Students today have more information at their fingertips than ever before, but their constant access to knowledge may be one reason high school dropout rates are skyrocketing nationwide.
Educator Lee Crockett, who founded the 21st Century Fluency Project along with Ian Jukes, believes there’s a correlation between easy access to information and the fact that large numbers of students are starting to tune out to an educational system designed decades ago.
Mr. Crockett spent all day Monday at the Southold School providing his insights on education in the digital age to teachers from all over the North Fork. Mr. Jukes had been scheduled to give the day-long seminar but was ill and unable to appear.
Mr. Crockett capped off the day’s seminars Monday evening with a lecture for the entire community in the Southold High School auditorium.
He said most people aren’t aware of how quickly technological changes are altering our world.
“We are linear thinkers, not exponential thinkers,” he said. “We live in exponential times.”
He said that a perfect example of exponential thinking that affects every aspect of our lives is Moore’s Law, a principle introduced by Intel founder Gordon Moore in 1963.
“[Moore] said that computing power is going to double every 24 months and the cost to produce it would be cut in half” in the same amount of time, said Mr. Crockett. “That prediction has stayed uncannily on the mark for over 50 years.”
Thanks to recent innovations in nanotechnology and holographic storage systems, Moore’s Law is actually speeding up, and computing power is doubling in some cases in as little as one year instead of two, Mr. Crockett said.
What that means for students, he continued, is that in the near future information is going to be so easy to access that the idea of devoting class time to rote memorization will strike most students, who are accustomed to using Google to find the answers to all their questions, as hopelessly outdated.
He cited language education as an example. Mr. Crockett gave a demonstration of a new translation app for the iPhone called Jibbigo. The user can speak into the iPhone, and the iPhone translates what is said and repeats it aloud in another language.
There’s even an app that allows you to point the iPhone’s camera at a sign for an instantaneous translation of the sign’s message into another language.
“What does this do to the need for language education?” he asked. “Is it more important to focus our efforts on understanding other cultures?
“The challenge that education faces is that we can remember a time when this didn’t exist. For our students, this has always existed,” he said. “Are we preparing our children for their future or our past?”
Mr. Crockett said that educators need to remember their central mandates: to provide for acculturation, the sharing or adopting of other culture’s traits or social patterns, and to impart to students an appreciation of social, aesthetic, esoteric, philosophical and moral ideas and prepare them for life beyond school.
“Our schools were absolutely, beyond dispute, designed for a time when three-quarters of the population worked in agriculture and manufacturing,” he said. “Three-quarters of people now need higher-level thinking jobs. We’re not being truthful when we tell students all they have to do is memorize information and pass the test. That’s why you have disengagement. Kids are just tuning out. They feel like they need to take a sedative to go to school. They’re bailing out when they see the irrelevance of what they’re learning.”
Mr. Crockett added that most 21st century jobs will involve creative thinking that uses technology as a tool but cannot be replaced by that technology.
Many students in attendance at the lecture nodded in agreement with what Mr. Crockett had to say, but some wondered if their innate understanding of the benefits of technology could be accepted by teachers.
Student Sam Kortchmar asked Southold Superintendent David Gamberg if the district would consider allowing students to use cellphones, laptops and other devices in school.
Mr. Gamberg agreed that there is a responsible place for cellphone use in school. He cited one student in New Zealand who asked if she could call her mother, a lawyer, for the answer to a legal question during a class debate.
“Clearly there’s a usage there that’s immediate and responsible,” he said. “We need to get teachers to experience that. We don’t begin to understand why we need to make a shift in policy. That’s the whole reason we’re sitting here right now.”
Many in attendance also questioned why the New York State Education Department insists on instituting mandates that tie up valuable teaching time and wondered whether universities that educate teachers are aware of the new skill sets 21st century students need.
Mr. Crockett said he was staggered by the unwillingness of universities nationwide to address the way technology has changed education. He said that New York’s education department has not asked him or Mr. Jukes to speak to them about these issues.
“I’d be happy to open a can of whoop-ass on them if I was ever asked to,” he said.
After the lecture, Mr. Gamberg said to those assembled, “I hope you receive this with an open mind and heart. This is a massive amount of information and there’s a massive amount of changes. We’re trying to receive it. I can’t imagine as a student what it feels like. We really do need to come together and understand we have some decisions to make.”
Mr. Crockett said he believed the teachers he met with during the day were very receptive to his suggestions to help students focus on the process of learning.
“We have to make the change from the classroom up,” he said. “Teachers don’t have to change their students’ minds, they have to change their [own] minds. There are places I go [where] the teachers aren’t capable of that.”