BOISE, Idaho -- Computer games, online quests and self-directed learning modules may eventually replace textbooks and classroom lectures as the most effective teaching tools for Idaho students, educators suggested Monday.
School representatives from around the state got a firsthand look at the possibilities of educational technology during the initial meeting of the Students Come First Task Force.
The 38-member group is responsible for developing policies and guidelines to implement the public school reform measures adopted during the 2011 legislative session. The reforms include a major investment in classroom technology, as well as laptops or mobile computing devices for all high school students.
"This isn't about debating the legislation that passed, but it's not about the minutia either. Your role is to think bigger and set policy," facilitator Lauren Rhim told the group. "We're talking about revolutionary transformation, versus evolutionary tinkering. ... We need to step back and think completely differently about technology in the classroom."
Lisa Dawley and Chris Haskell with Boise State University's Department of Educational Technology offered a glimpse at just how different the future of education might be. They discussed their 3D GameLab platform, which allows teachers to design a "quest-based curriculum" that mimics online games like "World of Warcraft," or social media like Facebook.
Rather than tests and due dates, they said, the games let students choose the activities that interest them. They earn "experience points" for completing various quests, which in turn are tied to the formal curriculum and teach students about a given subject. Grades are based on the number of experience points they earn.
One of the factors driving this new approach to education is high dropout rates, Dawley said. About a third of all students nationally don't graduate from high school. Most are earning passing grades when they drop out, yet they're bored and disengaged. Replacing the lock-step, lecture-based approach to teaching with a more dynamic gaming model not only lets students move through the curriculum at their own pace, it keeps them more engaged and helps them track their progress.
"Being a good 21st-century teacher requires understanding 21st century learning," Haskell said.
To date the 3D GameLab platform has primarily been used by teachers or college students studying to become teachers. However, Haskell said one graduate student recently used the platform in his grade school class and "students burned through his curriculum so quickly he ran out of things to teach them."
The task force also received a presentation Monday from SchoolNet Inc., which provides learning management software.
The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation recently donated $21 million to the Idaho Department of Education to pay for the software, which helps teachers, administrators and parents track real-time changes in student performance and teacher effectiveness.
The task force will also receive a presentation this morning on "harnessing the power of technology for the 21st century classroom" from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, the co-leaders of the Digital Learning Now! initiative.
Their presentation should be streamed live over the Internet, beginning at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. The link can be found at www.idahoptv.org
Spence may be contacted at bspencelmtribune.com or (208) 848-2274.
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