While One Laptop per Child and other programs to address the digital divide are important, I have come to believe it is counterproductive to couple discussions of the transformative potential of digital media in learning too closely with discussions about institutional and cultural problems plaguing public education (failing schools, illiterate graduates, students who start school with inadequate vocabularies and little home support for studying, for example). The main problem is that systemic problems can’t be fixed by technology alone, and popular narratives about computers in schools are fraught with magical thinking and moral panics.
Computers won’t save schools, and the failure of the introduction of the first personal computers in classrooms in the 1980s does not condemn computer-augmented learning to eternal failure. I came to this decision about trying to keep these subjects separated after years of following both discussions, and my convictions were sharpened by the contrasting presentations I witnessed at the Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age event that was held recently at Google headquarters on Oct. 27 and 28.
Eloquent descriptions of truly terrible conditions in American schools – and of principals, teachers, and schools boards that have turned those conditions around – collided with reports of remarkable examples of digital media and learning.
I was pleased to discover, however, that at least one of the 200 practitioners, researchers, scholars and policy makers who had gathered for the event was working on an authentic candidate for an application of digital media to at least one systemic problem – lack of knowledge and family support for high school students who are trying to get into college (and finance their education).
This three minute video of Tracy Fullerton, director of the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, introduces the “Pathfinder Project” – a game under development that is intended to help students find their way through the college application process.