Duncan is President Obama's new Secretary of Education.
School: There's an App For That?
Duncan sees cellphones as an opportunity for expanding learning beyond the school day.
The New Digital Divide
The problem isn't just lack of access to technology, it's lack of opportunity to learn from it.
Digital Natives in (and out of) Class
They're online and texting more than they're in class. Duncan sees this not as a threat, but an opportunity.
Class in 10 Years
The classroom of the future may not be a classroom at all, and students may need different skills than their parents.
Video Gaming in School
Kids love games, so why not use them to teach?
Challenges of Focus
It's not easy for kids to sit still and concentrate, Duncan says, but it's still an important skill to cultivate.
Do We Need Netiquette in the US?
Duncan explains how to prepare the next generation for the digital world.
A New Generation of Teachers
With a million teachers retiring in the next five years, Duncan sees a big opportunity to mold the future of our educational system.
Room for Improvement
Technology is one of several areas in education where we've been surpassed by other countries. Duncan explains how to get the education system back on track.
Making Technology Work
Getting technology into the classroom isn't enough in and of itself.
Q: So let's start by talking about this notion of digital natives. Do you accept the notion that today's learners are fundamentally different than learners of the past because they've grown up immersed in digital technology?
Q: Why? Elaborate.
DUNCAN: Exactly to your point. They've grown up with this, the technology just didn't exist when I was a young child. So they're growing up with a fundamental set of skills and interests that are different than previous generations.
DUNCAN: How? Because they've had access to technology that didn't exist, you know, a couple of decades ago. And they, they love it. It's part of who they are.
Q: So what does that mean in terms of the way they, uh, process information and learn?
DUNCAN: I think it means we have to change how we teach. It means we have to change how we engage students. And it means we have to think very differently about how we help them learn, and how we deliver information to them. So I think the, the implications are very, very profound. Not just to what we do during the school day, but sort of really significantly to me, how we think about the non-school hours as well. And how we think about students learning throughout the day, not just throughout the school day.
Q: Sort of informal informal learning.
DUNCAN: Yeah. Yeah. They're, they're, they're on the Internet, they're on their cell phones a lot more than they are in class. And how do we not see it as a threat, but how do we see it as an opportunity, how do we maximize that learning time beyond the traditional six hours a day in school, which I'd argue isn't enough anyway. There's some huge opportunities here, and there's some fascinating work going on around the country today.
Q: So just to parse out um, how they're different. There, there's teachers we've talked to who are concerned about, you know, the fact that kids have a harder time focusing on one thing for a long period of time. And, and that they, um, you know, they're restless and that they need constant stimulation. Um, do you see that as true, and, if so, how do we adjust to it?
DUNCAN: I don't know if I totally agree with that. I mean, you, our students do, I think it is important to be able to sit and to read and to concentrate. And so doing a million things a minute, I don't think is going to be the answer. But finding different ways to engage students and capture their imagination and get them learning about topics which fascinate them and give them the tools to, to teach themselves and continue to learn, uh, I think that's very, very important. So it's not just about, uh, moving fast and moving quick. But it is about thinking differently about how we bring out the best in every single student. And there's some, some ways to engage students today that didn't exist, again, years ago that I think are hugely important.
Q: Do you think being able to sit and read a novel for three hours is going to be important to these kids in their lives?
DUNCAN: I think it's important to be able to sit and concentrate. I don't know about three hours, that's a long, I don't know if I could pass that test, uh. But yeah, I do think it's important to be able to sit and concentrate and, and read something. Absolutely. No question.
Q: We've, we've definitely got a generation of teachers who are not as fluent in digital media as their students. How do we address this generation gap?
DUNCAN: Yeah, well, a couple of things. I think you can continue to train teachers and you have many, many teachers who are going back to learn and develop them professionally. But I think it's a huge opportunity with this next generation of teachers who, who grew up as a part of this new, this new age. This new-media age. And as you probably know, we have as many as a million teachers retiring around the country over the next 4, 5, 6 years. It's the Baby Boomer generation coming out. And so it's a fascinating window of opportunity. It presents a huge challenge, I think it presents a huge opportunity. And our ability to attract and retain great talent over the next 4, 5, 6 years is going to shape public education for the next 25 to 30 years in our country. So how do we get that next generation of smart, committed, passionate young teachers who, uh, this is not, this is second nature for. This is not a foreign language. This is not something that scares them. This is how they have grown up. There's a huge opportunity there, and we want to take full advantage of that.
Q: I've heard once, I don't know if it's true, but that, that teachers, in, in, um, schools of ed, are the least technologically savvy of any other group in graduate programs. Is that true?
