From Learning What to Learning How: Technology's Role in Educational Change

By Norris, Cathleen; Soloway, Elliot | District Administration, March 2009 | Go to article overview

From Learning What to Learning How: Technology's Role in Educational Change


Norris, Cathleen, Soloway, Elliot, District Administration


IN 1892, THE COMMITTEE OF TEN met at Harvard College to create a curriculum that schools would use to prepare students to be ready for Harvard College. Since access to books was very limited at that time, there was a premium placed on knowing as much information as possible. Direct instruction was used for transmitting information into the heads of the scholars to be, while drill-and-practice was used to make sure it stayed there.

Memorize or Google?

Fast forward almost 120 years. While some facts may have changed, the basic organization of knowledge and strategies for instruction promulgated by the Committee ofTen still dominate America's schools. Consider this "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb" type of question from a popular high school science textbook, along with its answer (Earth Science, Glencoe, 2005):

* "What is a passive margin?" (from the Section Assessment on page 604).

* "When there is no tectonic activity along a margin, it is called a passive margin" (pages 601-602).

The venerable paper-based flash card is a cost-effective technology when the focus of instruction is putting information of the above sort inside a child's head. Given that what we currently teach is centered in the 19th century, it is no wonder that K12 schools, by and large, have not had to embrace 21st-century technology.

Outside of K12, technology is being disruptive--again. While admittedly not conducting a rigorous, scientifically based survey, we have repeatedly asked groups of college undergraduates over the past 18 months, "How many times a day do you ask Google a question?" More than 75 percent have responded, "More than 20 times per day." Remember, these undergraduates have an Internet-connected device glued to their hands 24/7. The students and their devices are always connected, always on. They virtually live inside a browser, which makes it cheap and easy to find the facts. Yes, there are some basic facts that should be memorized. But how many times does one need to instantly know what a "passive margin" is?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

YouTube Shows Them How

Fortunately, this tech disruption will not go to waste in K12 education. Over the past 24 months the call for teaching 21st-century skills and content has gained considerable momentum and acceptance. At the heart of 21st-century skills and content is a focus on how: how to communicate, how to solve a problem, how to work in a team--how to learn. …

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