It is no longer a secret that integrating technology and content-driven collaboration improves student achievement. There are many collaborative online opportunities for students to participate in highly effective education project based lessons from around the globe that are blending online and offline learning, while incorporating the latest neuro-plasticity findings and the Constructivist Learning methodology.
Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity refers to the brain's unique ability to constantly change, grow and remap itself over the course of a lifetime. Neuroscience is finding that digital media and our "connectedness" are affecting the brains of people of all ages, altering our attention, communication, socialization and learning. Brain imaging studies and cognitive neuroscience that map the brain continue to give a clearer picture of how individuals respond to sensory stimuli and perform cognitive tasks. It applies to many different areas that are currently being studied. Just this week, a new study was released (and presented in a TED talk) that showed MRI images of the brain of a person suffering from internet addiction to a person without an addiction. They were visually very, very different. Studies like this have allowed for a better understanding of the brain's neural systems and how they relate to focus, learning, memory, and creative problem solving. Brain plasticity has significant implications for our entire education system, but, especially for those with learning disabilities, the elderly, and those with brain injury.
Technology is enabling a new form of connectedness that has greatly impacted the way we learn and the way we communicate. Individuals can no longer independently learn all they need to know and in a globally connected world. There is enormous value in using online tools to collaboratively connect and learn with others. How can teachers transition from traditional learning to new learning tools and experiences (ie: Flexbooks, blended learning environments, collaborative projects, co-created content, global exhibitions and competitions, flipped classrooms, hybrid classes, and virtual field trips) – and move to the next level?
Constructivist Learning theory finds that people learn best when they are involved in the construction of their own knowledge, when they create artifacts that serve as evidence of what they have learned, when they share those artifacts with an audience and they receive peer feedback. How important is media literacy, as students become content creators?
There are numerous innovative programs being implemented by schools around world that:
• Improve student engagement
• Incorporate 21 century skills, global awareness and workforce preparedness
• Employ brain-friendly strategies to improve student achievement and focus on metacognition
• Maximize and maintain student attention and focus
• Promote executive function development and organizational skills
• Tie instruction to future learning and creative problem solving
Is Austin, a technology hub, keeping paces with technology implementation in our schools. Sadly, no. Few schools these days, public or private, have the resources to grow their technology. For the few lucky ones who do have the fiscal ability, quite often the vision is lacking and the foresight that stimulates planning in this direction is absent. Make no mistake, technology is not going away. And much like the push for privatization technology as a method of delivery for instruction is inevitably on the horizon. Whether schools prepare or not, it another matter.
Today's work environment demands sophisticated communication skills, the ability to collaborate effectively, respect for diversity, and a talent for impromptu decision-making and good project-management skills. The times, they are most definitely changing, and technology is growing exponentially and changing with the times. The problem solving skills, independent and creative thinking skills, and the technological competencies required to achieve these ends are forcing schools to provide more meaningful, authentic, and appropriate resources to students.
According to the report Learning for the 21st Century, today's education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn. To address this need, a growing number of innovative education systems are engaging their students in project-based learning which is an instructional methodology where students learn by doing actual projects. Students apply core academic skills and creativity to solve authentic problems in real world situations. Students use a wide range of tools and the final projects are tangible and observable artifacts that serve as evidence of what the students have learned. Student-produced videos, artwork, reports, photography, music, model construction, live performances, action plans, digital stories and websites are all examples of PBL artifacts. Rather than a lecturer, the teacher's role is that of an academic adviser, mentor, facilitator, taskmaster and evaluator.
Empowering social media tools are in the process of reinventing educational activism. It is important for teachers to guide their students in a nonthreatening environment where they can work together in teams to accomplish common goals. It has been observed that the more communication exchanges among students of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, the greater the understanding and acceptance of one another as they learn their similarities often outweigh their differences. Electronic interactive communications between students, educators and the world community offer exciting potential for gains in literacy, cultural, geographical, and socio-political understanding, preparation for the workforce and democratization of society. Collaboration in the classroom is the first step towards collaboration over the Internet. And, collaboration over the Internet can be the first step towards global cooperation.
So, in light of all the research and movement in the direction of a technologically rich PBL classroom, why have schools failed to step up to the plate? It is time to embrace the future and invest in the future by investing in the children of today. We do this by providing them with the resources to accomplish their goals. How can we prepare them for anything short of failure when we slash the education budgets and send them forward with only a pencil and a prayer? We don't.