It's a hot topic these days: Teacher vs. Computers, Group learning vs. individual learning. Is it possible to be for all of it? Do we have to pick sides in this polarizing debate?
Recently Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop Per Child, embarked on a new project. His organization dropped off pre-loaded tablets to a remote village in Ethiopia. These children had no previous exposure to any schooling, written language, or any sort of printed material. The group of 20, 5 year olds all taught themselves basic reading and writing. They had gone further and had hacked the operating system and had turned the camera option on, as well as personalized their individual tablet home pages. These experiments show us the amazing ability that computers have to potentially educate the estimated 100 million first grade aged children who lack access to a school. This is an amazing possibility we are on the brink of. The possibilities are endless really when we think of taking education out of the traditional sense and molding it into a new experience.
Are teachers and classrooms an archaic view of education? Are we evolving past the norm we have seen for as long as we can remember? I have to say the teacher in me is not quite ready to sign on to this view whole-heartedly yet. I have seen in my teaching experience the wonderful magic of a classroom. These mini environments are where our children can learn to be responsible thinkers, compassionate to one another, among a host of other valuable situations. It is these valuable situations that help our children explore and form identity, a role in society, as well as learn patience, tolerance and empathy.
Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA's Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and UCLA's Parlow-Solomon Chair on Aging, has conducted research on the digital natives and digital immigrant. Digital natives spend on average 8 and a half hours a day using technology. It is fully integrated into their lives. The time devoted to technology is literally rewriting their brains. This sounds all well and good and what we should strive for in our Tec savvy world, however there is a downside. A loss of human connection, empathy and "people" skills are sacrificed. Our very humaneness is what we are forced to give up as we build and develop our Tec skills.
Education in America has become a very hot topic. Teacher unions, school boards, mayors all have differing ideas, usually on how best to fix our cities' public schools. Home schooling, distance learning and a variety of other learning options have surfaced in the last few years. While this model offers more people the opportunity to get an education and a degree, are we taking an important element out of the experience? How does a home-schooled child learn socializing skills? How does a person earning a degree online learn teamwork and interaction?
As we venture into the vast future of education and technology I would like to see a strong emphasis placed on the important human traits of learning. I think back to my own days of teaching elementary school. There is nothing better than meeting your group of kids and building your classroom world together. Learning and discussing rules and why each one is important, as we all build a microcosm together. At the same time I am incredibly inspired by stories such as the Nicholas Negroponte experiment. How amazing is it that learning to read and write can be at the fingertips of any person left with certain technology. It would be a disservice to the millions of children and adults who could teach themselves and others with a simple tablet, and change their lives. The next decades will be a hopefully a wonderful blending on both.