I’m old enough to remember when digital learning meant using human digits to move a pencil around on a piece of paper.
In the 1950’s, my first-grade teacher led us on a daily forced march through fill-in-the-blank workbooks. We gripped huge, usually dull pencils without erasers. Twenty eight years later, as a first grader in Maine, my daughter wearily did more or less the same thing, until we found a better school.
Fast forward now to another generation and my granddaughter, a pre-schooler in Vermont, is a digital native. Her fingers race over the screen of my IPad as she plays word and number games. She can’t wait for kindergarten.
As an education reporter, I saw classrooms change from places where kids were stuck in silent rows as teachers scrawled facts on blackboards, to active learning environments where they work noisily and happily together at hands-on activities, often via the internet. Teachers have become learning coaches, instead of didactic instructors. Laptops, mobile devices, and tablets are nearly ubiquitous. Kids even take federally mandated standardized tests on them.
But some teachers are better than others at weaving computers into lesson plans. I’ve seen some just shove them to the back of the room for students to use during so-called “free time.” So I really do hope that parents and teachers will offer candid public comment on the Agency of Education’s new plan for digital learning, now available to read on its website. The plan sets lofty goals for local districts, which must come up with plans for technology use and for teacher training over the next year.
One elementary school principal I know laments that classroom technology is sometimes regarded as an unfunded state mandate lacking local support. She knows one district where the school board was unwilling to pay for badly needed computers, where internet access was spotty at best, and where professional development opportunities were practically non-existent – while elsewhere, she notes kids got state-of-the-art equipment and teachers who know how to use it to expand their learning.
This is the digital divide you hear so much about – and it exists right here in Vermont. Until we close it, the future prosperity of too many children will depend solely on geography - that is, on where their school is located on the GPS map they may or may not be taught how to use.