What Is Digital Education?

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The Past 

I remember my first “computer science” class. It was 1999 and my grammar school had recently installed a computer lab in an annex [probably a former supply closet] next to the library. It consisted of two rows of hefty IBM desktops, an industrial printer we weren’t allowed to touch and a projector. There was only one window [again, supply closet] and the walls were inexplicably painted black so that we sat in perpetual darkness, save for the bluish glow of our monitors. In short it was terrifying.

It also came with rules. Way more than an ordinary classroom. We couldn’t actually touch the power buttons on the monitors, but had to wait for a teacher to come do it for us. We couldn’t save any documents to “My Computer” and we couldn’t use Google because it was “unsafe.” We could only visit educational websites [mostly about math, no thank you] and even then only if we asked for permission. It was thanks to this cautious introduction that the science of computers seemed too limited to be of any real interest, especially in the eyes of an eight year old.

And perhaps in 1999 it really was a limited field of study. As if overnight the computer had become a household fixture, but it had yet to be understood and incorporated as an educational tool. Computer access was a privilege and I was instructed to treat it with near reverence. It was a tool with specific limitations and totally devoid of nuance. Windows 98, Microsoft Word, floppy disks and Yahoo search. Anything that wasn’t “.org” or “.gov” was automatically unreliable. It was as if the librarians that haunted the computer lab like bats in a cave, carefully warding against the slightest hint of unsanctioned fun, saw it as their duty to arm us against the evils of technology. If the school board were going to force them to teach grade school children how to format a Word document, fine. But that was as far as our technological education was ever going to go.

The Present

Under two decades later and oh how things have changed. The classroom is no longer an island in a sea of information but part of the larger conversation. A conversation that is facilitated by the implementation of technology in the classroom. “Digital education” is not a necessary evil, but a natural progression into preparing students to become active in an increasingly interconnected world. The very concept of digital education is based on the idea that simply learning how to use technologies effectively is only the first step. The second, third and fourth are using technology in order to share and to gain a holistic understanding of information that goes beyond a classroom.

The classroom is no longer the isolated, reminiscently Victorian affair it was when I was only a generation ago. Students, primary and secondary, are not isolated from the information revolution that was just beginning when I was being taught to “properly” use a computer. Use. Implementation. Understanding. Integration. And finally access.

Photo cred: http://laughingsquid.com/apple-in-education-launches-three-new-digital-educational-tools/

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