Creative La. Speaker Brian Dixon on the Future of the Classroom

May 24, 2012

Dr. Brian Dixon is an author, educator and entrepreneur and a major proponent of media technology in the classroom. (Tegan Wendland/WRKF)

Classrooms aren't as simple as they used to be - traditional chalk boards and pencils used to do the trick, but now computers play a huge rule in the way our kids learn.

Educator, author, and founder of the Mentorship Academy of Digital Arts, Brian Dixon, says that's a good thing. At his charter school in downtown Baton Rouge smartboards and iPads are the norm. He's the featured speaker at this month's Creative Louisiana and WRKF's Tegan Wendland talked with him about using technology in the classroom and the future of education.

WENDLAND: What are some examples of things that you've found really work?

DIXON: It's very important to build your audience. It's important to build a following and figure out who your "tribe" is, that's what author Seth Goden calls it, your "tribe." And once you find people that are really passionate about what you're passionate about you can really leverage that into a career by connecting with those pockets of people all over the world but connected through technology.

WENDLAND: Is there anything specifically that you could speak to as far as bring iPads into the classroom, or kids having their individual devices that they're working with, or the whiteboard technology that's become so popular...

DIXON: The smartboards, or they call them "promethean boards" now. It's important to use technology in the classroom because our world has changed and it's important to get students engaged in this technology. And so, yes, teachers use iPads, laptops, cell phones, even - it's important to use today's technology with today's students to prepare them for tomorrow's world.

WENDLAND: So far, I'm under the impression that you've only implemented these techniques at your own private charter school. Do you think that it's realistic for these strategies to be implemented on a larger scale within our public school system and how is that feasible?

DIXON: You know there's a move towards open-source, and so the Google-android operating system on cell phones is actually free. Many cell phone providers have these phones available, included in your contract, and these phones are actually more powerful than laptops seven to ten years ago, so the tools are readily available. But we do work with technophobic teachers - teachers are afraid to work with technology because they fear that they're going to lose control in their classroom when the answer is not ‘away from' but ‘through.' We need to be using technology to better engage our students to prepare them for the coming world.

WENDLAND: One of the videos that I saw that was kind of interesting on your website was with a teacher who had actually used the help of her students to help HER learn how to use her new tablet that maybe she wasn't familiar with before - the kids learned it and then taught her.

DIXON: You know it really is the first time in our history that we've ever had students that know more about the learning tools than the teachers. That just has never existed before. And it's going to continue - we need to move towards that by making sure our teachers trained in using that technology, but also look at the classroom structure in a different way. Instead of just that standard one teacher to 25 or 30 students, we need to look at that one to one, we need to look at online resources and intelligent tutoring services to individually deliver content and assessment to students.

WENDLAND: I was having some thoughts before we sat down about your approach really democratizing the classroom - and you did touch on that as far as the teacher-student exchange - but I wonder if there's some leveling of the playing field that is possible between schools that have more upper-income kids and schools that serve a more low-income population.

DIXON: The playing field is completely leveled. I have a student in 10th grade - over the weekend he produced his own song at a home recording studio, the whole studio probably cost him a few hundred dollars, it's basically a laptop and a microphone, and he emailed me that song. Think about that. He created a song over the weekend, he sent it to me via email and from my phone, in the car, while I was at a red light, I forwarded it on to my friend who's a producer of a record label in Atlanta. Think about the opportunities that our students now have because of technology to get connected to large companies, to amazing opportunities. It would have taken years for that interaction to happen and now it can happen in just a few seconds.

WENDLAND: Well, thanks so much for coming in.

DIXON: Thanks so much for having me.