Friday, September 28, 2007

Bringing School to the Information Age

The new reality is that the public-education system is no longer the only, or the paramount, place where we go to learn.

by James Daly

Editor's Note

For more than 150 years, the local public schools were our community's temple of knowledge. They dutifully gathered, assimilated, and dispensed the wisdom of thousands of years of insight and learning to the eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) ears and eyes of fidgeting youth. Once you left the school's care, however, as a young adult, you were pretty much on your own to track down the information and wisdom that would lead to a more enriched mind or pocketbook.

Then something dramatic happened. In 1989, researcher Tim Berners-Lee was noodling around in his Swiss lab, working on a way for his colleagues to share ideas electronically on different networks using an odd jumble of computers. He came up with an online knowledge-sharing device: the World Wide Web. By the mid-1990s, new Web browsers produced by companies such as Netscape and Microsoft made sailing through the sea of online information simple; Berners-Lee had inadvertently kicked open a door to the world's knowledge.

Then came the crackling summer of 1995. While a staggering heat wave scorched the country -- New York City had a record-setting streak of twenty-four consecutive days with no precipitation, while out in the Great Plains, a freight train derailed when the tracks warped in 112-degree heat -- Netscape planned something even hotter: It went public. When that offering happened on August 9, the company's stock and its fortunes skyrocketed. Where there is money to be made (and Netscape was making billions), inventiveness and ambition followed.

The rest of the story, writ in large neon letters, has been a redistribution of knowledge that has essentially turned our world upside down and inside out (or is it the other way around?). In the past decade, the easy access to nearly any piece of information imaginable has become an expected part of our daily life. We've been Googled and YouTubed and iPodded so completely that the names of these very companies have seared into our cerebral cortex, even becoming verbs ("Did you google it?") in our daily chatter.

What happened with our schools? Not much. They continued to plod on gamely, passing out paper-based textbook after paper-based textbook, keeping their rooms and halls nearly free of the technology saturating their students' lives. The public-education system was a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, dozing peacefully beneath its educational elm while the distance increased between the technology that schools provided and the daily reality of the world students live in.

Subtly, but inexorably, schools -- or, for that matter, libraries -- were no longer the key holders to the temple of knowledge. A millennia-old arrangement of information distribution disappeared in the time it took for a newborn to reach fifth grade.

The new reality is that the public-education system is no longer the only, or the paramount, place where we go to learn. Most likely, the average child did his or her first Google search on a home computer. For many kids, they probably first logged on to a network (most likely AOL or Yahoo!) remotely, using a portable PC a parent brought home from the office. Their first online chat was more likely to happen at home while the child was enjoying Club Penguin than it was in English class.

This shift represents a fundamental restructuring of what public education is all about. Schools must now jump into the river of information provided by business, international groups, and the media and step into a new role: assembler of the collective intellect. Educators must help students sort out the insightful from the ludicrous, assisting them in their new role as capable and critical thinkers. Schools should not shun the seemingly endless variety of outside information sources, but should instead see them as new sources of inspiration for their daily lessons.

In an age when the flow of information was limited and controlled, schools were worthy gatherers of knowledge. That world is gone. Public education has entered a new phase, and it's time for it to catch up to the students it's charged with teaching.

Editor in Chief
James Daly

Jim Daly

This article was also published in Edutopia Magazine, July 2007


Anonymous said...

Tim Berners-Lee? Who is this guy? I thought it was Al Gore that invented the internet? Well, well, well Mr. Brown I wonder what else Al Gore could be wrong about?

Perhaps they should rethink all his claims. Anyone vote for An Inconvenient Fairy Tale, narrated by Santa since the NORTH POLE IS STILL FROZEN. HAHAHAHAHAHAAHA


A Gore said...

Wow, I'm glad you understood the point the article was making... For a bright fella your reading comprehension skills could use some work.

Peterson said...

I think that more technology shoud be included in school because technology upgrades everyday. Millions of dollars go into making technology better and it seems as if everyday technology is being banned from school. I also think that school is to traditional. The old people need to adapt to the changes of the new world.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion i think using technology is one of the best ways to learn becuase there is so much information out there that you can research for. But many websites add on things to articales that arent true to make it seem more interesting. Kids these days dont like textbooks and writing pages and pages of notes they like open group discussions because there is less pressure put on them.

Princess Taryn said...

I think that we should have technology in the classroom. Mr. Brown made a good argument in class last week about i he felt about this issue. I agree with him 100%, we use technology everyday, if there is one thing that we know how to do is use computers, phone, and other different kinds of technology we should have at all times.

Krystle said...

technology is changing our world and in 2007, we should use more of our resources for the good instead of just the bad. i think we should focus more on our education with using internet access as an advange. if we don't, its like a limitation to all the resources and technology can't grow if i can't be used everywhere.

jamaal adams said...

Technology is the way of the future more and more we are being exspected to use programs on computers by teachers in school and for other oppertunitys to be successful in todays world. So why wouldnt we make our schools a more technology friendly enviorment for everyone, helping the people who aren't use too using computers. I feel if we dont make any changes in the way we learn how are we actually advancing the the knowledge of our youth and bettering the future of the our country.

Bjorn said...

Technology is being built to benefit us in the world. For us not to use it in school is unbelievable. It is like we are being left behind while the world around us is moving faster with each day. If we was able to use the technology that was able to us learning and teaching in school would be a whole lot easier.

Anonymous said...

Tj -

Technology is what makes the world go round. Technology keeps people in contact with one another it help us get better info on different researched topics. Without technology we will live like we are in the Stone Age because we wouldn’t have new technology to do any thing.