Re-Skilling Our Students

More than a year ago, Eduflack opined on the very real problem of our schools “deskilling” our students.  What does this mean?  In an era where most kids are multitasking, multimedia fiends, we take away the multimedia learning, strip away the collaboration and student interaction, and place them into a learning environment with rows of desks and educators who read to them from traditional textbooks.  In doing so, we are stripping students of the 21st century skills they need to compete, forcing them into a 19th century learning continuum.

Fortunately, many schools and districts have stepped up to align current learning with the current student.  Look at the virtual education movement, where students offered access to high-quality, relevant instruction through and medium and in a venue they are comfortable in.  Look at new charter schools, those with strong oversight and infrastructure designed to meet the needs of today’s communities.  Look at those traditional school districts and states that are integrating technology in the classroom, adopting STEM education programs, or improving the overall rigor and relevance of what is happening in the schools.
When we talk about technology in the classroom and the concerns of deskilling students, discussion often turns to the teacher.  Over the years, I’ve heard that teachers aren’t comfortable with technology.  Teacher ed programs didn’t prepare educators for such developments.  I’ve even heard you won’t truly move into the digital world of public education until the retirement exodus we’re all waiting for happens. 
At the same time, I’ve heard that technology can’t truly permeate the classroom because of the students as well.  As the legend goes, today’s urban students, today’s rural students, and today’s African-American and Hispanic students simply don’t have access to computers to the Internet.  Despite the data from groups like Project Tomorrow that demonstrate virtually all students have access, we like to believe it is still the issue of have/have nots that we experienced a decade ago.
I have just one word in response — hogwash.
Earlier this week, a new survey from Cable in the Classroom crossed my virtual desk, and it provided some fascinating data points.  More than 75% of K-12 teachers either assign homework that requires Internet use or know teachers that do.  More than four in 10 students (and six in 10 high schoolers) are producing their own videos as part of the classroom process.  And this doesn’t even account for the vast numbers of teachers who make homework assignments available online for parents and students to see, as well as those educators who offer email addresses to provide students with additional help and guidance and parents with an additional lifeline to the classroom.
As we look at education improvement and 21st century opportunities, we all know that technology is king.  Tomorrow’s jobs require a technology-literate workforce.  Kids have abandoned the libraries for the Internet.  They are interested in video production and interactive learning and digital opportunities.  At the same time,  we worry about student engagement in the classroom and keeping kids interested enough in learning to keep them in school for a high school diploma or beyond.  There has to be a way to marry the two.
The data recently offered by Cable in the Classroom, coupled by the annual data offered by Project Tomorrow, demonstrate that the sea change is starting to happen.  We are engaging students in the ways they want to learn, and not in the ways their grandparents learned.  We are recognizing the worry of deskilling our students in school before needing to reskill them when they enter postsecondary education or the workforce.
The challenge before us is keeping up with the evolving trends.  Years ago, Eduflack judged a video production competition for a career academy in Texas, and was amazed by the effort and quality of work offered by the students.  In Michigan, students produced the videos the state department of education is now using to promote stricter high school graduation requirements in the state.  And district after district are turning to students to help build online presence and social networking opportunities for the learning process.  
That is all yesterday’s cutting edge, and may now be as new as a VHS tape.  If we are to ensure the value of a public education and to guarantee such education leads to the pathways of 21st century opportunity, we need to continue to innovate, experiment, and engage in the classroom.  Our future depends on it.    

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