Thoughts After Reading “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”

by Collins and Halverson (2009)

I finished this book awhile back and have been meaning to write about what it has to offer a reader. I really like what Collins and Halverson had to say. I already agreed with their points, so this was an easy read for me. Collins and Halverson present two sides of the story — the enthusiast’s and the skeptic’s side. Both of which are very apparent in any school today. They also explain the evolution of education through the eras and how those changes have impacted reform.

Collins and Halverson point out that our students will need two unique skills — the skill of being able to be a successful life-long learner and expertise with informational technologies. Students need to be willing to persue further education, some times on the fly, and then be able to learn additional technologies. I find it interesting that I used the term “students”, but really everyone needs to be able to do this. We are at that point where every adult and young adult needs to have these habits and skills. We need to be constantly learning new information and skills, but it’s not enough to just learn facts. We need to synthesize our learning either that be in the form of writing, video, audio, building, et cetera.

As I’ve gotten older, I have often thought about diversifying myself as a teacher and leader often asking myself, “What else can I learn?” For me, though, it’s a passion. It’s fun. Lucky for me, I’ve directed myself to a career that I find fun. This means that learning is more like a game than actual work. Currently, I’m experiencing a hurdle that is putting my beliefs to the test. I was hired as a Technology Coordinator back in November, and while the majority of the position is my dream, there are aspects that make me very uneasy because I am not well versed in areas related to network and server maintenance. Granted, I wasn’t hired to do that, but it would certainly be to my advantage to learn as much as I can. In this particular case the learning curve is wicked, but because I have that drive to learn, I am sure I will get to where I want to be. Despite my age (I’m not a “digital native”), I still have a drive for learning new technologies and solving problems. I think this is a quality our kids have and we need to support them. Flexible learning is important for anyone today — we do not all learn in the same way nor should we all learn the same things. Whether we like it or not, technology can help us work our way through this era.

As society has swallowed this reality, we have put more computers in the classroom or tossed in a technology course here and there. Sure, those are probably good additions, but are schools and teachers really changing the way they think about learning? Collins and Halverson would suggest that the change is slow. If we were to let students determine their own mediums for learning that would mean we would have to give up some of the control and trust that students will make the right choice. Guess what folks? For the past several decades we’ve been making the choices for our kids and it hasn’t always been right either. There can certainly be a melding of student choice and adult guidance that will help our students enjoy learning and explore new skills and concepts.

Collins and Halverson would also suggest that we need to focus more on skill based learning than fact based learning (15). Many of our occupations today require a solid education, but also the need for “just-in-time” learning that comes with the ability to ask good questions, conduct wise research, and think through problems. Guiding students through this process will empower them to take control of their own learning — now this is the type of learning that transcends disciplines. I think of a teacher I was working with this week that had her students creating videos demonstrating propaganda techniques. My role was to offer assistance when asked. What was interesting and yet not surprising at all, was the students just tinkered through the tool I handed to them — Jaycut. They had never used it before, but they already had enough background knowledge to know what to do with it. A few made mistakes or the program hiccuped thus locking up their browser, but the students had the perseverance to keep working towards the finish line. I only coached a group here and there for no more than three minutes. The teacher and I were clearly the guides on the side and that’s the way it should be.

Collins and Halverson point out both sides of Technology Integration — the enthusiasts and the skeptics. Even though I side with the enthusiasts, I do see some of the points a skeptic might observe as Collins and Halverson point out. For example, if we allow students to determine the path of their own learning and focus on skills, it could be a reasonable assumption that students might not perform well on standarized testing (45). While this could be true, I am a bit disheartened that schools have put so much stake in standardized testing. That is a whole different blog post, I suppose.

Collins and Halverson will leave you with many ideas for change. I’ll list just a few below:

  • “Simply inserting technology into classrooms and schools without considering how the contexts for learning need to change will likely fail” (140). I couldn’t agree more. While I do think it is important to share new tools, the ultimate goal is to change the way we think about learning.
  • “We need to think about how to integrate nonschool resources into learning environments” (140). Schools need to open their doors to all sorts of resources for educational use. Our tools no longer need to come from a textbook company or cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • “Learning [plans] might involve taking online courses, going to a learning centerfor specialized training, getting a technical certification in some area, joining an apprenticeship program, or learning from a computer-based tutorials to enhance particular skills” (142). The point that the authors are making here is that students should be able to create a plan for self discovery that includes a variety of learning avenues. I think back to my high school days — we all sat in the same classroom and we all received the same information. Rarely was education customized. Those days should be in the past.

Overall, the book is worth the $15 dollars. Put it in the hands of a teacher and hope it sparks change. I would love to engage in conversation with anyone that read the book.

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