Oct 11 2006

Setting the Stage for Our Children's Digital Future

Filmmaker George Lucas shares his views on equipping students with the right skills for the 21st-century workplace and connecting them to the real world with technology.

Preparing our students for the future means teaching vital 21st-century high-tech skills. These include social skills and interpersonal competence, which are sometimes more important than intellectual prowess. As the 21st-century workplace grows more specialized, from offices to medical centers to factories, teams of people must accomplish their work by collaborating and understanding how to best resolve daily conflicts.

The teacher is a powerful force in modeling conflict resolution, encouraging teamwork and motivating students. No computer can ever do that. Yet technology can help to support curricula that foster this kind of learning.

Traditional education can isolate students when the curriculum appears abstract and irrelevant to real life. Neither teachers nor students connect easily with resources and experts outside the classroom. With project-based learning, however, student teams learn to work cooperatively and gain access to passionate experts in various fields. This form of teaching dramatically improves the learning experience. New digital multimedia and telecommunications support these practices and engage our students. By using interactive tech tools that provide exploration and discovery, students can take charge of their own learning, which in turn encourages responsibility and fosters trust among classmates.

Using the Web to connect students and teachers to new sources of knowledge and expertise, such as curators of art collections or creative scientists at research centers, breaks down the isolation of the traditional classroom. It also allows businesses and community groups to forge partnerships with schools through school-to-career projects. These exposures give students valuable real-world experiences and illustrate the practical value of classroom lessons.

Technology can help to provide every student with a voice and a means of expression. Take the student who, in a traditional classroom, may be shy and unwilling to contribute to a class discussion. It’s not because she isn’t intelligent or doesn’t know as much as the next person. It has to do with her level of comfort communicating in a certain way. Digital tools can enable that same student to create a multimedia report showing what she knows.

All of a sudden, this seemingly shy student creates amazing work. She may even discover talents she never knew she had. She will think about herself and about learning with a greater level of self-esteem and respect for her own potential.

Mentoring can also help prepare students for the world of work—including mentoring of young educators, new teachers and principals as well. In every profession, we learn by doing, watching and talking with more experienced individuals as they perform a complex task. Mentors also inspire novices and spark their interest, keeping them motivated to learn from their mistakes. I’ve benefited from mentorship myself, first from my father, then as a filmmaker, when Francis Ford Coppola became my mentor.

Educators should guide students to use technology to find the latest information, assess its validity and communicate with experts and potential mentors. Investing in teachers and supporting their learning is the key to preparing students—intellectually and emotionally—for the future.

George Lucas, the filmmaker, is chairman of Lucasfilm Ltd. and The George Lucas Educational Foundation, which publishes multimedia stories of innovation in our nation’s public schools, at glef.org.