How do you prepare students for jobs that have yet to be invented? That question is at the core of Yong Zhao’s research and his new book, World Class Learners, published by Corwin in 2012, which examines some of the ways that students and teachers are harnessing technology to become more global, creative, and entrepreneurial. In his book and on his popular blog, zhaolearning. com, he argues that the race for higher standardized test scores is hurting society and he makes the case for a more thoughtful approach to educating the global citizens of tomorrow.
“So far our schools have focused on using technology as a tool for transmitting knowledge or on making students consumers of information,” Zhao says. “But technology is a better vehicle for creation. We can use technology to turn students from consumers to creators and through creating we stimulate new learning.”
As Presidential Chair and associate dean for global education at the College of Education at the University of Oregon—and 2011–12 director of the UO Center for Advanced Technology in Education—Zhao has positioned himself squarely at the intersection of technology and education. He has written dozens of articles and books and was recently named one of the ten most influential people in educational technology for 2012 by Tech & Learning Magazine. Earlier this year, he offered his vision of a twenty-first-century classroom when he spoke before a large audience in San Diego at the conference for the International Society for Technology in Education, an annual gathering of more than 20,000 education professionals.
“A twenty-first-century school? It’s very simple, actually,” Zhao says. “Every student has a personalized learning experience based on his or her strengths and passions.”
Zhao’s vision began shifting into focus in 2012 with the launch of Oba, a UO-sponsored online portal that takes its name from the three middle letters in the word “global.” It presents students and teachers with opportunities Yong Zhao, a professor and Presidential Chair in the Department of Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership, is associate dean for global education at the College of Education. to make connections and pursue their specialties—a virtual campus of sorts where students aren’t just learning, but also producing and exchanging ideas with peers and educators from around the world in real time.
Of course online education is not a novel idea. Integral to the Oba vision is that it’s the students and teachers who create the opportunities and drive the learning experience. And, with few access barriers in place, the service will catch on quickly, says Zhao, who has a goal of reaching millions of students within the first few years of operation.
The possibilities for Oba are still being realized. A student from the U.S. could seek help with her algebra homework from a Chinese student, who in turn asks the American student for advice applying to U.S. colleges. Or the Oba network could help connect students in smaller school districts with a teacher who can lead a virtual class on Shakespeare, Arabic, holistic health, or some other specialized subject. A teacher in New York might offer to share her research on Andy Warhol with an art student from Tokyo in exchange for some practice with her conversational Japanese.
“It’s like pen pals, but at a much higher level,” Zhao explains. “It’s Facebook with a meaningful mission.”