DUNCAN: Um , I haven't heard that. Uh, I [chuckles], there are various significant challenges with many schools of education [chuckles], some things we're working on, I actually just left a meeting now, uh, talking about some of those challenges. So, uh, I, I don't know whether that's factually true or not. But I would say that, uh, I wouldn't be stunned, uh, to, uh, to know that that's the, that that's reality.
Q: Because it's not just about their age. It's also about an attitude. I mean, there are such defenders of the book, and I think to a certain extent, the Web, by many teachers is seen as a kind of threat. Um, to a way of teaching. No matter what age they are.
DUNCAN: It, it can be. But again, you see it is not just a generational thing. There are teachers that are 50, 55, 60 who totally embrace this, who get it, are leading the charge. Others might be a little bit more reluctant or a little bit more defensive. But it's really about a teacher's attitude and mindset. And I think all of us, to be effective in anything we do, you in your job, me in my job, we all have to be learning, we all have to be growing. And you see great teachers of every age, every background, embracing that, that challenge and that opportunity.
Q: Um... all set? Let's talk about access to the Internet at school. Um, many schools seem to be really concerned, you know, about giving kids access to things like YouTube and Google at school, both because of liability issues, and also the potential dangers. But a lot of teachers we talked to are frustrated and they feel like, you know, that the learning tools that these sites offer are being denied to them. What do you think in terms of what sites need to be banned at school. Whether there should be firewalls up against free access to the internet.
DUNCAN: I think you have to be really thoughtful about that. And yes, you have to be smart, and I think it also varies a little bit by the students' age. And what you might do for a kindergartner might be different than what you do for a middle schooler or might be different from what you do for a high schooler. And you want to be thoughtful about this at the local school level. This is not something the federal government's ever going to uh, you know, uh, s--creqte some federal mandate about. But really at the local school level, thinking through what's appropriate for those children, giving them a chance to, to grow, and to learn and to expand. But the same time, again, that you would, I have a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old at home and you'd be a little more cautious with them than you would a teenager, obviously. I think, you know, looking at this through the lens of a parent, I think is the right way to look at this.
Q: And do you think there's a place for YouTube in the schools? Depending on the age, for high schoolers?
DUNCAN: Oh, uh, absolutely. And, um, you know, there are certain things for my 5-year-old and 7-year-old where YouTube was very appropriate. But it's things they're doing with me and my wife, not doing, not doing on their own. So yeah, again, with, with supervision, with help. Um, at the youngest of ages, I think there are things that are absolutely appropriate. But it's with adult guidance involved.
Q: What about the use of digital games as an educational tool? Um, where do you fall on that?
DUNCAN: I think, you want to engage students. Students love these games. And, and it's part of who they are. And if we can deliver not just entertainment but knowledge and content and a love of learning through these games, why wouldn't we embrace that? We should always be looking at new ways to, to, uh, have our students love learning. And if this is an, a vehicle, a mechanism, this is a way that will help us get there, we should absolutely embrace that. And I think you're going to see a generation of learning tools going forward that do embrace the gaming concepts and engage students in very different ways. That I think have the potential to be very, very powerful. And I'm very interested in that area.
Q: What about mobile phones?
DUNCAN: S--s-- students might lost lots of other things, they don't lose their phones. [Laughs]. They have those phones 24/7. And again, we have students in school six hours a day, they're with their phones, another, what? 12, 13, 14, 18 hours a day? Uh, constant. Why aren't we thinking about delivering content in a more systemic way. And again, you have some interesting places that are starting to work in this area. But students have, young people have these phones, they have them with them constantly. They are constantly playing with them. Why shouldn't we think, why shouldn't we be thinking about how we help teach students using mobile phones? Why is it just sitting in a classroom, you know, in the traditional walls of the, four walls of the classroom or, or in a school? Uh, there are many, many different ways to learn.
And there's a huge tool, huge opportunity going forward there to help our students learn in, in new ways, in exciting ways, in ways that engage them on their time. And that would dramatically expand the amount of time we have access to help teach our students. So, again, another huge area of, of interest of mine. And starting to see some, some, some cutting-edge uh, things happening. But I think we're very early on there. And I think over the next few years, uh, there's a chance to, to do some things that will make a huge difference in the lives of our students in a very positive way.
Q: There's a lot of fear, I think. About all of this stuff.
DUNCAN: Sure. A--a--and maybe that's natural to be scared of the, the new or the unknown, or the new frontier. But somebody's got to be Christopher Columbus. Somebody's got to get over there and say, you know, you're not going to fall off the edge. You know, the world's not flat.
