MARCH 26, 2019

Making sure technology is more than “bubblegum for the brain”

Students who use technology to collaborate, create something, or apply information to a new problem are harnessing technology to deepen learning, according to John B. King, Jr., president of the Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education. But that approach is not guaranteed, he added.

“Technology can be a very powerful tool for learning, or it can be bubblegum for the brain, right? It matters how adults construct the activities.”

Secretary King recently discussed global digital education with an audience of educators from 32 cities on 5 continents. The group gathered in New York City to consider student learning outcomes, the focus of a new and groundbreaking Global Cities report. As members of the Global Scholars worldwide educator network, each teacher, principal, and school district administrator in the audience was working to create opportunities for students to go deeper with both global and digital learning. 

Secretary King emphasized the “sweat” factor in making sure that students were actively advancing in critical thinking and digital literacy. And he did not only mean the educator’s sweat.

“Do you construct activities where the kids have to do the intellectual heavy lifting? As a principal, I used to say to teachers, ‘Who’s doing the sweating in the classroom?’ The intellectual sweating? If the teacher’s doing all the intellectual sweating, you’re not doing it right!

If the teacher’s doing all the intellectual sweating, you’re not doing it right!
— John B. King, Jr.

“The kids are supposed to be doing the work, and too often with technology what you see in schools, unfortunately, is kids who are doing worksheets on a screen. They’re the same worksheets that used to be photocopied! You see kids just passively consuming information.”

“What Global Cities is doing, which I’m excited about, is actually having kids use the technology as a tool to do something, to engage in conversation, to learn something new, to do something collaboratively together, to think through a problem and solve it, to learn information not for the sake of recall, but for the sake of applying that information to solve a real-world problem. That’s the way I hope technology will be used.”

Digital literacy is one of nine student learning outcomes that global digital education can promote, according to the Global Cities report. For each outcome, the Global Cities grid identifies indicators that can show student growth in the classroom. For digital literacy, for instance, these progress from “knowledge of basic hardware, software, and online tools” through skill and attitudes, culminating in such behavioral indicators as “using digital tools to create original content in academic and social activities.”

Educators from 32 cities gathered in New York City to discuss global digital education

Educators from 32 cities gathered in New York City to discuss global digital education

Secretary King emphasized that this active approach to digital and global learning should not be limited to a particular lesson or even subject, but rather reflect a general orientation toward learning in every subject.

“Too often in schools, we see enrichment as in competition with core academics. I think that is exactly the wrong way to think about it. When core academics come to us through enriching experiences where we are problem solvers, where we’re communicating with peers, that’s when we’re going to learn the most. That ought to be how we think about how we do school, not just how we do Global Scholars.”

Read more about Student Learning Outcomes