The bending of space and time is a science fiction concept. The idea of entering another dimension (like when you’ve done something really stupid that your wife is going to scream about when she gets home), or going back at least five minutes so you can stop yourself from sending that career-limiting email or tweet, is very tempting. And yeah, it ain’t gonna happen.

But bending time and space for the sake of turning out smarter kids, more prepared to meet the challenges of the world once they graduate, is absolutely a reachable goal. And digital transformation is the path.

This involves re-imagining the space in which kids absorb material, work together, present their work and ideas, and provide the metrics that educators use to perfect the process with each iteration. It also means compressing the timelines for providing coursework, measuring student progress on that work, and using the results to sculpt the next generation of geniuses. Learning happens in a different space, and a different pace.

I wrote a book on identity, access and other aspects of security. It’s been good to me, my career, my customers, and the charity we give the proceeds to. And there’s not a day goes by I haven’t thought, “Crap, I wish I’d included this, or rewritten that.” But too late. It’s committed to paper. The space is set, and the time has passed.

But when you create not just educational material but also a process for delivery, and in a digital mode, you have an amazing capacity to observe, report, and correct. A digital process by its very nature is documenting itself and teaching its creators what works and what doesn’t. And because it’s digital, changes can be made and instantly published. Meanwhile, the coursework itself can be posted for grading. Learning is iterative, so first drafts, second drafts, final versions can be turned around more quickly, and the process more interactive. Many teachers already accept homework via Dropbox and email. But a proper digital platform, driven by process (perhaps even workflow) rather than “I sent you some stuff, didja get it?”, makes this truly a smooth journey rather than a series of events.

The use of mobile learning devices, and/or the incorporation of user-owned devices, gives teachers the opportunity to quickly distribute lesson plans, supporting material, and feedback. It lets them receive, grade, and turn back classwork.

The content that a lesson is based on can be digitally marked up, even by the students themselves (as they find mistakes or generate helpful suggestions that might be useful to next year’s class), without the need to deface a textbook. Because that content is centrally hosted, corrections can be beamed to everyone, with a click. Given the immediacy of electronic submissions, those corrections can be helpful to everybody right now.

Another area of learning that can be digitally enhanced is collaboration. Teams can participate in joint websites, chat rooms, or other browser-based lairs. Let’s look at a common problem with class teamwork, and the DX solution.

I have one kid out of college and gainfully employed. I have one more with a year to go, and she still has the same complaint about working in a team that she did in third grade: there’s always one or two kids doing all the heavy lifting, while the rest contribute little and share in the grade. The industrious ones usually hate to rat out the less gifted or motivated ones. Sure, the laggards benefits from others’ work, but it costs them later when the boss figures out who’s really pitching in, and downsizes the rest.

In a digitally-transformed team project, it’s possible to measure the contributions and take action as needed.

Teachers can digitally observe who submits what, in what quantity and quality, and even the progression of joint material. The team can request help or additional information, individually or as a group, and now the teacher sees how they collaborate, or even IF they collaborate. Requirements may change for the kids who aren’t pitching in, to make sure that

  1. They’re benefiting from the assignment, and
  2. The kids doing the bulk of the work aren’t discouraged or resentful. The intervention is informed and more timely.

Whether the situation is based on individuals or a group, educators can use this self-documenting, real-time observation process to see HOW students learn. The act of learning has always been about process, which is why we start with times tables and progress to quadratic equations. But by digitally enhancing this process, we can determine how the process itself is working, and not just by grades. The interaction, the journey, the give and take, these become self-sharpening.

Another skill that becomes increasingly handy as students work together or progress to the working world is how they seek, acquire, and leverage additional information. In the course of an assignment, they can digitally raise their hand, and the teacher can subsequently and digitally observe how recommendations are adopted, if at all.

These real-time, digital observations can help administrators fine-tune their approach, sharpen their materials, encourage the doers, and intervene with the stragglers. Not every student possesses the same gifts or even the same motivation, so it’s not about bringing all of them up to the same level. It’s about ensuring that kids don’t get left behind. This is especially critical in the early years, when a pattern can be set, for good or bad, and can linger throughout an educational career. It’s also critical near the end, such as the second half of college, when students are hopefully developing the habits that can help them snag that first post-grad job.

I’m married to a brilliant math tutor who spent years teaching in classrooms, and is constantly in demand. I see how she reaches kids from first grade through college. Nothing replaces a teacher. But digital tools can serve as powerful accelerators, for dispersing educational material, then gathering data on healthy participation and behavior. Identifying healthy behaviors, boosting the good and correcting the wayward, can put kids on a better path more quickly. Good teachers do that already. Good tools can help them identify, improve, and iterate on a more powerful and meaningful scale.

We don’t want to turn out robots, and we can’t substitute for teachers. But digital transformation for education does possess the potential to help teachers enable the next generation to not simply be in line for a career, but rather conquer that scary new world after they graduate.