Yet Milton Chen, a senior fellow and former executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, insists that teachers and parents should embrace these innovations as important learning tools.
Ignoring all of new the digital tools available risks putting your child at a disadvantage, Chen said.
“We’re at a point where there is a new learning landscape, even from what we thought was true five years ago,” he said. “Look at the iPad; it was a game changer. It’s a pretty clear shift that is about a lot more than acquiring devices.”
Chen will serve as the forum chairman for a daylong seminar Thursday titled The Digital Future: A National Forum at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History that will bring in educators and museum officials from around the country.
For those who attend, Chen said, the seminar should provide an “intellectual feast” where the presenters will have an exchange of ideas about education and technology.
“It’s a learning forum where you have eight or nine different speakers come in and present their ideas,” Chen said. “You’ll have speakers like Brian Bannon of the Chicago Public Library, where you’ll see it is not all your grandfather’s public library where they do computer age design.”
Chen contends that teachers can no longer simply instruct from a textbook. They must embrace the technology and engage students.
“It’s teams working in groups of three or four and doing projects like measuring water quality or building a website on the history of your community,” Chen said. “It’s very different than what’s come before. The teacher becomes more of a coach. I think it’s much more of an exciting role for the teacher.”
Focusing on team-based projects is essential to getting a job in today’s workforce.
“Critical thinking, being to think creatively and communicate with your classmates — all those skills have become more important than the old skills of repeat and memorize,” Chen said.
Just like old fears about television, Chen said, parents shouldn’t categorically dismiss technology. With parental supervision, digital devices can be used as learning tools. But parents can’t simply give their children one of the devices and not pay attention to what their child is doing.
“You need to acknowledge the negative uses of technology and that it requires more active parenting,” Chen said.
The George Lucas Foundation has its own multimedia website, Edutopia.org, as well as a magazine, Edutopia: The New World of Learning, and a library of documentary films.
As the costs of digital tools has come down, Chen said, it is essential that every child have access to the Internet.
“These digital tools are now essentially the cost of the textbook,” Chen said.
Chen said museums and other organizations have a role to play in the digital future. Just as important as what happens during the school day, Chen said, it is vitally important that students are learning outside of the classroom in after-school programs or on their own time.
“Just as schools are reinventing, so are museums, libraries and community-based organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Chen said. “Now, going to the museum is more than just a field trip; it could be a place where you actually come and create.”
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna