Jeremy Roschelle, PhD
Co-Director of the Center for Technology in Learning
Naomi Baron, PhD
Center for Teaching, Research and Learning,
Professor of Linguistics
Mimi Ito, PhD
Cultural Anthropologist of Computer Use,
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Chair in Digital Media and Technology,
Director of the Digital Media and Learning Hub,
University of California, Irvine
John F. Pane, PhD
Distinguished Chair in Education Innovation;
Pardee RAND Graduate School;
James W. Pellegrino, PhD
Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor,
Distinguished Professor of Education,
Co-Director of Learning Sciences Research Institute,
University of Illinois at Chicago
Schools today are responsible for equipping students with more knowledge and more complex skills than ever before. To meet rising aspirations while engaging students, educators seek to build on technology’s instructional potential. Of course, educators also wish to avoid possible negative effects on teaching and learning.
Digital textbooks are one example of how technology can be used (although many other models of effective technologies exist). Digital textbooks can be distributed at scale and rapidly updated. They can add interactivity, visualization, and other features, and thereby enable a rich set of learning activities. In most cases, digital textbooks can save money for school systems or individuals. Educators seek to take advantage of features such as these. On the other hand, a cross-national survey of university students found that when doing school work, if cost were the same, 87% would refer to read in print. Research suggests they may be right to do so. Readers of electronic course materials do much more multitasking and are highly susceptible to distraction. In fact, 92% of students in the survey said they concentrate best when reading in print. Thus educators need to consider both advantages and potential disadvantages before committing to use of digital course materials.
More generally, traditional education was built around restricted access to information. Traditional education emphasized uniformity: managed, orderly teaching and learning, broadly applicable standards, and rigid, regular, efficient evaluation. In contrast, children today grow up with information abundance. This can encourage informal, demand-driven, networked learning in more fluid, social, peer-based environments. Teens see the Internet as a lifeline, but many adults have concerns about distractions or other problems with its use in formal educational contexts. The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative and Connected Learning Research Network seeks to discover how young people are living and learning with digital media, and to improve the quality of their learning, education, and intergenerational connection. Research that uncovers examples of gaming, fandom, and other online-activated youth interests may help.
A further concern is that the proliferation of digital media tools may be exacerbating inequity. In may be that the well-supported and well-equipped children of the “creative class” are acquiring what one speaker called “superpowers”, while their peers with fewer resources and weaker support systems are more susceptible to distraction. Such differences may compound the difficulty of speaking meaningfully about media effects on “children” as an undifferentiated group.
In light of these divergences, the greatest value of technology may not be related to making traditional models of schooling more efficient, but rather, in making it possible to personalize educational experiences at a large scale and creating better access to learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Such changes may advance schools’ ability to cultivate what one speaker described as students’ “21st century competencies” – rich thinking, argumentation, evidence evaluation, and collaboration.