Introducing Dewey to Digital Learning

Type: Article
Topics: School Administrator Magazine, Technology & AI

June 17, 2021

My View
was first introduced in the U.S., several state legislatures enacted the Red Flag Law. These laws required that self-propelled vehicles be led by pedestrians waving a red flag to warn bystanders of an automated vehicle’s approach. The laws were designed to protect citizens and livestock from a new technology that moved faster and more powerfully than anything people had ever experienced.

Today, it is hard to fathom such a law or to imagine what the world of transportation would resemble if such laws had not been repealed.

Unfettered Access
I wonder if educators are enacting their own version of the Red Flag Law by forcing students to use the internet to support the same learning methodologies that have been used for decades. Instead of trying to fit the internet into traditional classroom instruction, why not create a learning environment that gives students unfettered access to the information available online? This will require teachers, students and parents to let go of traditional learning, but just as the automobile opened a whole new world of transportation, access to the internet will create opportunities for students to achieve a higher level of learning while obtaining a deeper level of understanding.

The internet has redefined the way students store, find, use and create information. It provides access to information from across the globe and enables everyone to share and update information instantaneously. Isn’t it unrealistic to believe students who rely on memorization will be able to manage the explosion of new information?

Fortunately, wireless technology provides ubiquitous access to the internet for most students. If taught the skills to find authenticated information online, students would be able to use the internet to find whatever they needed whenever. As students gain proficiency, educators should no longer define learning as a student’s ability to recall factual details, but should define learning as a student’s ability to apply the information readily available via the internet. Of course, if teachers allow students to use the internet for in-formation gathering, critics will wonder whether students are actually learning anything.

My answer can be found in the words of John Dewey: “They give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results.” Unfettered access to the internet means teachers can rely less on direct instruction that emphasizes memorization. Rather, they can use learner-centered instruction, enabling students to apply information in problem-based or project-based activities. These types of higher-level learning promote learning at a deeper level than memorization.

A Persuasive Case
Higher-level learning activities take longer to complete and require students to learn a basic level of content knowledge. Therefore, these activities are not typically used by teachers. By granting students unlimited access to the internet as an information source, teachers will have the time to engage students in high-level learning tied to critical thinking and collaborative work with others, all the while mastering core academic content.

Unfortunately, the schooling experiences of most educators and parents relied heavily on memorization, and the idea of allowing students to look up answers is difficult for many to accept. For educators, the major challenge will be to mount a persuasive case for applying information instead of memorizing information, a learning process that will lead to longer information retention, a deeper understanding of ideas and the development of skills that will open the door to new worlds.