Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America
reviewed by Shuchi Grover — August 10, 2018
Title: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America
Author(s): Allan Collins & Richard Halverson
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807759066, Pages: 192, Year: 2018
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It is often stated that one of the major constants in life is change. Inevitably, despite often well-intended efforts to the contrary, change does happen. As the age old maxim states, If you dont manage change, change will manage you. In a time where high proliferation of user-friendly technology is an everyday occurrence, this adage rings even more true. Daily utilization of apps, extensions, cloud-based storage, cell phones, and tablets has become the new normal. To some in the education field, this dependence on instant gratification granted by technology is threatening to alter the status quo. Should it? Or should educators create a climate where technology implementation and the need to know merge into an academic pathway that better serves the needs of 21st century students?
Allan Collins and Richard Halverson, in the second edition of Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, have focused on the crux of this dilemma. Is education as an institution simply ignoring its responsibility to adjust ingrained tenets to better reflect the needs of a technologically advanced populace that conducts business very differently from previous generations? Or is the profession somewhat hoping this relationship between education and technology will one day morph into something more palatable? The authors assert that educational policymakers and administrators should not necessarily throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, but rather assemble critical lessons learned from the past, extract gems of wisdom encapsulated in each, and permit technology to play a crucial role in the process.
FROM A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The first part of the book takes the reader on a journey through changes that have occurred in American schooling over the course of history. During Americas early agrarian era, children were primarily educated by watching and imitating the practices of their parents. Children were by and large consummate apprentices who were expected to inherit and grow the family business. However, the authors cite four events that radically changed that linear trajectory: the invention of the printing press, the Reformation, the American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. The printing press brought immortality to the spoken word and new ways to transport knowledge. The Reformation showed the necessity of a literate society. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, citizens clamored for policy development that would help ensure leaders of a young nation were educated. The Industrial Revolution highlighted a need for citizens to serve the public good (in addition to themselves) as greater freedom led to emerging problems of delinquency among the countrys youth. Each event, therefore, contributed to a shift in the way educational responsibility was passed from one generation to the next. The continuum swung from the family unit having the obligation of passing down traditions, knowledge, and expectations to its own children on the one end to multitudes of non-related students learning skills from institutions within the public sector on the other.
The dawn of the 21st century moved technology and all its ramifications (both good and not so good) to the head of the class. Ideas that were only dreamed of during the 1970s and 1980s quickly became prototypes of things to come in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Students began carrying phones, laptops, and tablets to class. Instant communication in a variety of venues was now at the fingertips (and in the case of smartwatches, the wrists) of children in schools. Locating information in books such as the World Book or Britannica encyclopedia sets gave way to independent discovery journeys as WikiPedia, and resources on any topic imaginable populated the internet. The speed at which information could now be proliferated and transferred challenged traditional educational ideas of how students should learn.
FROM DEVOTEES TO CYNICS
The authors, however, take a realistic view of both the triumphs and challenges associated with the influx and availability of technology. The arguments delivered by both technological enthusiasts and techie skeptics are discussed. Enthusiasts argue that learning should once again be an active process where students create meaning through the collaborative exploration of knowledge rather than by participation in a competition for grades. To the enthusiasts, to use the authors term, computers motivate through immersive behavior in authentic tasks that can be adapted and tailored to address unique student needs. In this scenario, the instructor becomes a facilitator of opportunity. To do so, however, means that technology and core educational practices must be seamlessly merged.
The skeptics do not necessarily believe that technology is necessary for all instructional improvement. For the library, alright, but not for instructional purposes within the foundational core. To the skeptics, technology is often viewed as a distraction rather than an enhancement to learning. After all, skeptics argue, schools should focus on disseminating accumulated knowledge, not upon the acquisition of new learning that has yet to be discerned as valid and/or reliable.
Additionally, technological pessimists remind us that the divide between those who have and those who have not is anything but a myth. Schools serving communities located in higher socioeconomic neighborhoods tend to have the financial means necessary to provide students with opportunities to explore and use technology through innovations such as iPads, Chromebooks, whiteboards, and virtual conferencing. Students receiving instruction in lower socio-economic areas often do not have access to the same quality of schooling, much less the same technological advances.
A MERGING OF MINDSETS
Therefore, it is important that educators from both camps redefine what it means to be educated in a 21st century world where electronics such as smart phones, smart boards, virtual reality, and augmented reality are more the norm than the exception. How do schools address the changing role of students from consumers of meaning to creators of opinions, commentary, video, and news? How do they create shared spaces for students to collaborate and discuss new ideas? The case is made that if schools hold on to their antiquated practices, students may not learn how to share understanding, thus becoming more fragmented from each other and from society as a whole.
Collins and Halverson conclude by challenging educational institutions to engage in strategies and programs that give students the tools they need to take more responsibility for their own learning path both inside and outside the brick-and-mortar school building. They suggest it is important to provide (a) support for the development of technology-rich, learner-centered curricula that give students choices in how to pursue their goals and interests, and (b) access to mentors who can answer targeted questions and give structured examples. In other words, a reboot of educational practices should not be conducted in isolation by only leaders within the discipline, but through collaborative interaction among all stakeholders.
Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology acknowledges that the pace of technological change has outstripped the ability of school systems to adapt essential practices (p. 146), and new leadership is needed if next generation educational institutions are to become true learning systems that graduate productive, critical-minded citizens. This book provides a fascinating rationale as to why critical conversations conducted collaboratively amongst partners focused on how to best improve educational practices in a technologically advanced society must take place.