 21st Century.”  Governor Jack Markell, Delaware Education Secretary Mark Murphy, and education professionals up and down the state are making personalized classrooms of the future a reality for our children–today. As Ashley Sorenson, a science teacher at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, wrote in a blog last week, our educators know firsthand how educational technology can empower educators and increase student learning.

As a business executive, the Chair of Vision 2015, and most importantly, as a father, I am encouraged and excited by the work going on in Delaware.  And I know many here are learning from their peers across the state, nation, and world. My hope is that collectively, we take advantage of this unique window in time.  I invite you to join the wave of education champions who seek to engage students, celebrate and empower teachers, and create a personalized learning environment for every Delaware student. Moreover, I encourage you to see what is already going on in your local school and to work with them to build the kinds of partnerships we all need for our children to not only navigate, but thrive in this exciting and complex new world.

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