Educators, policymakers, students and parents need to recognize the pandemic and remote learning as an impetus for meaningful change in schools, rather than a pause before returning to the way things have always been done.
That’s one takeaway from education professionals who offered a crash course on the “Future of Education” during a panel discussion at the GeekWire Summit on Thursday.
In addressing the drastically altered landscape of education from pre-K all the way through higher ed, Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning; and Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, all agreed that simply trying to transfer the old model of teaching and learning to an online setting isn’t going to cut it.
Here are some of the highlights:
‘Learning engineers’: We can start by thinking about teachers as “learning engineers,” said Woolley-Wilson, whose Bellevue, Wash.-based company develops math education software.
“The new teacher has a different relationship, not only with the student but with technology, with data and with home-based learning guardians that they partner with,” she said. “We saw this come into full force when everybody had to go to forced online learning.”
Coming out of that “forced” model of learning, whenever that is, should come with some lessons and desire for change. Just “holding on” until we can get back to what’s considered normal will only do more damage, in Tavenner’s view. And there’s too much emphasis on the logistics of getting back into school buildings, consuming the energy of U.S. educators who should be thinking outside the box.
“No one’s thinking innovatively, no one’s thinking about the opportunity to rethink when we come back [to in-person learning],” Tavenner said. “We’re trying to do what we were doing before, on Zoom, and it’s not working, as everyone knows.”
Klawe believes that there is too much emphasis being put on a style of learning whose time has passed. Learning remotely or learning using technology should not just mirror a traditional classroom. Curriculum needs to be interesting and deeply engaging; teachers need to know how to inspire and make students excited to learn. And the model can be reimagined for all ages, pre-K to college.
“If you think of using this as a way for collaboration, for project base, for game play, for creativity, for problem solving, all of these kinds of things that are highly engaging for students, yes, we will make enormous progress,” Klawe said. “Learning is actually incredibly fun!”
Access to technology: All agreed that access to technology is one of the first things that needs to change and that low-income students and families — disproportionately black and brown — are being left behind. Woolley-Wilson said that access to broadband internet “should be a civil right” and that the service should be considered a utility in the United States.
That digital inequity was called out early in the pandemic in Washington state when the plug was pulled on in-person learning last spring.
“We’ve missed the boat as a country. Why every child in this country does not have a device and broadband, I don’t know, and the fact that the pandemic hasn’t been the biggest call to action around that is completely baffling to me,” Tavenner said.
Klawe said that no one in the country was ready for a scenario in which they were thrust into teaching and learning without being face to face. Teachers did not have the resources to make the transition. And too much focus is still put on maintaining benchmarks in various subjects or test scores for the next three, six or 18 months.
“What I do worry about is that we have a whole bunch of parents and students who just give up,” Klawe said.
As to opportunities that should come out of the pandemic:
Klawe, “Rethink the model of learning from preK to higher education.”
Tavenner, “(Re)define what success looks like.”
Woolley-Wilson, “Create learning innovation design centers in every state” to inspire fresh thinking. pic.twitter.com/vTXlReiCIY
— Frank Catalano (@FrankCatalano) October 22, 2020
Learning to learn: New models should be built around “learning how to learn,” Woolley-Wilson said, because students will need to take more responsibility for their education in an information-driven, globalized economy. They’ll be changing jobs more frequently, remaking skill sets over and over again.
“Instead of practice and memorization, we should move toward exploration and deep thinking, so that you can actually walk away with conceptual understanding of the content area,” she said.
And when it comes to “learning to learn,” Klawe suggested a place to make it happen: a “College of Education” where the teachers of the future will be trained, and where she and Woolley-Wilson and Tavenner could design the curriculum.
She invited those watching the GeekWire Summit discussion to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to make it a reality.
“Is that a deal everyone?” she laughed.
[The full interview with the education professionals, and other GeekWire Summit sessions, are available on-demand exclusively to attendees of the virtual event. Learn more and register here.]