K–12: Where is the technological revolution in education?

During the past several decades, we have heard a lot of excited speculation about the future of education.  Surely, many experts have asserted, digital tools will be a game-changer.  Everything will be improved.

But what have we actually experienced?  For the most part, we see jazzed up versions of things we had many years ago.  PowerPoint and slide presentations.  Lectures on television, in effect.  Training films.  Distance learning. 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are a display of digital power and can help millions.  But each student's experience and learning might be much the same as years before.

When every student has a personal computer, this seems to be a decisive event.  But what does it mean when each screen shows the same old, same old?  We need breakthroughs.

Schools can offer flipped classrooms, but what is changed if a teacher talks to you in the classroom or on a screen?  The flipped classroom is a structural and administrative novelty and good for a change of pace but perhaps nothing 

Is the learning process accelerated?  That is the crucial question.

In the last ten years, there was a boomlet for videogaming, as if somehow people could learn academic content the same way they play Grand Theft Auto.  Hundreds of videos appeared where experts speculate on how gaming theory could transform classrooms.  Quick, a reality check.  What is a game?  We play them for fun, we don't know where they're going, and games don't try to accomplish anything.  In short, educational gaming was intended to do exactly the opposite of a real game.  Leave it to professors of education to miss the essence.

At some point, we have to confront the longstanding impression that our Education Establishment is not deeply motivated to accelerate education.  Boring is good enough.  Their big concern is social engineering and keeping control of the clunky structure they have assembled over the decades.  These people may avoid looking for the most exciting uses of new technology.  Too disruptive.

A few years ago, we started to see useful videos showing schematic or graphical presentations of knowledge.  Very handy, in the same way a chart or graph is handy, but not all that exciting. 

I started to worry that there wouldn't be a digital revolution in education after all, not as had been predicted.

But another antecedent is always there to remind us of what is possible.  That would be any Hollywood movie.  With a big budget, lots of actors, and special effects, you can re-create any event.  Hollywood has done this thousands of times.  These wonderful scenes suggest the path that visionary digital artists will follow.

For example, this realistic eight-minute video shows the city of Pompeii in 79 A.D., the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and the entombment of the city.  Whereas we once had only a murky grasp of this distant event, we now feel we are there.  People watch this video for pleasure.  It has almost 14 million views.  There we feel the paradigm shift that can sweep through K–12 and rescue it.

The computer, it turns out it, is also supremely good at presenting the essential information in huge, complex events, the ones lasting weeks or years.  The American Civil War, for example, in 5 minutes, 33 seconds!

Nowadays, many students don't even know who won the Civil War, never mind what happened.  They don't know geography or have a sense of historical time.  Both dimensions are quickly absorbed by watching this video.  There's a great sense of simultaneity, which is obviously a part of real life but difficult to show in a book.  Some teachers may object that there is too much information here.  Not if you watch the video several times.  Alternate viewings with slideshows of photographs from the 1860s.  Even young students will learn a tremendous amount of unforgettable knowledge in a few hours.

These videos, and the ones linked below, are not the end, but the very beginning.  Hopefully, we will see a dazzling proliferation of outstanding new videos.  Hopefully, they will sweep aside the inertia of the educational ruling class.  Teachers will have to get back in the game of knowing their subjects.  That's a good thing.

Every parent and teacher should seek excellent examples.  Whatever students like, spread the news.  Education can be fun.

World War I: Every Day (6 minutes)

War War II in Europe: Every Day  (7 minutes)

The History of the Romans, Every Year (11 minutes)

Hadrian's Wall (6 minutes)

Visualizing Imperial Rome (11 minutes)

Evolution of the United States (8 minutes)

Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K–12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  He deconstructs educational theories and methods at Improve-Education.org.

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