Bridging the School-Community Divide in Digital Learning

Michael Robbins at SXSWedu

ED’s Michael Robbins led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education at this year’s SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Instagram user chbrenchley.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at SXSWedu – a national education convening leading up to the South by Southwest festivals and conferences in Austin, TX. What began three years ago as a handful of education-focused sessions at SXSW Interactive has grown into an inspiring and informative gathering of over 4,000 participants from across the world.

Jeff Edmondson, the managing director of Strive, and I led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education – how technology can improve how schools, families, and communities collaborate to advance student engagement and learning. The power of technology to transform education was a major theme at SXSWedu, but the discussions in Austin underscored my concerns about how K-12 digital learning transitions are evolving.

Many conversations were intensely focused on technology to support school-based initiatives, but missing attention on how digital learning should connect students to their passions, peers, communities, and careers. We will miss essential opportunities to transform schools if transitions primarily create digital versions of traditional analog education processes – trading textbooks for tablets and paper files for databases.

At the other end of the spectrum were SXSWedu sessions on learning outside of schools, many of which approached schools as hurdles to be overcome instead of partners in learning. Frustrated by the slow pace of change, efforts like the maker movement and open badges have chosen to move ahead outside  K-12 institutions and bureaucracies. Despite significant advancements, most of these are on the sidelines of school district digital learning transitions, more likely to be the subject of TED talks than digital curricula or school turnaround plans.

Students and families are mostly left to themselves to connect the dots between school-based and non-school learning. The students most disadvantaged by these silos are ones already facing the greatest challenges inside and outside the classroom, and they could benefit the most from the digital learning that transcends the school-community divide. Partnerships between schools, families, and community-based organizations are an important way to bridge this divide, and ensure the success and sustainability of digital learning transitions.

I’ll be facilitating conversations to delve deeper into these issues as part of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) that begins April 8 – advancing the Department’s efforts through Epic-ed to support digital learning transitions. Please join us for the MOOC to share your ideas on partnerships among schools, districts, teachers, community organizations, education technology companies, families, and others to ensure the digital learning revolution propels engagement and achievement for all students.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Talks Tech at SXSWedu

Secretary Duncan speaks at SXSWedu

Secretary Duncan speaks at SXSWedu March 8, 2012. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“The future of American education undoubtedly includes a laptop on every desk and universal internet access in every home,” Secretary Duncan said earlier today at SXSWedu (South by Southwest Education), in Austin, Texas. “But a great teacher at the front of the classroom will still make the biggest difference in the lives of our students.”

Duncan addressed a large audience of educators and tech entrepreneurs at the annual conference that focuses on innovations in learning. The Secretary spoke to the importance of technology in education, and noted that the Department of Education remains committed to doing “all we can at the federal level to support the use of technology.”

In 2010, ED issued a comprehensive Education Technology Plan to support the broader trends in education today. Elements of the plan include:

    • Aligning learning materials with the college- and career-ready standards that states have developed and adopted.
    • Engaging students by tailoring learning to their needs and interests and providing real-time information to teachers about student learning.
    • Connecting teachers with their peers so they can share learning materials and classroom strategies.
    • Building the infrastructure to support this learning environment and using technology to become more productive.

Duncan explained that technology has become essential to learning, not optional. He also reminded the audience that even if Beethoven would have had a computer, “the Fifth Symphony would still have come from the mysterious gray matter between his ears.”

Following Duncan’s speech at SXSWedu, he held a college affordability town hall at Austin Community College (watch here), and will hold a town hall with San Antonio’s Hispanic community later this evening.

Read more about the Department’s Education Technology Plan at the Office of Education Technology’s new website: www.ed.gov/technology, and read Secretary Duncan’s SXSWedu speech.