Esther Wojcicki: "All teachers and students need the skills that a journalist has"

“The number one challenge education has is in addressing they are not teaching the soft skills. They are not teaching social-emotional skills. They are not teaching compassion and empathy. They are not teaching critical thinking.”

Esther Wojcicki, journalist, educator, and vice chair of the Creative Commons advisory council, talks with the Observatory about the importance of teaching journalism skills, Open Education Resources and technology in class.

Read the full transcript:

The Observatory (O): How can teachers make better use of Open Education Resources?

Wojcicki (W): There are a lot of open education resources, and I've worked on those for at least 10 or 15 years and they're sanctioned by the United Nations. You know they are everywhere. I think the number one problem with Open Education Resources is they are not ranked, they are not graded. Also, they are categorized but the categories are too big. Teachers can easily use some of those resources, they're open, and they're free. But as a teacher, I know that the number one problem is that you don't have any time. Teachers have no time. It is hard to find a resource that you need that will work for your class in a short period of time. That's why they're not as effective as they could be.

However, I met somebody recently in Europe. I was in Brussels recently, and they are going to try to categorize these resources and make them more searchable. I think that would benefit teachers all over the world because there are free textbooks, beautiful free textbooks, and up to date and more people should make use of those. Teachers who don't have those resources can go online and find them. But I'm just warning you it's going to take a little bit more time than if you buy it. If you buy it then you know it’s all there. When I used them, it was because I didn't have the resources and I wanted to find something free. I think that in all parts of the world it is useful if you can spend the time finding them.

O: What skills can teachers adopt from journalism?

W: All teachers and students need the skills that a journalist has. Every single student on the planet. That is how to collect information. How to figure out what is the most important in all that information that you collected. Then how to communicate that in a way that is going to be effective for whoever you want to talk to about it. Also, how to use it and publish it on the web. It is technical skills. All those skills are important for every student. Everybody in the world should have journalism skills and they should be incorporated in some class. Actually multiple years. I would suggest grade 10, 11 or 12. It could be in a Social studies class it or in a language class. I personally like having a journalism class but a lot of schools don't have the time in the day, or they don't want to revise the curriculum. I'm just saying, put it in one of the classes you already have.

Being in the system, I know how hard it is to adopt new things. It's not so hard to adopt a four-week unit, but it's really hard to change for a whole new class. Just put it in somewhere. You decide where, but those skills are really important.

O: How to empower students to use technologies in the classroom and at home in a meaningful way?

W: It would be best if students could be taught in class what websites are reliable information? What different kinds of websites they can use for learning different things? Like Khan Academy has a lot of good information. Coursera has good information. Udacity has good information. You need to tell kids in class. Give them the names. Why don't you get started looking at these websites? And then take it, do it at home too. Then come to class and let's talk about which sites you found that you thought were the most useful and what did you find.

I learn stuff from kids all the time. In the things that they find. We all learn from each other, but they have to first experiment with it at home, then at school, and then share that information. There is a website in the United States called Common Sense Media, which ranks a lot of websites for parents. It helps parents pick websites that are geared toward kids, so their child is not going on a website that is inappropriate.

O: What are the critical challenges that education is not addressing?

W: The number one challenge education has is in addressing they are not teaching the soft skills. They are not teaching social-emotional skills. They are not teaching compassion and empathy. They are not teaching critical thinking. They are not. You can't learn to communicate if you don't do it. You can't read a book about how to communicate and then suddenly do it just like I said in that presentation. You can't learn to be a surgeon by reading a book about it. You actually have to watch somebody and do it yourself. You know, no one wants to be operated by a surgeon that read about it in a book. Might cut out the wrong thing.

O: How can teachers and students with limited access to technologies do to be better prepared for the challenges of the future?

W: A lot of schools have limited access to technology, so they don't have Wi-Fi. It is a problem. Actually here in Mexico, there are companies that offer servers, they update them once a week to get new information, and then that server distributes information to the students. They feel like they're online, but it's really a local server that is doing it. Sometimes you can have one server for the school depending on the size of the school. Sometimes you have to have one server per classroom. The servers are not expensive. The government can easily afford that.

They can afford to buy Chromebooks. They are like two hundred dollars a Chromebook. You can drop it and then buy a new one. You know it's not like the Apple computer that is over a thousand dollars. Or you know some of the other computers or a thousand bucks but that Chromebook does the same thing, and it's cheap.  For schools I recommend the Chromebook because children do make mistakes. But I do recommend computer over a tablet. Although you know if people want to use tablets. Then I recommend it for kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, or some schools use tablets all the way up through eighth grade. Better to use a tablet than to use nothing. But I think it's easier for the kids to have a keyboard to type in than on a tablet.