Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America Paperback – Sep 1 2009
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About the Author
Allan Collins is professor emeritus of education and social policy at Northwestern University and formerly co-director of the U.S. Department of Education's Center for Technology in Education. Richard Halverson is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he is co-founder of the Games, Learning and Society group.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book does an excellent job of outlining the problem in an easy-to-understand way: In short, the school system as we know it was formed during the Industrial Revolution, and it is designed to efficiently transmit information from the teacher to the students in large numbers. It is clear that the Industrial Age is over, and we are now well into the Information Age, and we see youth becoming a lot more involved in exchanging information and knowledge over the web than before. Consequently, we are finding that students are learning much more in these informal environments because they are voluntarily engaging in information which they find interesting, so Collins and Halverson propose that education should become less institutionalized and more personalized.
Essentially, Collins and Halverson propose that technology allows personalized instruction to large numbers of students, and education should look more like home-schooling or apprenticeship, in which students decide the terms and conditions of their learning rather than following a prescribed route. This will promote a higher degree of specialization, and "just-in-case" learning would no longer be relevant. Because students would be focusing on what interests them, they would be more motivated to learn, but this model leaves many future educators uneasy.
However, this book also does a fair job of outlining what may be lost from that proposed model of education, but there are many possible losses that Collins and Halverson did not address or resolve. Some future educators ponder about what would happen to the generalists if this model of personalized online instruction takes place, but it is not likely that generalists would disappear, and in world with such good communication, there would not really be a need for them. Also, when it comes to educating students about prejudice, tolerence, and social justice, schools have been the most effective means because they provide a common space for a diversity of students to interact, but the book does not address this. And finally, this book mentions nothing about physical education. Schools are typically an excellent institution for students to get involved with physical activity and sports, and this book does not address it at all. Although I would not agree entirely with the proposed solutions, I believe this book is an overall worthwhile read that should be taken with a grain of salt.
One significant qualm that I have with this book is that I find it to be polarizing: It offers perspectives from Technology Enthusiasts and Skeptics without offering a middleground or even explain why or if these two sides are incompatible. The authors present both sides fairly, but it is pretty clear which sides the authors are on. Although these authors are highly knowledgeable and offer a lot of valuable insight, I treat this polarization only as an organizational tool that helps me read and digest information, so I take nothing at face value.
Nonetheless, I would recommend this to any serious educator or future educator because the insights provocative and valuable, but this book should not be read passively like a novel. Anybody who reads this should be prepared to critique this book very carefully and open up lively discussions about rethinking education.
Being personally experienced in this field, I'd just offer two or three criticisms. The first is their assumption that interactive learning programs will play a large role in the future of education. I imagine that they eventually will, but after at least thirty years of research and experimentation with such environments, I am impressed by how limited their real-world success has been. The commercial successes have been in the teaching of math, but besides that there's still a surprising lack of good, usable programs.
Which leads to a more general comment about the way they characterize the "skeptics'" perspective. The authors stress the institutional obstacles, but I don't ever hear them acknowledge that making all these different ed tech ideas work "at scale" is much, much harder than it looks. We want to lament schools' intransigence, and cultural issues, and misguided policies about standards, and etc... but maybe most of what has been offered to schools is bad and unworkable. It doesn't _seem_ unworkable to most of us, but most of it really has been.
What may have been helpful in this book would have been an attempt, however speculative, at estimating the time frames likely to be involved in the proliferation of these new forms, i.e. learning centers, distance education, interactive simulations, certifications, etc. Are these changes 5 years away? 20? 100? The historical framework described by Collins and Halverson seems right, but I left wanting to hear more about their third "lifelong learning" era.
Still, I think the book is groundbreaking and will provide the basis for all future discussions about this topic. And, with these particular authors' reputation and experience, I am inclined to trust their vision more than I would if someone else had written it.
