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This is not a book

Tag Archives: New York Times

I think many would agree with me when I assert that the New York Times is more than just a newspaper. As a native New Yorker, more than being my local source of news, it’s been a source of informal, lifelong learning: an educational source that has been with me throughout all stages of life, on the medium of my choice. In a digital age when newspapers and other print media can barely stay afloat, the New York Times has flourished. We could all learn a thing or two about education, about business, and about adaptability from the New York Times.

Last week, the Times building opened its Renzo Piano designed doors to educators from across the country for the inaugural Schools for Tomorrow conference on bringing technology into the classroom.

For those interested in watching the conference online, archived videos can be found here and the twitter stream can be found under #nytedtech. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the conference, and have begun to reflect on what I felt were some of the overarching themes:

Teachers and technology

Central to the day’s discussion was the role of the teacher in the midst of widespread technology enthusiasm and implementation. What will teaching look like in the schools of tomorrow?

For starters, several panelists voiced that we must avoid false dichotomies. Technology will by no means replace teachers, and asking whether students learn from teachers or technology is misguided. In the schools of tomorrow, students will learn from both, teachers and technology (among other sources). As Harri Skog, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Finland eloquently said, “Technology is a good servant but not a good master. It cannot replace human interaction”. This notion human “irreplaceably” is supported by a growing body of mind, brain, and education research that emphasizes the affective and cognitive underpinnings of learning. There was general agreement in the room that while the role of the teacher changes with technology-facilitated education, the teaching profession becomes more important, more professionalized, and more challenging than ever before. Rather than assuming the role of content-delivery, teachers can potentially spend more time on the things that really matter, like helping individual students craft their own learning.

Specificity and alignment

“Asking how technology can improve education is the wrong question. It’s like asking how a refrigerator can help me become a better cook”. – Tracy Gray, Managing Director, American Institutes for Research.

Too often, conversations surrounding technology and education are exceedingly general. We don’t need general conversations, we need specificity. Hand in hand with specificity is alignment. Giving a teacher a general tool with lots of bells and whistles is dandy, but if it doesn’t fit in directly with the curriculum, it’s not so useful. Conversations must shift to specific uses of technology in the classroom and how these uses align with school curricula and standards. The importance of alignment is relevant not only to classroom-level technology implementations, but system-level technology implementations. Without alignment and specificity, scaling up becomes an even greater challenge.

The formal-informal nexus

The school of tomorrow is an experience, not a place”.

With the emergence of digital technologies comes the ability to learn anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Students’ access to educational content is no longer limited to school hours or school spaces. While the focus of the conference was on formal education systems, informal learning was inevitably mentioned throughout the conference. One can’t help but wonder: Can informal learning help make formal education more relevant? Can informal learning help maximize classroom time? This topic warrants a conference of its own, but I was happy to see this relationship between formal and informal learning touched upon.

Technology changes a lot of things, but what does it not change?

Horn Mun Cheah, Director of Educational Technology, Singapore, expressed this beautifully when he reminded us that we mustn’t forget about the “evergreens”: the aspects of our educational ecosystem that have always been, and will always be, relevant. This is a critically important point. There are certain aspects of education that are timeless, irrespective of technological innovations or pedagogical shifts. These include discernment, critical thinking, character education, study skills, the physical world, and ethics, to name a few. A system that fails to include these essential traits fails to adequately prepare students to live in the world.

There are many open questions, and many skeptics in high places

This is a good thing. One could not help but notice an underlying tone of skepticism, and even cynicism, throughout the New York Times’ first conference on bringing technology into the classroom. Indeed, there are many open and sobering questions that still remain unanswered.

Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, we cannot turn back the clock; technology in education is here to stay. Policy makers are no longer asking if we should use technology in education, but how we can use technology in education. I applaud the New York Times for broaching this important topic. Improving the relevance and quality of education is a colossal challenge, and cross-sector collaboration is a great place to start.



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