Shift to the Future: Rethinking Learning with New Technologies in Education
reviewed by Richard E. West - August 14, 2007
Title: Shift to the Future: Rethinking Learning with New Technologies in Education
Author(s): Nicola Yelland
Publisher: Taylor & Francis, London
ISBN: 0415953197, Pages: 200, Year: 2007
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In education, it is popular to espouse a theory of the new learning or to claim that societies have changed and schools have not. Perhaps because this has been done before, parents, teachers, and administrators may feel that educational researchers are just crying wolf when claiming that something new and important has changed in the ways people are learning or working. However, there can be little doubt that society has indeed made an important shift with the explosion of the Information Age. Banahan & Playfoot (2004) believe that with the abundance of information available at our fingertips, our society has shifted to become a creative economy that rewards creativity and innovation, more than industriousness and that "intellectual productivity is the new currency" (p. 128). As evidence, they cite that between 1996 and 2001 the number of patent applications increased by 68.3%. Charles Reigeluth (1994) has also argued that since the 1950s there has been a major shift in jobs towards manipulating information rather than materials. Just as the industrial age represented a focus on, and extension of, our physical capabilities (mechanical technology), so the information age represents a focus on, and extension of, our mental capabilities (intellectual technology)" (p. 7). If it is true that information skills began to overtake material skills in the 1950s, then this trend has only been accelerated with the advent of the Informational Superhighway in the 1990s.
Nicola Yelland is another firm believer that society has made a substantial shift towards valuing creativity, problem solving, and innovation and that there are technologies available to enable this kind of learning, but that educational systems have been reluctant to adapt to the changing times. In her book, Shift to the Future: Rethinking Learning with New Technologies in Education, she argues that, Creativity and innovation in particular need to become central to the educational process (p. 123), something that is not emphasized in the current state of overcrowded curriculum[s] (p. 132) that focus on teaching the kinds of knowledge that will be least useful to students. Her book is a promising treatise on the importance of reforming educational systems to focus on creativity and problem solving, supported by effective technology integration, while giving examples from research-based case studies of how some innovative teachers and schools have already attempted to make this shift. In her words, it is about what it means to become knowledgeable in the twenty-first century (p. 2).
Yelland begins her book by setting the context and need for a new kind of instruction. In Chapter 1, she argues that the millennials or children entering schools today, are almost universally connected to the Internet, enraptured with media, and information drenched. Yet, their lives inside of schools continue to revolve around memorization, information acquisition, and the use of technology in irrelevant ways. This results, Yelland claims, in students who think that schools are places they do not want to be . . . they see no connection between schooling and their lives outside of it (p. 20). This need not be, and in Chapter 2 Yelland provides the remedy by discussing how several educational systems have successfully reconceptualized their visions for learning and curriculum.
In Chapters 3 through 5, Yelland describes case studies of how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st century. Chapter 3 discusses how playtime can be learning time for young children, particularly with well-designed technologies that allow for students to develop skills in representation and dialogue, particularly when engaging in play with parents. Chapter 4 describes out-of-school informal learning environments, where technology-infused activities have allowed students to create and share knowledge with others within learning communities. Chapter 5 addresses the typical school setting, and gives examples of active, constructive, and creative learning that has occurred within schools through the aid of technologies. In Chapter 6 Yelland summarizes her findings and theoretical framework, arguing that new technologies should not only change the ways that students in schools can learn but also afford opportunities for them to participate in knowledge processing rather than merely be consumers of facts (p. 122).
A strength of this book is its design, with a beginning theoretical framework and then research-based case studies to give examples of the theory in practice. However, some of these examples did not seem very well connected to each other or to support clearly Yellands main thesis. By the end of the book, it still feels a little vague how one would go about implementing the authors ideas, especially in present political environments. Because of this, the book could probably be strengthened by shortening the case studies and then adding more examples. The result of having more, but shorter, case vignettes would be that the reader could have enough toe- and hand-holds to grasp how this new learning would look in practice. This is also why one of the most exciting parts of the book is Chapter 7, where Kerry Wardlaw provides an excellent summary of Internet resources showing the research and practical, school-based examples supporting Yellands arguments.
Overall, this is a very useful book that pushes forward the discussion on what the new basics of a 21st century curriculum should be. Yellands writing is clear and appropriate for researchers or practitioners, and the book is short enough to not be daunting to anyone. It comes at an important time when educational policies are moving many educational systems further towards information acquisition models instead of models emphasizing authentic, active knowledge construction. These policies are exacerbating the gap between what students do outside of schools and the activities they engage in within schools. Shift to the Future points us in a different path for student learninga path that we must, for the sake of the students, seriously consider.
Banahan, E., & Playfoot, J. (2004). Socio-organisational challenges in the creative economy. In L.M. Camarinha-Matos & H. Afsarmanesh (Eds.), Collaborative networked organizations: A research agenda for emerging business models. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Reigeluth, C. M. (1994). Introduction: The imperatives for systemic change. In C. M. Reigeluth & R. J. Garfinkle (Eds.), Systemic change in education (pp. 3-11). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.