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The Web Revolution: This is Just the Beginning

"Take a look at the smartphone in your hand," Jaime Casap, Global Education Evangelist for Google, told the crowd during his keynote at the FETC 2013 conference in Orlando Wednesday. "That smartphone is just a phone to a kid. And to many kids, it isn't even a phone."

Casap pulled his own phone from his pocket. "What you have in your hand is going to be their Commodore 64. It's going to be their Apple IIe. When they're in their twenties, it's going to be the thing they buy at a thrift store and put on a shelf in their hipster apartment just because it's cool to have one." That's the generation, he said, that's coming into our schools, and we need to be ready for that.

"The computer revolution brought unbelievable change in very rapid fashion." Over the last 10 years, he argued, we have seen the Internet become embedded in our culture, creating an environment where most of us simply take the Web for granted.

"How many," he asked, "have NOT been on the Web today?" No hands went up. "If you think about it," he said, "it wasn't that long ago that we had to call the Internet on the telephone. And the Web would hang up on us." Today we complain when we attend a conference and can't connect all twelve of our devices to the WiFi. Whether we like it not, he said, the Web is an important part of our learning environment, and it is impacting the decisions we make in education.

According to Casap, education has always been "the silver Bullet that can change the destiny of a family in a generation." It's a reality, he said, that's being threated by the widening achievement gap between rich and poor. "I'm a little worried that we're not closing that gap fast enough. But at the same time," he continued, "I am extremely optimistic because where you grow up, your access to resources, and your family background are no longer an issue." It's no longer an issue because we have the Web.

"The Web is changing how our students learn." It's changing their access to information and their interactions with one another. Casap showed a picture of a young boy sitting on a couch, laptops flanking him on either side. "This is my eleven year-old," he said, "who, on one machine, is playing Minecraft and, on the other machine, is watching videos on how to play Minecraft." This is how our students are learning. They are teaching each other and they are learning from the Web.

According to Casap, in a matter of a few weeks, his son went from learning how to play the game to playing the game to collaborating with friends on playing the game to recording videos in order to teach others how to play the game. "Learning doesn't happen Monday through Friday, from this time to that time," he said. "This generation of kids are growing up consistently learning all the time."

For Jaime Casap, this new environment only solidifies a teacher's position as "the most important person in the classroom." K-12, he said, is on the cutting edge of what education models are going to look like, making it more important than ever that we "create and develop great teachers." And these teachers, he continued, need to use the tools at their disposal to build digital leaders.

For Casap, modes of learning are being forever changed by the nature of the Web and if we are going to rise to the challenge we need to redefine the structures of education in this new world. "We need to bring back curiosity," he said. "We need to bring back our creativity. We need to be ok with not knowing everything, and we need to encourage collaboration and iteration."

Ultimately, said Casap, the question isn't "how do we use technology in the classroom," but "how do we utilize the Web as a learning platform." It's no longer a question of what you want to be when you grow up, but what problem you want to solve. "The information is out there," he said, and we have to help them learn how to look for it, and how to make sense of it when they find it.

About the Author

Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.