Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: Tech Gurus and Education

Now it is a simple fact of life nowadays that when a tech guru like the late Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or even Mark Zuckerberg talks, we tend to listen. With the ever-increasing amount of technology involved in education, I suppose it could be expected for these people to start having opinions on education. It’s a simple leap, you could say, a hop across the frog pond. I’m no good with metaphors. But on to the important bit!

In a recent interview with CNN Money Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had some interesting things to say:

“If you think about K-12, the younger a student is, the more that being in the class and having the blocks to play with is very fundamental. It’s only when you get into college that then a meaningful amount of the time could be done with an online experience.”

“How you create a structure that motivates average students to engage in these things, that’s very tricky, and we’ve used social engagement where you’re there with a lot of kids at the same time. Can we recreate that online?…When you get confused and you get discouraged, is there a mentor who comes in and helps you out? Potentially, by having more information about you and a pool of people that can come in and help, digital could actually be better than the face-to-face, but we’re certainly not there yet.” 

Now, the interview focuses more on higher education, but I thought he brought up some interesting points that could be applied to education in general. For example, if we dissect the first quote, he states that K-12 is largely a fundamental experience. A foundation upon which higher education can be built. What he doesn’t say, and what hardly anyone ever seems to bring up, is what does that word “fundamental” mean? Beyond the obvious, of course. I mean if the goal of K-12 education is to prepare kids for their future (and I’m talking about any kind of future whether higher education is in the picture or not) it seems as though we should define what it is that a kid would need to know to be able to go out and be a “successful” member of society. Essentially, it’s an extremely difficult task when you look at all of the paths a life could take. And inevitably, this definition would change every so often with changes in society and the economy. It’s complex and rather mind-boggling, and if you’ve got answers be sure to share them! If anything, an open dialogue can only help the situation.

And now we come to the second part of the tour. Just kidding. On to the second quote! Gates brings up a really important divide between in-person (for lack of a better term) and digital learning. The social aspect of education is huge when you consider teacher-student interactions, student-student interactions, and maybe even student-class pet interactions. School isn’t just learning, it’s learning with others. So, how do we bridge that gap in a virtual environment? Well, there are capabilities for communication in digital learning. And it has the advantage of providing access to more information. But the social component isn’t quite there yet. That might be something we just have to wait and watch develop, but for now a type of hybrid environment like those being utilized all over the country with BYOD programs and the like, seems like the best option.

What do you think? Should we listen to more opinions on education from people who don’t work in the education field? Can the social problems of digital learning be resolved? Will computers take over the world??? Sorry. Got a little carried away there – but I would appreciate comments, questions, and even irrelevant stories!