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Monday, September 15, 2014

Teaching the Digital Native - Learning With Computers and the Internet Poses New Challenges

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"The baby hadn't yet learned to speak or walk. Still, he was able to balance himself next to a coffee table and perform a smart tablet "swipe."" summarizes Fawn Johnson.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., told this story last week at a forum run by The Atlantic on technologies in education to illustrate the following challenge: This baby is one of the millions of the "digital natives"—the young people born with the Internet and computers—who we must educate and prepare for a technology-rich workplace that few of us can imagine now.

Digital classrooms are the wave of the future. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

These students of tomorrow's classrooms, ideally, will be using interactive online content the way Eshoo and I used textbooks. Their teachers, hopefully, will be receiving real-time feedback on their students' progress and altering their teaching in response.

But none of that can happen if the school doesn't have the bandwidth and the teachers don't know how to use the technology. Eshoo says it's time for the United States to step up its game if we want to stay on pace with the rest of the world. "This is the most dynamic investment of all," she said. "We know we need to upgrade in order to be competitive."

Tight education budgets and the varied local problems of running a school make even the most basic upgrades difficult. Kwame Simmons knows all about it. He is the principal of Kramer Middle School in one the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. A federal grant allowed Kramer to become the first school in Washington to offer a "blended learning" curriculum in which kids spend half of their learning time on laptops and the other half in a teacher-led environment.

Simmons was lucky that his school was recently renovated, so installing a state-of-the-art Internet infrastructure wasn't a problem. In older schools, he says, that kind of wiring would be almost impossible.

But Simmons had other problems. He had to get special permission from the district to replace most of the teaching staff so he could hire technically savvy faculty. Only 8 percent of teachers say they feel proficient with technology, according to White House data.

Then there is the issue of Simmons's student body. About half of them don't have computers at home, and even the ones who do likely don't have Internet access. They are all poor. They are all under-nurtured. Technology would not save them if teachers weren't there, too.

"These students, very rarely have they been [intellectually] touched by a teacher," he said. "I pledged that they would be touched by a teacher every day."
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Source: National Journal 

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