U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan kicked off his Education Drives America bus tour this week, hosting a panel discussion at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, Calif. Moderated by Sec. Duncan, the discussion featured a diverse and dynamic line-up of educators who take innovative approaches in the classroom, hoping to better prepare students for the 21st century workforce. And that’s where the similarities ended. Even though each panelist enthusiastically embraced technology in the classroom, their ideas of the “classroom” greatly diverged, as each educator sought to enhance the student’s learning experience.
Catlin Tucker, a high school language arts teacher in Sonoma County, Calif., who’s a Google Certified Teacher and author of “Blended Learning for Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create a Student-Centered Classroom,” is likely to work in the most conventional classroom (think four walls, desks, etc). Tucker admits that all teachers find it difficult from time to time to get students excited to learn, so she encourages her students to use their smartphones –yes the same devices that so many other teachers find to be a nuisance – not just as a source of entertainment, but also as a medium to conduct their research.
Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, quit his job as an investor to create a website for tutoring visited by millions of people each day. Were it not for a family member who was struggling in school, Khan may have never gotten the website off the ground. His strong belief in individual instruction, coupled with new technologies, has created a new outlet for students who are struggling in everything from basic math to understanding the Greek debt crisis can go to receive free online instruction from subject experts.
Finally, Stanford professor Andrew Ng created Coursera, allowing thousands of students from around the world to attend “class” at top-flight universities like Penn, Princeton, and Duke via the Internet. Ng encourages collaboration among his students at Stanford, and it’s no different in the virtual classrooms on Coursera. In Ng’s view, if there are 50,000 students enrolled in one of his Coursera courses, there are 49,999 others with whom you can share your ideas.
These are just a few of the stories of people pursuing different paths and utilizing different but innovative technologies that will help to advance and shape today’s learning and tomorrow’s workforce. As we continue to try to find ways to prepare students for an increasingly challenging economy, it is important to bear in mind that we should always be working to find new avenues that both excite and encourage learning. While their classrooms may be very different, the goals of Tucker, Khan, and Ng are very much the same: increase connectivity and access. “Education Drives America” is the theme of this year’s tour, and there is little time to waste. We need creative educators behind the wheel, driving creativity and inspiring the next generation of American minds and innovators.
To learn more about the tour, follow @usedgov, @arneduncan, @ed_outreach, or #EdTour12.