Book Summary

GWU Summer 2014 : EDUC 643

Rethinking Education In The Age of Technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America

By Allan Collins and Richard Halverson 2009

(image and book can be found at )

Chapter 1 & 2: How Education Is Changing & The Technology Enthusiasts' Argument

The book begins by talking about how K-12 education has already begun to change in the wake of technology and learning alternatives. Some of the various educational opportunities discussed included home schooling (completed on-line now), learning centers, workplace learning and distance education.

Initially public education was designed to teach to the masses by lectures and "drill and kill" type lessons. The state of education now has changed as we are living in a time that is referred to as the information revolution which is fueled by various types of technology that present an unprecedented availability of information for the mind.

Two arguments posed by those in favor of the information revolution: first, schools need to adapt to the new world of technology and second, technology must enhance learning - the combination of the two will transform the existing educational model. “No one will be able to solve complex problems or think effectively in the coming world without using digital technologies” (Collins & Halverson p. 11).

“Enthusiasts argue that as new technologies, like the printing press before them, enable people to take control of their own leaning, people will decide what would be valuable to them and what they want to learn. They can decide how long they want to spend and what help they think they need… Hence, the imperative of technology is toward more learner control, and schools are fighting a losing battle to control what students learn.” (Collins & Halverson p. 18)


Chapter 3 & 4: Skeptics' Argument & Devolopment of American Schooling

The skeptics take their turn at the podium in the argument of integrating technology with education and they make some valid arguments. The authors interject facts as humor as they point out how society embraced other changes during previous shifts in education such as in 1907 from the journal of the National Association of Teachers, “Students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.” (Collins & Halverson p. 30) This is just one example of the arguments posed against change in the evolution of education and chapter three goes on to explain how the deep seeded roots of our modern day classrooms were formed and the trials and tribulations that the early education model has withstood.

The Information Revolution is not the first time technology tried to interface with education. In fact, radio, television and films were supposed to pose significant changes in the classroom; however, that initial burst of technology was unable to break into the strong roots that the educational system had developed so these new innovations failed in the school setting. A technology enthusiast, Larry Cuban, has remarked that computers have had little impacted on education so far, “he argues that technological innovations that do not take the routines and organization of schools into account will have little effect on instruction.” (Collins & Halverson p.32).

“Once established, it is often difficult to move a complex system from its equilibrium” (Collins & Halverson p.33) and here lies the challenge of anything having a profound impact on the educational model. Perhaps Jane David is correct in her comparison of a school system and a jigsaw puzzle, “Not only do the existing pieces depend on one another, but new pieces fit only into gaps and contours shaped by previous practices.” (Collins & Halverson p.34) If technology is only permitted to fill the gaps and not allowed to guide instruction, what impact will it have?

The limitless possibilities of interest groups are exciting and scary. Unfortunately, one of the bi-products of this new society will be people who are well versed on the internet and yet unable to interact socially in their own home or community. How will this impact the future of education?

Chapter 5 & 6: The Seeds of a New System of Education & Three Eras of Education

Here the authors compare/contrast the three different eras of education (apprenticeship, universal-schooling, and lifelong-learning) and identify nine “seeds” of the lifelong-learning educational movement forming now: home schooling, workplace learning, distance education, adult education, learning centers, educational television and videos, computer-based learning software, technical certifications, and Internet cafes.

Of these “seeds”, home schooling is on the rise for various reasons: parents can control their child’s education and they can teach the values and morals that they choose and home schooling is technology friendly in that many homes already have technology available and in place that schools do not. Another trend, internet cafes, reaches out to all ages and is showing up in coffee shops, bread shops and other social places to the point that these establishments are serving as virtual libraries.

To this point, there have been three eras of education and they are the apprenticeship era, the universal-schooling era, and the era we are now entering, which is the lifelong-learning era. In some respects we are coming full circle as the life-long learner era has some similar characteristics with the apprenticeship era and the control of education reverts back to the home more for those who are interested in pursuing it. The challenge here is to determine what to do about people, families, who are not interested in life-long learning or being in control of their education.

