Coming from the background of having a career in education, the PBS special "Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century" is a topic of great importance to me. There are two distinct viewpoints in modern education when it comes to technology, specifically the type carried by students on a daily basis, while both viewpoints agree this technology can be a distraction, the distinction comes when the notion of integrating that technology into learning is brought up. There are the tried and true stalwarts of a quickly vanishing era that things need to be kept traditional with no outside distractions and then those, who accept reality, that no amount of restrictions will eliminate students possessing this technology and if they can be utilized to improve the quality of education, then that is one to chalk up in the wins column
"Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century" attempts in less than one-hour to "sell" audiences familiar with education and those who are not, on the new frontier of learning, by examining a variety of educational programs where technology is used on a daily basis. Here's the problem: the situations presented are truly remarkable, no doubt about it, but ultimately the presentation is like showing off a high-end concept car to the general public. Sure we'd all like things to go as shown in the program, but the reality is, the situations featured in the documentary aren't just feasible on a widespread basis, yet. Unfortunately, the program does little to address the average educational situation and ultimately does a minor disservice to its intended message.
If one is willing to really look closely beyond what the interviewees are saying, then real, practical applications of technology are found. Coming from that standpoint as an educator, that's where the true value of the program lies, seeing what parts of an entire program can be adapted in an environment, where money is primarily the limiting factor of the new approach to learning. The sheer lack of focus on how an impoverished district could integrate technology is a huge fumbling point and only in the closing moments does one expert make mention of the two futures: one where less wealthy children learn the standards and prepare themselves for a trade and privileged children learn to be critical thinkers in a modern society or a second where every opinion and background is welcomed in the quest for a wholly intelligent society. Those without the real knowledge of modern education won't understand how important that notion is and frankly PBS should have done more to address it.
By and large, "Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century" is a fascinating viewing and learning experience. In less than an hour, the program is in constant motion, never stagnating, always moving onto something new and exciting. While specific details would have been appreciated, specifically exactly how these tech-savvy school assess learning in contrast to a more "traditional" school, the program is truthfully, not intended to do more than raise awareness and act as a stepping stone into further research; there is no denying the successes shown and at the very least, the program succeeds in proving the old-school philosophy as technology as pure distraction incredibly false.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features a color palette on the warm side of the spectrum, with slightly average detail. There's a minimal amount of digital noise on what is by all accounts a solid transfer for a documentary feature.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track handles dialogue skillfully with clean reproduction, the backgrounds of more open scenes sound a little hollow and muddled and the forgettable score is generally dialed back. English SDH subtitles are included.
A series of extended interviewees from experts running around 45-minutes in length is the lone extra. In actuality, this feature answers many questions I had from the main program and is definitely worth watching.
"Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century" is a good primer on how far some programs have come in terms of integrating technology, but by no means does it answer questions on just how these method can be brought to the average neighborhood classroom. Rent It.