Born out of the Industrial Revolution, the American educational system has been pumping kids out into the world who are specialized in one specific task. For decades it has been the same: the teacher in the front of the room disseminating knowledge, the students in rows sucking in that knowledge like little sponges, homework given, tests taken, and more good, little factory workers are pumped out into the world.

However, it is 2013 – those factories have all been relocated to China and half of the classroom is sleeping or texting.

With the advent of the Internet, how a child thinks and learns has started to change. And as Sir Ken Robinson claims, modern schools are doing nothing to combat this evolution from mindless sponge to curious architect. No longer does the student care to sit idly by soaking up information. And why should he? There is more information at his fingertips than a teacher could lecture on in a lifetime. As Henry Jenkins claims, “new literacy involves social skills developed through collaboration and networking.” Skills the modern student is desperate to cultivate.

Taken from

While some still tout the glories of “drill and kill” education, others are dipping their toes into “Affinity spaces” of learning where students interact with each other through peer instruction and Socratic seminars. While some tirelessly cling to the sanctity of lecturing, others choose to allow their students the ability to mold their own learning through flipped classrooms and the Khane Academy. While some schools fervently block and undermine student access to technology, others dedicate courses to guide students in navigating the moral landscape of the Internet.

Socratic Seminar in action

For students who have never known a world without Facebook, Twitter, or the Backstreet Boys, they know no other way of learning – or existing for that matter- than participation. They want to research their own interests. Ask their own questions. Develop their own definitions.

To argue that the pendulum will one day swing back the other way into a time of orderly desks and endless lectures is to jump into the time machine and pretend the last 50 years of technological innovation never happened.

Yet, despite the obvious need for reform, there is real reason for such anxiety on the part of educators and school boards. This is ground that must be tread delicately. Teachers must be retrained, students must be given access, and traditional skills must be honed.

Many teachers feel like are becoming obsolete under this new shifting paradigm. The misguided perception is that the teacher can be replaced by a video. Yet, that is not true. This new participatory culture in the classroom assigns the teacher the new role of guide and mentor and still a very active part of the learning process.

“As the EdTech industry reconceptualizes the future of education, it is essential that teachers, particularly at the K-12 level, are an
articulate and dominant presence in both the discussions surrounding
the changing profession and the development of web-based products
designed for student engagement. As curators of digital knowledge,
teachers have a rich and growing understanding of how our cyborg youth
read, compose, and create. “]12

You cannot admit that education must be changed due to the abundance of information and growth of participatory cultures and then toss the student out into an ocean of online videos and drop down menu tests – he will surly drown.

Another storm waiting the sink progress is the lack of student access to technology.

[ ”Nearly 73 percent of advanced placement and National Writing Project

high school teachers surveyed said they and/or their students use
their cell phones in class to complete assignments.”]13

But what if a student does not have access to the Internet to complete the assignments? Schools are woefully unequipped to service their already overflowing population of students. Often computers are scarce, broken, or so outdated that they will not be of much use, especially in lower income school districts. These technology “have-nots” will not be able to collaborate with peers about assignments, pull research from a variety of sources, or even apply to many colleges. A number of cities have tried to provide free Internet access, but the process is expensive and only the more financially stable cities can afford the upgrade. But where does this leave our poorer students – the ones whose families cannot afford the technology to begin with? Non-for-profits such as EveryonON is trying to bridge this gap by providing discounted rates to families and digital literacy classes. But will this be enough?

Then there is the issue of teacher competency in this new technology.

[ “Despite their heavy tech use, 42% of AP and NWP teachers say their

students usually know more than they do when it comes to using new
digital technologies. Just 18% feel they know more than their
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This is very unsettling ground most teachers – teachers who are used to being the expert, the final word in their classroom. Now, they are lost in a ocean of social media sites such as and screen casting software like Camtasia with no one to save them but their students. Many teachers would rather throw in the towel and retire, claiming that their profession no longer exists. And in part, they are right. Schools mandate sweeping change, but no professional development opportunities. The states are handing down new Common Core Standards that require the teacher to use various forms of technology, but no specific way it should be done. It’s disconcerting to know less than your students, but even more so when no one is telling you how to meet or even exceed their level of expertise.

It is hard to deny that business of educating America’s youth has changed. The schools themselves need to become participatory communities that mimic real world literacy. Teachers need to get out from the lectern and embrace the changes that are a result of decades of research and discussion. The government needs to fund technology literacy classes and then make that technology accessible to all. It must be a collaborative effort, as scary as it might be, because we cannot go back, only forward into whatever lies ahead.

Written with StackEdit.


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Do you think there is a stigma attached to parents who choose to embrace alternative education, especially with the wealth of options given with internet learning?

    Do school administrators or school boards have any particular distrust of non-traditional leaning? Is there bias shown against instructors who are technologically-centric?


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education, long post, participatory culture, social media, Uncategorized


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