Technology & Education: From ‘Digital Corners’ to ‘Digital Classrooms’

Today’s guest post on Discovery Blog is from Bill Goodwyn, President of Global Distribution and CEO of Discovery Education at Discovery Communications.

Bill Goodywn

One of my colleagues told me that recent data suggests that generations are now measured in six-year increments. This means that your 16-year-old could conceivably belong to one “generation” and your 10-year-old to another…all based on the fact that new technology is introduced so rapidly that it fundamentally changes everything from their childhood games to their career prospects.

This has never been more clear to me as a core truth than when I visited the Mooresville, North Carolina Graded School District, where Superintendent Mark Edwards launched an ambitious digital conversion effort.  I saw empowered students using rich media to teach each other about the Civil War. 14-year-olds shared their understanding of the quadratic equation and its impact on their everyday lives.

I saw a truly “digital classroom.”

My, how the definition of a “digital classroom” can change in one “six-year generation.”

When my 14-year-old was in 3rd grade six years ago, a “digital classroom” was one that had a single computer loaded with Reader Rabbit and placed in the back corner so that it didn’t “interfere” with core instruction. A digital classroom in 2006 was often not a digital classroom at all, but a digital “corner.”

Fast forward to January 2012 and Apple’s recent announcement that it is entering the educational textbook market with the launch of iBooks Author, a free digital publishing tools that allows anyone to easily publish a digital textbook, and the launch of iBooks2, a new digital bookstore that allows for integration of multimedia objects into robust digital textbooks.

At Discovery Education, we were excited to hear that Apple was positively disrupting the educational landscape in a way that only a company as seismic and influential as Apple can. As my team and I listened to the announcement, however, we anticipated the conversations that would be on top of the minds of teachers and administrators:

In spite of the ongoing discussion about whether Apple’s digital textbook will be the definitive game changer for education, however, we have had one clear revelation: we believe it’s an important start.

And so do FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Chairman Genachowski and Secretary Duncan announced yesterday that they are deploying the “Digital Textbook Playbook”: a plan to accelerate the K-12 transition to digital textbooks and drive national adoption of digital textbooks in the next five years.

This momentum for the accelerated adoption of digital textbooks is clearly a force in the right direction. In the past year, digital textbooks have accounted for less than 5% of textbook sales. That means that America is still flush with digital “corners” in lieu of digital “classrooms.” The first step in converting these digital corners into digital classrooms is to deploy digital devices.

Remember when MP3 devices had a similarly low adoption rate? Enter the iPod. The revolutionary part about the Apple iPod being introduced into the MP3 market is that it didn’t just change the device that people had in their pockets – it changed the way that people fundamentally interacted with music. The iPod was the musical device that became a catalyst for changing the musical culture.

My hope is that the proliferation of digital textbooks – Apple or otherwise – in classrooms throughout America will have the same desired effect: the educational device will become a catalyst for changing the educational culture.

Discovery Education LogoThrough our partnerships with school districts across the country, it has become clear to us that there is not a proverbial silver bullet for educational transformation. Digital textbooks are one component of the solution. The only effective approach that actually delivers measurable outcomes to student achievement is a complex and interwoven tapestry of many touchpoints in the classroom. At Discovery Education, we have seen that one of the most critical touchpoints in accelerating student achievement is support for educators in integrating digital tools into their classrooms to enhance their lesson plans, teaching methodologies, student assessment strategies and development of individualized learning paths for students.

Until we help schools to deploy digital solutions that help to fundamentally revolutionize how teachers teach, assess, and personalize learning to each student’s needs, we will continue to see schools with modernized versions of a “digital corner” with a fraction of a classroom being digitized, rather than digital tools elevating every component of teaching and learning – from the moment teachers walk into the classrooms to the moment their kids leave for the day…moment by moment, lesson by lesson, interaction by interaction.

Yes, digital textbooks are certainly a start, but if we are truly interested in transformation, we have to take that start and carry it to the finish line. We need to ensure that the device gets the support that it needs to transform the culture. At the end of the day, we know that it will only be the pairing of digital tools with real support for educators that will impact student achievement.

One of my favorite quotes is from the renowned coach John Wooden: “Don’t ever mistake activity for achievement.”

Every day at Discovery Education, we live Wooden’s motto.

Our goal is not to “deploy a digital techbook” or “perform professional development.” These activities, without corresponding impacts to student achievement, are meaningless to that classroom and to the overall plight of U.S. education.

Instead, as we deploy our digital techbooks and work with teachers on how to use them to effectively enhance teaching and learning, we strive to make an impact on achievement.

When we partner our professional educators with the educational professionals who touch kids every day – whether in Florida or Indiana or Hawaii – we strive to make an impact on achievement. When we listen to the challenges that school districts face in education every day, and we partner with them to engage the disengaged and empower the engaged, we strive to make an impact on achievement. And when we see student achievement soar because our solutions have helped teachers to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms, we know that we haven’t just been mired in activity.  Together, we have achieved.

Teachers and parents, tell us what you think about Apple’s impact on education. What other initiatives have made an impact on your kids’ or students’ classrooms?