I like technology, and I strongly believe it has an integral place in education. I’ve believed this for decades, ever since I wrote my doctoral dissertation in the mid- 1970’s on how kids learn using computers.

Technology helps children think about how to solve problems, and it also helps them ask what the problem actually is. That’s so critical to learning, in my view. It’s not like reading a textbook from cover to cover and then taking a test.

And, today, with just-in-time learning, technology helps kids solve problems as they need and want to. They simply find the information, as they need it, while multi-tasking, or in a random fashion. If they want, they can bookmark something and continue down that path later on. It’s a very expansive, fluid, integrated and flexible knowledge process — kids are solving problems while trying to understand the problem and looking for information at the same time.

The challenge here, though, is making sure that technology helps deepen — and broaden — students’ knowledge.

Teachers can help in this regard by making sure that they ask learners very structured and directed questions, by asking them to look at the information they have gathered and making sure there is true understanding. By doing this, the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than a deliverer of knowledge.

Teachers should also use technology in the same way that kids do. That’s hard, and we don’t see it very often, but, to me, it helps kids learn digitally. I look at hundreds and hundreds of technology products each year, and the more I play with them, simulate and
explore, the more I understand what it means to be a kid in the digital world today.

Part of this technology exploration time could — and should — come when teachers are training or preparing for careers in the classroom.

But, at the end of the day, it has to be a bottom-up approach in which teachers adopt and leverage kids’ ideas and attitudes about technology. This will lead to better — and more — learning.

It’s important to note that a major obstacle of this happening more is teacher fear. It’s very threatening for a lot of teachers to say to a student, “Can you show me how you do this on your tablet or lap top?” Yet, with the ubiquity of technology, and the young ages that kids are now embracing digital devices, it seems to me that teachers have to collaborate with their students in this way.

Another necessary collaborative wrinkle is that kids can teach kids about the best uses of technology — it doesn’t just have to be kids teaching teachers.

This is problematic in some schools, however, because it’s hard for a teacher to evaluate what goes on in a student group, and the tests are individual — not collaborative. Still, I believe this form of kid-to-kid technology collaboration is very valid, because that’s how the world works — we are increasingly all about teams, team building and knowledge-sharing in the workplace today.

To get kids ready for the workforce, we also need to broaden the ecosystem that’s driving technology innovation in education today. That means going beyond just students, teachers and administrators and including funders, foundations and companies in the classroom. These new players need to interact in real, live school settings, with real, live students, to help us make our way down the 21st century digital path.

This, too, is hard, because so many educators believe they’re innovating with technology when, in fact, what they’re actually doing is replicating with technology.

If school leaders were to step back and really consider the best breakthrough ways to personalize learning for kids with technology, and if they then deployed their financial resources along these lines, rather than the traditional budgetary and funding silos, I think we could accomplish a lot.

Then, we’d be re-thinking and re-doing the classroom and school experience as we’ve known it — and, in the process, we’d be offering the next generation of students something that would deepen and enrich their learning in preparation for the world that awaits them after graduation.

Dr. Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan

Executive Director of Academic Innovation, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania @bkurshan

Dr. Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan has been involved with education and technology for over 35 years. She provides executive level leadership for a series of entrepreneurially focused programs and efforts and helps develop new degree and non-degree programs at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. An academic and entrepreneur, Dr. Kurshan has honed her vision of “what can be” using technology while supporting the growth of new education companies and developing innovative educational software products for Microsoft McGraw-Hill, Apple, CCC (Pearson) and others. Dr. Kurshan received the prestigious WISE Award for Innovation at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha Qatar as well as the “20 to Watch” award from NASBE in 2009. And, in 2008, she was named Laureate, Tech Awards from Technology Benefiting Humanity.