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Using Digital Content to Create Lifelong Learners

What if instead of providing students with answers, teachers asked classes to uncover the facts? What if literacy wasn’t only reading, writing and comprehension, but evaluating the source of information and its veracity?

David WarlickThis should be the future of learning, according to David Warlick, an educator, administrator and consultant who helped build North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s first website.

“The lecture isn’t dead. Textbooks aren’t dead,” Warlick said. “But in a time when things are changing so fast, students have to know how to find information for themselves.”

Warlick continued: While technology plays a key role in our rapidly changing world, it also helps students learn how to continue developing in the future.

Why Educators Need a New Focus

Warlick spends a lot of time thinking about positioning students for a lifetime of learning, thanks to his work at The Landmark Project, a consulting and innovation firm, and his popular website Citation Machine.

He sees a world dramatically different from the one he was educated in during the 1950s and ’60s. Back then, he said, teachers knew what kind of jobs students would have and could teach them the facts they needed. Today, students will likely be launched into a world where they have to define their job and lives in ways we can’t expect. It’s best, Warlick said, to teach them to do that.

“It is different from the learning that is going on in classrooms, where they are learning to be taught,” he said. “We ought to be preparing our kids to learn for themselves.”

Students need to understand where information comes from and how to find it.

Because so much information is available through technology — networks to bounce ideas off of on social media, academic papers on college websites or government data including census information — it makes sense to enable students to sift through it all to find the truth.

Turning Students into Teachers

In his work at conferences, in education and as a consultant, Warlick has seen a number of ways that teachers employ technology to help students learn, often resulting in the creation of new content.

One teacher he knew converted her students into teachers. Trying to add life to a section she found particularly boring, she let the students teach it.

After research and time spent creating ways to engage the rest of the class through digital content, students presented what they learned.

“The task was simple, powered by the Internet: ‘I want you to teach it to the rest of the class.’ The teacher had a blast and the students had a blast,” Warlick said.

Part of what made the project was the freedom it provided students and the fact that they had to present to one another. Sharing lessons beyond the classroom, with the community or classrooms around the world, further deepens the importance of the work to the student, Warlick said.

“When you are writing an assignment or creating a presentation for students in another part of the world to read, that empowers the work of the brain,” he said. “That is very motivating.”

Building Flexible Thinking Skills

Another teacher had a similar project that Warlick liked. Her students created infographics and they were allowed to change their proposed topic if their research presented them with another, more interesting idea.

“That is powerful,” Warlick said, comparing it to how adults learn and find information in the world outside classrooms.

When the infographics were done, students presented them and were challenged by their peers with questions like “How do you know that is true?”  or “Where did that information come from?”

Finally, the teacher asked the students to take their learning a step further by using their findings to extrapolate what would happen in new scenarios.

“Isn’t all that all real world? Isn’t that all how we learn when we get out of school,” Warlick asked.

And those are the skills he’d like to see student develop before leaving school: The ability to dig through all of the digital content that comes our way every day and to find relevant and accurate information.

Educating students to become life-long learners is arming them for a better tomorrow. Teachers who guide their students through the slew of information in the world and help them glean what they need will be the ones creating successful students, Warlick argues.

Want to know more? Check in on Warlick’s blog. You can also find him on Twitter at @dwarlick.

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