Q: What do you see as the potential downsides to using this technology in schools? I mean, distraction is obviously a big one.
DUNCAN: Distraction, again, if it's inappropriate content. I mean, so the natural fear is again as a parent. I really s--see this mu--you know, through the eyes of, of a parent of two young children. And you don't want them exposed to things that are, that are inappropriate or wouldn't be, uh, wouldn't make sense to them. Um, but I think there's a lot more with, again, with thoughtfulness, with supervision, there's a lot more upside than downside. And you want to be able to, to, to stretch ourselves. And to stretch how we think fundamentally about education. Does it have to be just sitting, again, in 40-minute blocks, or 45, or 50-minute blocks in front of a teacher with, you know, 25 kids there, you know, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months a year. Um, I've been arguing we need a lot more time educationally our students are at a competitive disadvantage versus children in other countries who go to school longer - India and China.
You know, if we're looking to extend learning time, we can think about extending the school day. But extending learning time is a much broader, uh, I would argue, much more comprehensive concept and, uh, whether it's the Web, whether it's cell phone, uh, we, we need to be thinking about this and really exploring the possibilities in a very serious way.
Q: Why isn't there more technology being used in America's schools right now? I mean, look at England, and it feels like they're way ahead of us in terms of really incorporating this stuff into the, into the classroom.
DUNCAN: Yeah, I think we've been behind some places, I would argue not just in technology, but in other areas. I, you know, I think as a country we've lost our way a little bit educationally. We've lost our competitive, you know, advantage. We used to lead the world in the percent of college graduates. We've flatlined for a couple of decades, now other countries have passed us by. And so to me this is more symptomatic of sort of a, a, a lack of investment, a lack of commitment, a lack of a sense of urgency. And much of what the President and I are talking about is, let's regain our glory days. Let's, you know, this is our shot at the moon now. Can we become the country that graduates the highest percent of students from college again.
Can we become that country that leads the world. We're not there. And technology is one of many areas where we've moved, uh, more slowly and I, I fundamentally think we have to educate our way to a better economy, and I worry a lot about our students being at a competitive disadvantage with children from other countries. And I think our children are smart, they're committed, but we're not giving them the opportunities. So I think we need to be aggressive, we need to be bold, we can't be scared of change. And we have to fundamentally challenge the status quo and do it with a real sense of urgency. What we're doing now is not going to get us as a country, as an economy, it's providing opportunities for individual children and families, it's not going to get us where we need to go. We need to think very, very differently. And this is one of many areas, uh, that I would argue we have to think differently, and be much more creative and innovative than we have been, uh, in recent years.
Q: There are obviously computers in most schools now. It doesn't seem that the access to technology is the issue here. It's something else. It feels like the computers are not being used in the right way. Um -
DUNCAN: Well, I think in a [unintelligible] it's hard to generalize. You have, you have places where it's being used in phenomenal ways. I mean, world, cutting-edge world-class, absolutely. But to, to your point, that's probably more the exception than the norm. And in too many places maybe it's not being used creat--creatively enough. Uh, maybe the teachers don't have the knowledge to really help students be engaged. And it, to me it's not just technology for technology's sake, but technology as a teaching tool. It's not a standalone class. It's how you're integrating technology into everything you're doing. And again, I, I think yeah, we have lots of room to improve there, uh, to get better, to challenge the status quo. No question. And we need to do it. We need to do it.
Q: So where do you start? In terms of training teachers?
DUNCAN: Well, I think it's two things. It's, it's part teacher training and professional development, and access. But I also think again it's part of, how do we think about this next generation of teachers. And how do we re--how do we bring them in? And what does, it's even broader questions. What does school look like, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years from now. What does education look like? And it may look very very different than how it looks today. And so i--it, it's not just about teacher training. That's absolutely a piece of it. It's not just about recruiting the next generation of great talent, that's a piece of it. It's fundamentally thinking, how do we help our students learn? How do we deliver content? How do we think about all the different tools that we talked about earlier?
And, and we, we, uh, have some challenges, but, uh, I think a major opportunity as a country to be much more creative. And innovative in this area.
Q: So, just paint me a picture. Ten years out, what might a classroom look like?
DUNCAN: Well, I think to me it's less around seat time and more around mastering content. And it's not about just sitting in class, and listening to a teacher. It's about demonstrating an ability to, to master a set of skills. And that might be learned, um, sitting f--in front of a teacher, and learning from them. It might be learned working in a computer. It might be learned uh, playing on your cell phone, on your own time, at, you know, 9:00 at night. And so it's really about thinking about multiple ways to deliver information, to deliver content to, to, to uh, children. Figuring out how best to engage them and really focusing on their ability to master a set of skills that we think are important and not about just sitting in class.
