The old industrial high school, which was teacher-centric and designed for mass instruction, served earlier generations well. But students today are fundamentally different from their predecessors because digital technology has changed them in profound ways. In this interview, Ian Jukes, Ted McCain and Frank Kelly, co-authors of Teaching the Digital Generation: No More Cookie Cutter Schools, explain how we must re-imagine our schools — planning facilities and changing the curriculum to best serve the students of the 21st century. The following is an abridged version of our interview with Jukes, McCain and Kelly.
Q: Ian, what is wrong with the traditional, comprehensive, industrial age high schools we have now?
Ian Jukes: The industrial age high schools were developed a full century ago, to bring industrial efficiency to high schools. They were created for mass instruction of relatively homogeneous students. And they did work in some places, where kids were relatively homogeneous and mostly white, with educated/affluent parents. Some schools like this still work relatively well, but in general that isn’t the case. They were also developed eighty years before digital technology. The potential for digital technology can’t be realized within the confines of classrooms, mass group instruction, separate disciplines, and so on.
Q: The book lists five major shifts that must take place immediately if we’re going to come up with effective solutions to these problems. What are they?
Frank S. Kelly: Well, super briefly, we need to shift the focus that the industrial age schools had on content or knowledge skills and change it to higher-order thinking skills. We also need to embrace the new digital reality. We also need to broaden the way we evaluate what kids have learned. No Child Left Behind and state-mandated tests really have reversed progress in this area.
Ian Jukes: We have to address the shift in the thinking patterns of digital kids. Kids today are different. They think and learn and act differently, and this is primarily because of digital technology. Using pre-digital methods turns them off and fails to take advantage of their special interests and skills. The final thing is we need to increase the connection between instruction in schools and the world outside. We need to have links to the real world, because those links provide a context and relevance for what schools ask kids to learn, teachers to teach.