By Mark Winegar on Mon, 10/01/2012
"An investment in knowledge pays the best dividend." - Benjamin Franklin
Public schools are the very heart of our nation yet some would replace them with privatized education rather than invest in the public good. See the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's recent review of "Won't Back Down". The result of these misguided efforts would be a more-stratified society and a weaker America.
Yes, there are issues with education in the United States. There are far too many dropouts and our students do not compare favorably to those of other industrialized nations. These are signals we should be reinvesting in a public education which was once, not so long ago, the envy of the world and can be once again.
The way forward, as I see it, is to embrace the technologies at hand to deliver "tried and true" as well as innovative educational experiences. We need to take a hard look at what works in other nations and adapt it to our needs. Most importantly, we need to collaborate with one another.
The current hot topic in education is "flipping classrooms" which makes students responsible for studying and gives them classroom opportunities for practice and demonstration of mastery. Wait one minute! Isn't this what teachers did in the one room schoolhouses just a few decades ago?
The real innovations in education are mobile technology and electronic publishing which allow students to study anytime, anywhere. Despite common opinion these technologies are not new.
Publishing went digital in the 1970's. It began with typesetting but it was only a matter of time before it became impractical to keep the presses running. All we needed to make the transition was decent reader software like Apple iBooks, B& N Nook, and Amazon Kindle. Today we can say adios to expensive hardcopy textbooks.
The bigger push is to free classroom teachers, and professors, from the chore of lecturing so they can spend quality time teaching students. This means allowing students to learn at their own speed (differentiated learning) and requiring them to master content (mastery learning). It also means more personalized instruction. But first we must move the presentation of knowledge online where it can be consumed on demand. Youtube showed us the way when it made video podcasting ubiquitous.
There are notable role models of innovation in public education. Greg Green, the Principal at Clintondale High School in Michigan has had amazing success "flipping" his troubled urban school and improving the lives of at-risk students despite their socio-economic status and a lack of funds (November Learning). The Khan Academy offers free educational content based on differentiated instruction and mastery learning (EDUCAUSE).
There is no magic involved in making educational content accessible to mobile devices. All that is required are good website design practices (i.e., HTML5). HTML5 compliant materials can be viewed by any web browser whether it's on a mobile phone or a desktop computer.
The time has come to retrain ourselves to use these "new" technologies and pedagogical strategies. As in all things, we each progress at our own speed. Help is available. Just ask!