Q: You're talking about a set of skills. What are these skills? I mean, what are these 21st-century skills everybody's so concerned about?
DUNCAN: Well, I think there's just, there's a, a set of different skills. I think the ability to think critically, and express your ideas verbally, and on paper is very important. The ability to interact with, with other people and to work in a diverse community I think is very, very important. The i--the ability to, to network. The ability to, uh, be a continuous learner. And continue to develop your own skills. And so I think there's a set of things that we want students to be able to, to be able to do. But to think, to learn, to be able to, to, to, uh, to create, uh, to create your own knowledge, I think is hugely important.
Q: So it sounds like mastering a defined set of content is less important than the skills to--
DUNCAN: An ability to, to be a continuous learner. I think that's the biggest thing. You know, it's not about just memorizing facts. It's about how do you continue to learn. And how do you continue to, uh, to increase your knowledge of, of areas that are of huge interest to you. And how do you interact with other people? And how do you communicate your ideas to others as well, effectively?
Q: I'm a parent, too. I have three kids. And I, I wrestle with this a lot, this question of wanting them to, wanting them to be in a, in a technologically rich environment, in which they can, you know, learn all these new skills, but there's another part of me that worries that, you know, they're spending already so much of their time in, on screens. You know, they're on their cell phones and they're playing games, and they're doing all of this stuff with computers and so much of their life will be spent sitting in front of a computer. That I wonder sometimes if schools shouldn't be an oasis from that. If schools shouldn't be an opportunity for them to have access to all sorts of other things they're not going to get anywhere else.
DUNCAN: That's an interesting question. I think I'm always looking for balance. Look, too much of anything is too much. But to argue that school should be... an oasis away from that, I would argue is the wrong thing, quite frankly your children, children growing up in middle class communities and middle class families often have access to a whole set of technology that disadvantaged children don't have. And I would argue that rather than schools being an oasis, schools need to be a place of opportunity. And where children don't grow up with two parents at home, and, you know, three computers in the house, and access to those kinds of things, that if we don't impact that earlier, the impacts of the dig--digital divide are going to be huge for children who aren't quite as lucky as your children and my children. DUNCAN (continued) : So I don't think schools should necessarily be an oasis, aw--away from this. In some places it has to be a, a place to, to catch up and to, to equalize opportunity. But I think a sense of balance, which is what you're aiming for, is important for, to all of us as, as parents and to providing that sense of balance to our children. Yes, you don't want them sitting in front of a screen 18 hours a day. That's not healthy, I would absolutely agree with that.
Q: Do we know if it's healthy? I mean, do we know anything about the way it's affecting the brains of young children?
DUNCAN: Again, I just go back to, too much of anything is too much. And you want children learning, you want them working on the computer, but you also want them out, playing in the grass and having fun with their friends. And uh, I, I think parental instincts would be you know, pre--pretty good in this area.
Q: Back to this issue of the digital divide, which you just began to raise. Um, I mean, there are those who say the digital divide is different than what we thought it was. It isn't as simple as just access to technology. It's more complicated than that. How do you see today's digital divide?
DUNCAN: Well, let me just take it one step further, that we talk so much about the achievement gap. And there's an absolute, real achievement gap. What I focus on much more than that, though is what I call the opportunity gap. And this is about providing students from every single background real opportunities to learn and grow and fulfill their tremendous potential. And in too many communities, you don't have access to the technology, you don't have access to the teachers who understand the, the technology. You don't have access to the out-of-school learning opportunities that other students have. And where you have great opportunity gaps, guess what? That leads to the achievement gap.
And so I'm a big believer in trying to make sure every child, but particularly those children who come from historically, you know, disadvantaged communities, or families who, or who haven't had these kind of chances, if we're serious about ending poverty, if we're serious about ending cycles of social failure, we have to provide children with great technology, with great teachers, and with a chance to learn and develop their skills in ways that their older brothers and sisters and parents simply have not had. We have to end those cycles.
Q: Very interesting. With the stimulus money that you, that you have, where do you see the sort of first priority being in terms of education technology? Where do you, where do you want to point it first?
DUNCAN: Well, the, the stimulus money is a huge investment in education, but is onetime money. It's not ongoing money. So, what are great used of onetime money? Working on the technology side, dramatically increasing access, and secondly, massive professional development, are two uses of onetime money that are great uses of money where the dividends, the benefits will far outlast the, the flow of dollars. So working on the, the, the actual technology side itself, as well as making sure the adults have the ability to use it, to be effective, to work collaboratively with it, we think are great, great uses of, of stimulus dollars.
