“Digital age teachers should be interacting with kids in a very different way.” – Milton Chen, USA

Milton Chen has been at the forefront of innovation in education throughout his long career in media, exploring new ways to reach and teach children from pre-school through higher education. Chen led research efforts at Sesame Workshop (producer of the long-running and iconic children’s program Sesame Street, among others).  He also managed TV programming, web content, and outreach services for schools and families at San Francisco’s PBS station, KQED. But it was in his work at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, creators of Edutopia.org, Edutopia Magazine and documentary films designed to communicate a new vision for 21st century schools, that Chen found his calling. In fact, Chen’s travels put him in touch with so many educators seeking guidance, he authored the book, Education Nation: Seven Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools, to help teachers make the shift to 21st century teaching.

The book, which, according to Chen, is something of a “best of” collection from his work at Edutopia, explores the important shifts needed to rebuild an outmoded education system. The biggest adjustment required? “We should be changing our thinking in many different ways about schools and learning, and that’s the hardest shift for most people,” says Chen.

“Policymakers and educators around the world are trying to figure out what is a 21st century learning environment,” Chen told me in a recent conversation. “Knowing that kids have access to information changes the learning paradigm very fundamentally. Most importantly, it places much more responsibility and, hopefully, authority for their own learning on the students themselves, and that is often something that is difficult for policymakers — and sometimes even educators — to understand. We want kids to be the hardest working people in the classroom, and not just the teacher.”

Chen firmly believes that more flexibility and freedom are critical to helping teachers and students adjust to the new learning environment. And that comes with rethinking our approach to assessments. Chen also notes that technology and the Internet have liberated information around the world, and that the same liberation and freedom will be needed to achieve true innovation in the classroom. “You have to acknowledge what students want to learn,” he told me, “and connect that up with the core curriculum.”

Dr. Chen and I covered a wide range of topics in this conversation, from research about how pre-schoolers learn, to the inevitable changes facing educators and the tools available to support them. Please join today’s Daily Edventure, with educational media trailblazer Dr. Milton Chen.

About Milton Chen

Dr. Milton Chen is a senior fellow and executive director emeritus of The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), a nonprofit operating foundation that utilizes media, especially its multimedia website Edutopia.org, award-winning magazine, Edutopia: The New World of Learning, and documentary films, to communicate a new vision for 21st century schools. Prior to joining GLEF in 1998, Chen was the founding director of the KQED Center for Education (PBS) in San Francisco, managing KQED’s TV programming, web content, and outreach services for schools and families. He has been a director of research at Sesame Workshop, working on Sesame Street,The Electric Company, and 3-2-1 Contact, and an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He chairs the advisory council for the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania and is a trustee of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, devoted to environmental stewardship. His work has been honored by the Congressional Black Caucus, and he has received the Elmo Award from Sesame Workshop and the Fred Rogers Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Chen received an A.B. in Social Studies from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in Communication Research from Stanford University. Perhaps most importantly, on his 50th birthday, he was named a Jedi Master by George Lucas. 

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