Transforming Education To Meet Today’s Needs – Advice From ISTE 2018

Bob Nilsson Published 23 Jul 2018

Technology may never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset

Technology has never been more essential to education. Need proof? Just listen to almost any of the speakers at ISTE 2018. The conference itself set a new record for registrations and attendance, bucking the downward trend of most other conferences across all industries. Nonetheless, just mentioning the word “technology” in the context of education is likely to spark a lively debate. And despite the multiple applications and meanings, misuses, over-expectations, unreliability, high costs, and even fears of an AI dystopia, technology is at the core of our last great hope for transforming education.

Opening keynote speaker David Eagleman painted an eloquent picture of what’s needed to prepare students for the world of today and tomorrow, and how vastly different that is from what we’ve been teaching. His ideas were echoed throughout the conference, as well as in TED talks by Ted Robinson and Sugata Mitra (schools of the past were designed to produce cogs in the bureaucratic administrative machine). The sense of frustration at the slow pace of change is palpable: we know what’s needed, but it’s taking too long to get there.

Here’s what’s not needed. Students no longer need to memorize lots of dates, facts, and numbers. It’s already fast and easy to call these up on the Web and getting faster and easier all the time. The device needed to access facts is now in your pocket or on your wrist, but may soon be in your glasses, contact lenses, or at some point, directly in your brain. Performing complex arithmetic calculations is just as easy.

The skills that are needed for success in today’s world include creativity, innovation, and cognitive flexibility. The world economy has evolved along these lines:

Farming -> manufacturing -> information -> creativity

New ideas form a base for creativity. But where do new ideas come from? They rarely spring fully-formed from thin air. Edison had the notion of an idea quota. He set his quota at one minor invention every ten days and a major invention every six months. He would send workers away with the task of returning with seven new alternative ideas. Innovation comes from bending, breaking, blending, and remixing earlier ideas.

Our schools are transitioning from teaching students lots of facts “just in case” they are needed, to teaching methods for finding data and facts efficiently “just in time”. Research has shown that digital natives actually move their eyes differently across content, scanning the edges as when reading web pages. It’s important for students to learn how to absorb ideas, mold them, present and develop them, as well as how to take risks and build collaboration.

Technology has put vast stores of data and information into the students’ hands, and so needs to be well-understood to achieve maximum benefit. But more importantly, technology has made new styles of teaching, including personalized learning, much more achievable. Students can be immersed in far-away lands and perform complex experiments with virtual and augmented reality. Schools can tap into the world’s best learning content and lesson plans, no matter where it originated.

Yet, technology is not universally viewed as the savior of education. In fact, telling an audience “It’s not about the technology,” is a predictable applause line. My suspicion is that those applauding are teachers sent to ISTE to try to overcome their fear of technology.

Here’s another dissenting view: “I think the entire nation should be part of a class-action suit against the computer industry for marketing the devices as vital educational tools,” Paula Poundstone, parent, comedian, commentator, and panelist on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.

Eagleman also spoke of creating environments that foster creativity. The brain works better and has been shown to create more neural connections when people are in more vibrant surroundings. Safe, often isolated experimental environments known as sandboxes, where students can explore and learn have been shown to encourage creativity. There is strong evidence that gaming can help with learning. Medical students typically do not really assimilate and fully comprehend their studies until they meet their first patients. But quantitative studies have shown that medical games can bridge that gap.

Recognizing Credible News Sources

There’s a strong need to teach students how to recognize truth from fiction, especially in today’s political environment (#fakenews). How familiar are you with the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? Professor Donald Leu of the University of Connecticut asked 25 seventh-graders attending middle schools across Connecticut to review a website devoted to a fictitious endangered species. These were the troubling results.

  • All 25 students fell for the Internet hoax
  • All but one of the 25 rated the site “very credible”
  • Most struggled when asked to produce proof – or even clues – that the website was false
  • Some students vehemently insisted the tree octopus really exists

Clearly our educators have some important work ahead of them to fully transform education. Thankfully, technology is accelerating the transformation.

For more on the network infrastructure that powers EdTech, see our Network Solutions for K-12 Education.

The ISTE 2018 conference exhibit of technology to revolutionize education

Related Primary & Secondary Education (K-12) Stories