October 26th, 2009

Media Monday: The Future of Learning

The average student spends two million minutes in high school. What do they do with all that time? How do they spend it?

Bob Compton, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, set out to find the answers in his documentary film, 2 Million Minutes.  The film takes a look at how six high school students from three different countries–U.S., China and India–spend their high school years.

The film argues that America is losing its competitive educational edge and therefore is at risk of losing its global and economic power, too. The idea that America is the center of innovation has increasingly been questioned and with the global economy in such flux, the rules of the game seem to be changing daily.

As Shirley Ann Jackson, Physicist and President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, succinctly states in the film, “Brains are everywhere. Discoveries can be made everywhere. And industries built on those discoveries also can be made anywhere.”

The film’s focus seems to be on creating a student population that will help secure a nation’s economic and global power. And while I understand that educated citizens are ideal, something seems to be missing from the analysis: the students’ needs and educators’ responsibility to fulfill them. How can the U.S. engage and invigorate students’ capacity to learn in ways that will encourage a lifelong commitment to curiosity and learning? Wouldn’t it be great if all students were hungry for knowledge, building tools that would improve our lives and world, creating smart and thoughtful policy and more?

The central question of 2 Million Minutes is, “How will these students spend their 2 million minutes in high school?” Maybe a more appropriate question would be “How can educators make sure those two million minutes are worthwhile?”

On Ed Beat and beyond, there’s been a ton of conversation around digital learning, using technology more effectively in schools and increasing access to technology globally. There are emerging projects that aim to empower youth-directed learning by valuing non-traditional learning–learning that happens socially but is valuable for students and their prospective employers. I am thinking specifically of Barry Joseph’s write-up of a project his organization, Global Kids, is currently working on.

He, Bob Compton and dozens of other education innovators will gather tomorrow and Wednesday at Google Headquarters for a conference called “Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age.” The forum is a mixture of panels (some moderated by our very own John Merrow!), exhibits and discussions meant to “help refresh and reboot American global leadership in education.” You can tune in via webcast here or stay tuned for a report back from us.

In the meantime, watch the 2 Million Minutes trailer and share your thoughts in the comments.

2 Million Minutes [Official website]

Barry Joseph on “Using Alternative Assessment Models to Empower Youth-directed Learning” [10/23/09]

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age [Official website with agenda, speakers, and more]

Podcast: Bob Compton has education advice for the next president [LMtv, 9/16/08]

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