By: Kristen Meredith
The role of technology in education has been frequently discussed over the past several months. Though the internet is already utilized in many educational settings, many believe that America is on the brink of an education revolution in which new digital platforms will transform our educational system.
Institutions of higher education have been especially eager to position themselves at the forefront of this transformation. Many are taking great initiative to develop their own digital platforms and experiment with different ways of integrating technology and learning. Just this month, twelve prominent universities, including Rice and Johns Hopkins, have announced that they plan to partner with  the online education platform Coursera . Founded last year by two Stanford computer scientists, Coursera provides free massive open online courses (MOOCs) and plans to offer over 100 courses available by the fall. This expansion will be a significant addition to Coursera’s five original partners (Michigan, Stanford, Princeton, Penn, and the University of Edinburgh). Yet Coursera has already registered 680,000 students in its short life, demonstrating the amazingly widespread reach of online education platforms.
Coursera is just one of many recent promising endeavors in online education . MIT’s Open Courseware program already offers over 2,000 online courses; Udacity, founded by Stanford professor Sebastian Thurn, reaches as many as 150,000 students per online course; and the Khan Academy’s 3,000 video lessons are widely used tools for both independent and classroom learning. While these recent developments are mostly concentrated in higher education, schools and educational organizations are also in the process exploring how they can use new technology to enhance their offerings.
So how could this impact NFTE? During a conversation with Amy Rosen, NFTE’s President and CEO, we discussed just that. She said that NFTE is in the process of examining whether, in the long run, the organization could create a full digital experience. According to Amy, NFTE is essentially asking: “What would it look like if we took our approach, which is highly experiential, and tried to create an online version which would capture that?” Through such an online program, NFTE might be able to expand its reach to many students without access to NFTE classroom programs.
More immediately, NFTE is always looking for ways to integrate technology into classroom programs to enhance the delivery of the NFTE curriculum. For example, students can benefit immensely from online tools and research as they formulate their business plans. One example which Amy gave is that, “Now, with technology that’s available, [NFTE] can have kids experiment much earlier on in the business creation process… If they have ideas, they can go online and see if people would buy those kinds of things around the opportunity recognition process, before they decide what they want to do and go into the actual business plan phase.” Additionally, NFTE is exploring the possibility of students using online tools at home alongside their NFTE classroom lessons. For instance, the NFTE curriculum incorporates over 200 algebra and pre-algebra lessons. If students could use online tools to help them build this foundation outside of class, this would provide NFTE teachers with more class time for interactive activities.
One major concern, no matter what the digital method of teaching, is how to replicate the experiential learning component of the NFTE experience. Student interaction and mentorship are key to the NFTE classroom model, and Amy emphasized that any online platform needs to offer these same benefits.
Kristen Meredith is a summer 2012 intern at NFTE. She is currently a sophomore at Middlebury College.