Chapter 7 & 8: What is Gained/Lost & How do Schools Cope With The New Technologies

We as humans tend to group ourselves with like-minded people and education by technology will only allow us to do more of this “cultural zoning” - “where like-minded people cluster together”. (Collins & Halverson p. 105) The rising challenges to this zoning is the lack of citizenship and social skills in our young people and society as a whole which essentially erodes our country’s ability to communicate and work together. Another point made is how technology creates a larger socio-economic division between the “haves” and “have nots”. Those who can afford the latest technology and educational resources will move ahead while those who can not afford such items or devices will be stagnated and left behind. The condition of the “digital divide” also has some medical ramifications as it can contribute to loneliness and depression for those who sit in front of a computer for long time spans and not get out and meet people face-to-face.

Technology in education is not all doom-and-gloom. Technology is a great tool for students with learning disabilities,can be used to reinforce other teaching methods and can be used to engage students. Additionally, schools can participate in virtual school classes and AP classes which allow students to take upper level classes that are not offered at that particular school but may be more suited to the students interest and future career goal.

Three critical imperatives for new technologies to work in schools: customization, interaction and learner control. Simply put, technology needs to provide what we want, when we want, provide immediate feedback, engage us, and allow us complete control of our destination. One obstacle to this in education is that technology does not tend to follow the standards based education model. “This emphasis on standards runs very much against the grain of the technological imperatives of customization, interaction, and learner control.” (Collins & Halverson p. 113) While there are many benefits to technology in the classroom, there are also obstacles.

Chapter 9 & 10: What It All Means & Rethinking Education in a Technology World

“The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. – William Gibson” (Collins & Halverson pg. 122) and this quote sets the stage for the closing chapters of this book. John Hagel and John Seely make the point that businesses must stay on the cutting edge to be successful which means that change is inevitable and necessary. Education is a business and in order for education to be successful, “we will have to become both intelligent consumers and producers of the next generation of learning technologies.” (Collins & Halverson pg. 122) Technology is the future in all capacities, young and old, and Don Tapscott argues “For the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society…They are a force for social transformation.” (Collins & Halverson pg. 122) What a powerful, and true, statement!

This chapter goes on to describe some of the critical thinking skills necessary to play such games as Madden 2005 or Pokemon and how other subjects are imbedded in these games. The authors further suggest that parents sit down and have their kids explain to them how to play these games and engage in what interest the kids while encouraging the kids to pursue their interest.

The authors go on to point out that if we wanted to prepare the gamer generation for success in the 21st century we need to provide them opportunities to exercise decision making skills in a virtual environment. “Gamers, for example, have abundant experience making big decisions, coordinating resources, and experimenting with complex strategies in game-based simulations.” (Collins & Halverson pg. 125)

“Enthusiasts who anticipate the natural emergence of change in schools would do well to study the existing structures of schooling to identify the aspects of the current system that are ripe for innovation.” (Collins & Halverson pg. 127) There are components of the existing educational model that can be adapted to technology, engage the students, and provide a smooth transition for educators – it is a matter of finding/picking the correct components to encourage a smooth transition for all.

Fast forward to today’s classroom and the question every teacher hears, “why do we have to learn this?” “The core curriculum in modern schools is still rooted in the medieval trivium…” (Collins & Halverson pg.133) While the medieval curriculum served its purpose at one time, times have changed, and we are caught in a curriculum shift that is not fully supported in our state or across the country.

Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann believed that everyone should have the opportunity for a good education. Unfortunately, the divide that technology has helped widen is undermining this concept and “according to a recent survey from the Education Trust, America is the only industrialized country in which today’s young people are less likely than their parents to earn a high school diploma.” (Collins & Halverson pg.145) The future of America relies on us being an educated society, one that can articulate our thoughts, think objectively and critically through problems and be poised in executing our decisions.


Perhaps Thomas Friedman’s declaration that “the world is flat” would alarm Christopher Columbus; however, technology has leveled the world in that it has brought so much information to the fingertips of millions of people across the globe. Unfortunately, this extreme availability of technology has only further widened the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”, just because it is available to all doesn’t mean that all can access it. Furthermore, technology is changing where school takes place, no longer just a brick-and-mortar concept but a more hybrid concept which includes home schooling, charter schools, privatized education, distance education, field trips, computer games and more.