May the force of technology be with you

18th March 2011 at 00:00

I didn't enjoy school much. Occasionally I had a teacher who would inspire me. But as an adult, as I began working with computer technology to tell stories through film, I began to wonder, "Why can't we use these new technologies to improve the learning process?"

Twenty years ago, when we started the George Lucas Educational Foundation, we could see that digital technology would revolutionise the educational system, like it or not. Yet, in light of extraordinary advancements in how we use technology to communicate and learn, schools have been frustratingly slow to adapt.

Unfortunately, much of our system of education is locked in a time capsule dating back to the industrial revolution, when learning became an exercise in pumping as much information into kids as possible, with a diploma at the end of it - if the student can spit back the facts correctly.

But when technology can deliver most of the world's information on demand and knowledge is changing so rapidly, the model doesn't work. Why spend $150 (about #163;100) on textbooks containing information that soon becomes obsolete?

What we need today and in the future are citizens who can wield the tools of technology to solve complex problems. We need students who can find information, rigorously analyse its quality and accuracy, and use it creatively to accomplish a goal.

The good news is that in pockets across the US and the UK, schools and local authorities are unleashing contemporary technology - combined with classic methods of inquiry-based learning that date back to Plato and Socrates - to transform the learning process into a rigorous and more relevant experience.

In Portland, Maine, middle and high- school students have a one-to-one laptop programme, strong school leadership and project-based learning curriculums that result in higher academic achievement.

In Columbia, South Carolina, an elementary school uses computers to personalise student learning based on individual ability. And, here in California, scores of high schools are offering career academies with rigorous curriculums, enabling students to connect their learning to the "real world" and potential careers.

Are there enough of these schools and districts? No. Will the work of fixing our schools and re-inventing the learning process be long and arduous? Of course.

But as we move on to build a better way, let's remember that the solutions - and the tools and people who are implementing them - are nearer than you think.

Through our Edutopia website, our foundation has been shining a spotlight on the exciting classrooms where these innovations are taking place, and we hope others will consider how to promote change in their own schools.

We encourage you to share your ideas with us and join the effort to transform learning.

George Lucas is the film-maker behind the Star Wars series. His foundation's website for schools is at www.edutopia.org.

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