Q: So training teachers to use the technology, not just giving them the technology.
DUNCAN: Tr--right. And training them to, to use it together. You know, how are schools this c--you know, collaboratively. You talked earlier about a school that had made a remarkable improvement, uh, with an influx of technology. Bt it's not the technology itself that's driving the improvement. It's adults in the building behaving differently together, I'd, I'd wager heavily that that's what's really making the difference. So it's creating the time and space for adults to figure out how they come together to use the technology to help drive instruction and to help students, uh, dramatically improve, uh, outcomes.
Q: And do you see the teacher's role as shifting from being one in which the teacher is sort of an imparter of information, to one in which the teacher is more of a facilitator of the self-learning?
DUNCAN: Absolutely. And again, this goes way beyond technology. I think that's what great teachers have always done. Great teachers have, have never just stood up and lectured and expect--they've engaged. They've asked questions. They've, they've challenged students to think about their, you know, to think critically, to be able to articulate why they believe something. And debate it. Debate that in the classroom. That's always been great teaching. That's always been the heart of great teaching. And technology just gives you another tool to continue to do that. Not a new idea at all. Age-old idea. But a new t--a new tool to help you get there.
Q: Do you think that, um, I mean, in the, in the laptop school that I, that I filmed in, uh, the teachers are actually monitoring the kids laptops. Thy actually have a remote monitoring system set up so they can actually access what the kids are doing. This is a middle school. And it makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, when you actually see it in action, you kind of flinch, because there's something slightly invasive about it. What do you, where do you, do you think that has to play a role once kids have their own laptops?
DUNCAN: I think again, having the real adult supervision is, is helpful. And is important. And, you know, there's a fine line there, you don't want to be Big Brother, but at the same time you want to make sure that students aren't looking or doing things that are inappropriate. You know, make sure, most importantly, that they're doing their own work. That they're creating their own content, that they're, you know, putting on paper things that they've learned and worked on themselves. If that's not happening, if students are, you know, skating by, uh, we're obviously not beginning to teach the values we want them to, to learn, and, and to, and to live by. And they're not going to be successful long-term, because you're not going to be able to cheat your way, as you know, through, you know, through, through life.
And so it's very important, I think, and if you do, if you build the habits right early, and instill the habits right early, I think a lot of those things will take care of themselves later on. But they do need to be addressed. They do need to be talked about and dealt with, honestly and forthrightly. Particularly again with younger children. And I think if you do that well, if you build that solid foundation of base, a lot of these issues I think go away over time. Children, children will get it. Children understand.
Q: We were in South Korea filming, and we filmed in an elementary school. And these kids are learning netiquette. Starting in first grade. They're, they're, and it's not just about avoiding predators. It's really about how you talk to each other online. You know, how do you make friends? What's the difference between having an anonymous friend and having a real friend. Do you see a role for this in the American system?
DUNCAN: There's a new set of opportunities that present a new set of, of challenges and potential dangers. There's there, you know, a new language, netiquette, etiquette, uh, however you want to say it, um. I think it is important. I think that is important that students know how, that young people know how to interact, what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. I think you're seeing today some inappropriate things happening in some places. And you know, having these sort of honest, forthright conversations, having real lessons about this, having conversations in the classroom about what is and is not, uh, safe, uh, appropriate, um, I think that makes a lot of sense.
And if you avoid, you know, sometimes the questions might be, or the conversations might be a little hard, a little awkward. But if you avoid them, I think you do our, our children a disservice. So I think engaging those kids of conversations can be very, very helpful. Again, particularly, uh, early on.
Q: So do you see this as something that might be federally mandated, or state-mandated?
DUNCAN: Well, again, I'm not big on federal mandates, you know [laughs]. But I think what, I see we have a huge opportunity here. We talked about the stimulus dollars, but we have this Race to the Top money, we have 650 million dollars, this Innovation Fund, Invest in What Works, we have a huge opportunity to have technology really drive, drive instruction here. And so this to me is not about federal mandates. This is about us investing in what works, taking to scale best practices, whether it's in this country or other places, and really making sure again that particularly the children who haven't had access to these kinds of opportunities have it and get it soon. And so that's what it's about. This is not mandates. It's about scaling up best practices, about investing in what works, and really being innovative, being creative, uh, being cutting-edge, and giving every child a chance to be successful. That's what I see our role as.