They are best at describing succinctly all the changes going on and the virtual absence of response by schools, who are "locked in place". Their short history of schooling in America is a glorious thumbnail of the important events that provides the dominant theme of transition between apprenticeship, didactic learning in the industrial age, and the beginnings of an information age that is in evolution. They think they discern the directions that are important, the changes nibbling at the edge of school systems, and they lay them out clearly under several headings such as home schooling, workplace learning, distance ed, adult ed, learning centers, internet cafes, interactive learning environments, technical certifications, and lifelong learning. Each of these are short and to the point, presenting just the main skeleton to sustain their arguments. Anything more and the reader would be bogged down in complexities.
For me, their main points are old hat. This is a history I have lived and am all too familiar with. I was surprised then to find a set of presecriptions that actually began to make sense of this morass and offered some hope for a real future. This then was the reason for the lucid but simplistic presentation of arguments that preceded their ideas for how schools may be able to cope. The proposals are well worth reading and thinking about. The main proposal they make is to create a national set of credentials that could be administered online on any learning center or school by trained professionals. Why this might work and why it is a good idea are admirably well explained in the book. It is worth a shot. I hope there are leaders out there who will take it, and I hope you will help them.
As a scientist, I cannot in all good conscience leave a good thing alone. I have to critique it to death. In order to simplify their arguments they have deliberately ignored what schools and new technologies are going to do in the next decade. This is perhaps with good reason. If you look at books like Nickerson's Technology in Education: 2020 written in 1988 you get a good idea why prognostication is risky. So much has happened they couldn't foresee that what they predict is only accurate because so little has actually changed in education while the world outside has been so transformed only Dick Tracy would recognize it.
Nevertheless, a book like this has to deal with future technologies if it wants to have any credibility for its policy recommendations. And there are so many possible or even likely changes that will undermine many of the themes in the book. Cell phones that are more than smart phones, but tv, media, social network, internet,workstation and library centers are obvious changes to come and they truly jeopardize these recommendations within the next 10 years. But computing itself is likely to change fundamentally from digital computers to neural computers that think and talk and engage students in converstations, companionship, learning assistants, and more. How long they will be in coming is not clear but in 10 years it will be very clear.
Of course, you don't need to know exactly what these changes in technology will be to begin to prosyletize for changes in the school system. The immediate changes described in this book should be enough to drive you to the local school board and demand some awareness and response. But it does not take much extrapolation to know that these changes are the leading edge of a seachange, and if we are as flexible and responsive as we think we are, it is time for us to assert ourselves as the creative class and demand new policies.
The authors present perspectives of both technology enthusiasts, who believe that technology can and should transform education, and technology skeptics who believe that the contradictions between the existing culture of American schools and the participatory, individualized learning fostered by new technologies are too significant to be overcome.
The reader is provided with a well-organized discussion of the historical foundation for the current state of educational practice and arguments on both sides of the question of how technology should change its future. The authors recount the development of American education from the 19th Century, and the movement towards universal schooling that shifted responsibility for educating children from the family to the state. Early chapters outline educational advancements including the invention of the printing press, the Reformation, the American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, the authors remind us that American schooling has "coalesced into a system that is "locked in place" and unable to adapt to new conditions." (p. 66). But technology appears to have given rise to a new system that is able to separate the idea of learning from the traditional approach to schooling.
The book also describes the growing emphasis on home schooling, workplace learning, distance learning, and adult education. According to Collins and Halverson, education has become about "learning how to learn and learning how to find useful resources" (p.95). Assessment has changed from simple observation to ongoing evaluation throughout the learning process. Customization, interaction and learner control are three imperatives to viewing education through the new technology. Collins and Halverson argue that the key to successfully incorporating these imperatives into today's educational system is to shake up the system from the core.
The authors conclude by pleading for teachers to get on board with the new technology, arguing that learning is already taking place outside the classroom. Students are directing their own learning, and parents are following their children into the digital revolution. This new educational paradigm will require a different kind of leader who can make the shifts that are necessary to match what students are learning with the needs of society. Overall, "Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology" is a thought-provoking book that helps educators plan for educating in a digital age.