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The YouTube video “The Voice of the Active Learner” has been making the rounds across the Internet for a few months. On its surface, it’s well produced and stimulating, has attitude, and predicts an exciting future for 21st-century students. It’s important to note the video was produced by a company promoting its products and services for online education. But the video contains a lot of good ideas and glimpses of the future and has also sparked discussion and critique among viewers.
Over the past three months, I’ve been featuring articles on technology in the classroom and examples of students using technology. In the August blog “Technology and Active Learning,” I asked the question, is it hyperbole to say digital education is revolutionizing everything in education? We see how it is changing instruction and the way students access information. Technology also brings new challenges and new responsibilities for both teacher and students. Among these are determining how well technology enhances instruction in our classrooms and whether it facilitates active learning and creative thinking. Presentations like “The Voice of the Active Learner” give us an opportunity to reflect on our classroom use of technology now and in the future.
We can start with some of the comments recently posted on YouTube about the featured video. Some of the commentators remind us that we cannot allow students to think they know more simply because they have access to information. Instant access is not the same as instant comprehension. The challenge to learning is to produce a deep understanding of ideas and concepts, to hypothesize and create.
For one commentator, the statement in the video “by 2019 it’s projected that half of high school courses will be delivered on-line” was particularly questioned. Will online learning replace that high a percentage of in-class, personalized teaching? And even if it does, is that the most effective way to teach? On a similar note, English professor Mark Edmundson from the University of Virginia wrote an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times entitled “The Trouble with Online Education.” He pointed out that it’s important to know your students as you’re teaching so that you can adjust your delivery in real time. Effective teachers sense the mood in the room with a sort of pedagogical sixth sense that tells them when a class in engaged and when it slips off and they do something about it. Professor Edmundson contends that teachers in the classroom adjust their course and delivery in a fluid and immediate way that the Internet instructor cannot easily match.
This speaks to the larger question of where technology is taking us. The video claims that today’s active learner wants to know things all the time and right away and online computers and smart phones fulfill that desire. It claims the classroom isn’t enough for them, not when they can see faces and hear voices and chat with people on the other side of the world. According to the video, when digital natives are more connected, they’re more interested and when things excite them, they share with friends. That’s the way they want their education to be.
It’s true that digital technology is rapidly integrating into many aspects of what we do in schools. But do we need to make a complete change-over as the video suggests? Are we headed toward the virtual classroom where teachers record their classes and put them up online? Will students, be the ones to lead education into a pastel-colored world of connectedness and lifelong learning? Will the traditional classroom be replaced by a partnership between public and private educational organizations that deliver education through a smart phone?
We’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the brave new world of virtual learning? Do you think digital learning promotes active learning? What is it about “The Voice of the Active Learner” that makes you feel optimistic or pessimistic? How are you addressing the challenge the narrator of the video presents? Let us know your thoughts below.