The Beginning of a Movement

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an action-oriented summit, Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World, co-hosted by the Department of Education and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It was a fascinating event, and I witnessed and participated in what felt like the beginning of a movement.

We know that the world today is more connected than ever. In particular, through advancements in technology, we now can stay connected — to each other, our jobs, our interests, and our passions — essentially all the time. The same ought to be true for our students and their education — students should have learning experiences that relate to and take advantage of their passions and interests. What they learn in an after-school program or activity should inform and relate to what they learn in school. And all of that should extend to what they learn at home with their families. This represents a shift in how we think about learning and education. Learning now happens all the time and everywhere, and we shouldn’t feel bound by narrow conceptions of when and where learning takes place (i.e., in school, during school hours). The challenge going forward will be designing and creating learning experiences for our students that properly match our modern, connected world (both in the literal, technical sense, and the broader, conceptual sense). That was the main challenge tackled by the participants in the Reimagining Education summit.

This is not just an academic question; it’s a concrete challenge we must address to make school and learning as exciting as we know they can be. But we have a ways to go: According to the 2012 Gallup Student Poll, 76 percent of elementary school students reported being highly engaged in school, but only 44 percent of high school students reported the same level of engagement. So there’s an urgent need and opportunity to create more engaging learning experiences — especially at the high school level — for our nation’s students.

On the second day of the summit, participants split themselves into groups to discuss and develop concrete ideas or projects to advance the movement to create more engaging, relevant, connected learning experiences for our students. The topics ranged from developing discrete projects to create better tools for parents to know about and connect with what their kids learned in school that day to broader discussions about the policy and technical barriers that might prevent these types of learning experiences from reaching our students.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined us during the summit, and one of the highlights was a panel discussion with several standout educators led by him and NBA All-Star Chris Paul. Judging from Secretary Duncan’s blog about his experience at the summit, you can tell he left it just as inspired and excited as I was!

Sujeet Rao is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement