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New Directions

New Directions PD column

Educators pursuing professional development can learn anytime, anywhere, using personalized global classrooms with hand picked “teachers” and “textbooks.”

You have an open Tuesday night? Take up a live chat with Australian educators about math curriculum.

What about a long commute? Listen to a podcast about classroom evaluation.

In fact, online resources are so ubiquitous and accessible that we must ask if traditional, school-based PD will go the way of the Walkman and the Laserdisc.

Socializing with classmates online gets homework done faster.

I recently asked a group of middle school students to name their favorite use of technology for learning. An eager eighth-grade girl said, “My work has gotten so much better since we started using Facebook to do homework at night in my math class. We’re all online together, so if I have questions, I get them answered while doing my homework, instead of the next day or even later. Sometimes my friends even explain the math better than the teacher, and we send each other links to stuff online.” Wanting to learn more, I asked her which teacher had set up the group.

Have you ever dreamed of experiencing a watershed moment in your field? Moments like the splitting of the atom or the landing of a man on the moon? If you're an educational leader, buckle up, because your moment is here. Schools are still experiencing the shockwaves of the Internet, a transformative global network that is radically changing how we think about learning and schooling. Moments like these are exhilarating, because our decisions matter so much.

The textbook, The lecturer and the classroom are three pillars of modern-day schooling that date back hundreds of years. Each was invented to solve a problem.

The textbook was invented because information was scarce, the lecturer because teachers were few and the classroom because learning was local. These enduring icons persist into the Internet age, shaping our view of learning and driving the popularity of their digital grandchildren, things like iPad “textbooks” and the Kahn Academy “lectures.”

We haven’t seen this big a change in education in 500 years. Every learner with an Internet connection can build a personalized, global network of people and information. It’s a shift that Robert Darnton, a Harvard University history professor, compares to watershed moments like the invention of the printing press. To stay current, every educator needs to dive into these networks ASAP. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.”

Time and money can be