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Experts: Digital learning key to future student, teacher success

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August 18, 2011 10:00 pm

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Combining the use of effective teachers and innovative technology will create a blended-learning experience that will benefit both teachers and students alike, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, said today.

“You can’t just hand a student a laptop and say, ‘We have a digital learning policy,” said Wise, former governor of West Virginia. “High-tech requires high-touch. You’ve got to have good teaching in order for the technology to be effective.”

Wise spoke about the future of digital learning in America’s public school systems with Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Open Education Solutions, at the “Public Perception of U.S. Education” event on the George Washington University campus led by Lumina Foundation and PDK International.

The event took place in light of recent findings from the PDK International/Gallup poll on the public’s attitudes and opinions about America’s public schools.

Wise and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, created Digital Learning Now!, a national campaign to advance policies that will create a high-quality digital learning environment to better prepare students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and a career.  Vander Ark Associates, a strategic consulting firm focusing on education, is the lead partner in implementing the vision.

As a part of the PDK/Gallup poll, roughly 1,000 Americans were asked their opinions on digital learning, and they responded with overwhelming support.

Ninety-five percent of those surveyed said they believe it is important for all students in their communities to have access to computer technology in order to ensure academic success, and 91 percent said it is important government officials attempt to provide that access in schools. That number is up from 80 percent in 1996.

“What parents and teachers realize is there is this great opportunity to combine the best of learning online and learning in school to create a longer day and longer year and not a short day and shorter year,” Vander Ark said.

The survey showed Americans believe ensuring students are college and career ready is the number one reason schools should use more computer technology, followed by making more classes available to students who go to smaller schools.

The poll also found Americans recognize technology cannot replace quality teachers. Wise said it is important to realize the role of the teacher will be amplified with digital learning, not diminished.

Wise noted online tools will be able to help teachers better evaluate their students to see what their strengths are as well as the areas in which they need help.

“I think you’re much better able to measure that kind of performance digitally, and you can immediately give feedback to the teacher,” Wise said. “Not having to be solely responsible for every second of instruction, you’re able to spend more time with each child.”

One attendee of Thursday’s event brought up the concern over whether increasing usage of technology will actually increase the achievement gap between poor students and their peers. Wise and Vander Ark acknowledged the digital divide as a real concern that needs to be addressed head-on from policymakers, but added there is no longer an excuse for such disparity as prices of electronics decrease.

“The fact that the total cost and ownership of an access device has dropped below 200 bucks every year per student makes it less expensive than buying a backpack full of books,” Vander Ark said.

Wise noted several specific cases where technology has helped poor areas with high percentages of children on free-and-reduced lunches increase proficiency rates in dramatic ways.

One example of a successful blended-learning model is Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona. The school provides students computers loaded with rigorous multimedia and standards-based curriculum. Students take breaks from their computers every fifty-five minutes for face-to-face workshops. By decreasing the amount of whole-group instruction time, teachers are able to tutor individual students if necessary.

Other aspects of digital learning that experts discussed on Thursday included how digital learning can help shorten the remediation time for students at community colleges, how communities can engage parents in online learning, and the importance of using quality information on the Internet.

Video of the event is available at on the Lumina Foundation website.

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