When it comes to educational innovations to prepare students for the future, Yong Zhao, foundation distinguished professor at the University of Kansas School of Education, believes educators are stuck in a loop.
“Today when we talk about education, we only talk about three things: the curriculum, the teacher and the assessments,” Zhao told attendees at the Consortium for School Networking’s 2019 annual conference keynote session, Envisioning the Skills Students Need: 2030.
Current K–12 students will face a dynamically different work environment as industries integrate emerging technology in new and creative ways.
Future technologies will generate a multitude of unique jobs, but schools have to adapt now to give students the skills they need to fill those positions.
Give Students the Wheel to Their Own Learning
When designing education for the future, student agency, collaboration and problem-solving are the three essential components that must be included, said Karen Cator, president and CEO of Digital Promise, a nonprofit research organization that promotes innovation in education.
To nurture these, teachers will have to relinquish some control of their classrooms to students, a proposal Cator has found to be difficult for many educators.
“[Teachers] want to ask all of the questions and answer them, because that is what they have been taught to do. That is what they have been tested on, and it is too much of a risk to step out,” said Cator. “However, the way to create learning experiences that include agency, collaboration and problem-solving is by engaging students from the start and letting students ask the questions.”
Without a platform to be heard in the classroom, students can be resistant to learning regardless of what digital tools are at their disposal.
“Who they are should drive the agenda,” said Zhao. “Right now, we wrestle with kids, we try to turn them into what they cannot be, and we blame ourselves for not being successful.”
Respond to Inequity with Digital Literacy, Learning Opportunities
A preview of the CoSN 2019 IT Leadership survey — which will be released during the conference — noted 95 percent of respondents said digital inequity was a significant concern in their classrooms.
Unequal access to educational technology is a major barrier to creating a revolutionary learning system because it limits possibilities for the entire school, said Zhao and Cator.
If schools can start thinking about innovation in tandem with inclusivity, new programs will be able to serve the greatest number of students, said Cator.
To promote digital equity, K–12 schools should do three things:
- Provide access to educational technology in and out of school: Giving students access to devices during school is important. However, students’ learning should not stop when the final bell rings. In Detroit, one IT technologist started an after-school help desk program, which allowed students to explore their passions for technology, said Zhao. Schools don’t have to give every student a new device to take home, said Cator. Instead, educators should strategically use new and existing technology to create more opportunities outside of the designated school day.
- Teach digital literacy: For students to use technology effectively, they need to be able to think critically about the information they are exposed to online, said Cator. “Digital literacy and participation is the second big part of the gap, and schools must be the great equalizer,” she said.
- Encourage students think about solutions to real-world problems: It is not so much the technology that’s important, speakers noted, but what students do with it. Encourage students to identify an issue in their community and use problem-solving to find a solution. This will boost their confidence generally, and for minority and female students specifically, may motivate them to continue in areas where they are underrepresented, said Cator.
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