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Last modified: Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning sciences expert to speak about “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”

New book explores a change in education he equals to the adoption of universal schooling

Oct. 5, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- One of the world's foremost learning scientists will speak at Indiana University Bloomington this week.

Allan Collins

Allan Collins

Allan Collins, professor emeritus of education and social policy at Northwestern University, says the educational system is at odds with technological innovation and change is imperative to ensure many students don't fall further behind. Collins will speak about the changing nature of schools' relationship to technology during his appearance Thursday, Oct. 8 from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. in the Wright Education Building Auditorium. His appearance, which is free and open to the public, is presented by the Learning Sciences Program in the IU School of Education.

Collins is the co-author of a new book called Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. He and Richard Halverson, associate professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote about the ways technology is changing -- mostly outside the school system -- and why it must mean tremendous changes for educators.

"We're experiencing a revolution in education like the one we went through in the 1800s when we went from an education system based on apprenticeship to one based on universal schooling," Collins said. "We're not saying schools are going away. It's just that the people who are using technology for learning are really doing it outside of school. Just as in the 1800s -- when the industrial revolution was starting in America -- this again is a time of flux because of the digital revolution."

Rethinking Education In The Age of Technology

The book relates anecdotes to illustrate how people are learning in different ways using technology. Collins said the different methods of learning have both positive and negative impacts.

"What's happening is lots of people are buying educational resources for their children to get ahead, leaving poor and minority kids behind," Collins said. "So the technology is actually increasing educational inequality."

Collins and Halverson point to the very limited uses of the computers that school do have, and they maintain that society must find better ways to get technological resources to underserved populations to ensure they don't fall further behind. Collins challenged schools of education to do more research about the ways learning is changing in the current environment.

"One of the things I think a school of education should be thinking about is exactly how can we begin to think of our mission, not just addressing schools, but to addressing these kinds of technological learning environments that are developing willy-nilly," Collins said.

Among the things he suggests exploring is what kinds of technological devices would work best for self-directed young learners. He added that governments must begin to understand the changed learning environment in a much deeper way, changing the structure of the educational system to better reflect new media and technology, and providing more opportunities for low-income students to access technology.

"I would like to see every kid in America given a little hand-held device that teaches reading," Collins said. "It might have Dr. Seuss stories with beautiful animations, but you can point at the screen and hear words or a whole line spoken, or the whole story said. So young kids could kind of teach themselves."

Overall, Collins said the times are just as exciting as the developments during the industrial revolution. Since things are changing so rapidly, leaders with bold ideas can change education for the positive, he said.

"This is the time when visionaries can begin to have a huge impact," Collins said. "But they need to think very systematically about what is happening with technology, and how it can impact learning."