Brookings Institute Panel Discusses Social Network and Video Games as Tools in Education

Recently the Brookings Institute hosted a panel on the important role that social networking and gaming can have on education. The panel featured Constance Steinkuehler Squire, senior science and technology policy analyst for President Barack Obama; Janet Kolodner, information and intelligent systems program officer at the National Science Foundation, Maria Ucelli-Kashyap, policy analyst at the American Federation of Teachers; and Holly Sagues, chief policy officer at the Florida Virtual School. The panel was moderated by Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institute’s Governance Studies program. He is also the author of a new Brookings Institute paper called "How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education."

The discussion focused on traditional schools using new methods of teaching that incorporated these highly engaging and interactive elements, but a large swath of the conversation was about virtual schools, or an education using all of the above tools with some form of instruction. Around 30 states are already experimenting with statewide full-time virtual school programs, with an estimated 1.8 million students participating at least part-time in some sort of online course and 250,000 who attend virtual classes full-time – according to statistics from the International Association of K-12 Online Learning.

“School has gone from being a noun, a place where you go to learn, to a verb with a focus on learning,” Holly Sagues of the Florida Virtual School.

One important thing that was emphasized and echoed by many panel members is the fact that students still need a "teacher" to guide them, because students are more successful and learn better.

“It may look different and feel different, but it’s not going to go away,” said Maria Ucelli-Kashyap from the American Federation of Teachers. She added that states and school districts should strengthen professional development opportunities for teachers so they can use all these new and emerging technologies in their classrooms.

Janet Kolodner from the National Science Foundation thinks that there is still a need to maintain some sort of traditional school structure.

“Parents need to work,” she said.

Panelists envision that video games could be used to give instant assessments for a student’s understanding of a subject as well. Brookings Institute director Darrell West found in his research that learning through video games could improve students' "image identification abilities and quantitative reasoning." A recent survey, which found that 86 percent of students said they rather learn from a video game than a textbook, also proves there would be more engagement with students and the material they are using.

One thing panelist are concerned about is access. Even as new media becomes more prominent, it is important that students from rural low-income districts should have the same opportunities as students in wealthy suburbs. Naturally this requires that whatever technologies are used are cost-effective for states and local schools.

Finally it is important to note the one thing that worries many parents: how technology and a non-traditional school learning environment might affect the social behavior of students. Social interaction, after all, is an important part of learning and growing up.

The potential for online learning is endless, but that must be tempered with a focus on a child’s overall development. “Any tool or resource is going to be as effective as its use,” Janet Kolodner said. “It all depends on that.”

“Technology is not a panacea,” Maria Ucelli-Kashyap added, “but it can be a great tool.”

Source: "Fresh red organic apple on a top of books" photo provided by Shutterstock.

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