I wrote the following about the time my Dad was passing away…some of the sadness found its way into this piece.
Before going to sleep one evening in September, 2006, my 12 year old daughter and I watched the first 30 minutes of Primetime’s Cruel Intentions. It was, essentially, an expose about girls and their electronic gadgets. The show should have been titled “Cyberbullying,” since that was what it was really about. However, Cruel Intentions seemed as good a name as any.
As we watched the show–which depicted teenage high school girls abusing each other via MySpace, IM, blogs, using camera phones to capture themselves and others in seductive or embarrassing poses–I was reminded of my first exploration of MySpace.com. My reaction then was to call for blocking of MySpace and similar sites in schools. The effect of the show was to reinforce my negative impression of MySpace. The most telling quote in the show was made by the father of a young boy who was bullied online, “Buying the computer was the worst mistake I ever made….“
It appears that giving kids access to the Read/Write web is like putting a loaded pistol in their hands without education. And, how many kids have to be bullied online before everyone wakes up (no, not you edubloggers…the other people who haven’t read your blogs) and realizes that digital citizenship, that education is the only way? As we listened to the show, I just gave my daughter long looks. We didn’t have to speak. We knew what the other was thinking. How many parents even realize that their children are involved in the more sinister side of the Read/Write Web? Administrators are caught between a rock and a hard place, a situation that Scott McLeod? (Dangerously Irrelevant) writes about:
- Some schools and districts are providing rich sets of tools for teachers and students to use for classroom purposes. These tools include e-mail accounts, network folders, web pages, parent portals, online chat, online threaded discussion areas, online whiteboards, online calendars, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and other similar tools. No district, however, is making all of these tools available to all teachers and, indeed, probably never can. The incredible (and burgeoning) diversity of available tools is simply too much for school systems to keep up with, more or less provide.
Disruptive technologies–exemplified by the ability to publish at will in text, audio, video formats or any combination of those–enhance our freedom of speech, freedom to assemble in virtual communities. Social networking tools like MySpace (or Facebook and Bebo) and YouTube grant freedom of speech and assembly to the masses in a way that the American Revolution never could. For this reason, disruptive technologies that connect people to each other are the greatest threat to the powerful who have traditionally controlled the means of publication. Unfortunately, that includes our schools.
In 2005, several school districts in Texas banned the words “ MySpace.com.” Not only did this word ban people from accessing MySpace.com, but it also kept educators from reading about it in online newspapers and digital citizenship sites. The reason for banning ranged from preventing flash mobs around the subject of immigration to preventing students from exposing themselves to cyber-predators. These blocks frustrated legitimate uses of Web 2.0 tools, and failed to prevent tech-savvy students from using freedom tools to access banned sites.
Yet, technology has advanced to the stage that school districts cannot keep up, short of closing off Internet access. Their only hope may be to create walled gardens–using Web 2.0 tools–that mimic the world but keep students, teachers safe. When you harness the power of a worldwide community to develop ways to bypass content filtering and site banning for freedom advocacy in countries like China, can we really expect a proprietary company to keep up? Consider the money that districts must invest to upgrade their technology watchdogs.
Districts are hopelessly out-gunned. In fact, as quickly as they can raise the funding to pay for technology watchdogs to upgrade their systems, online communities share ways around them. As districts take on the aspect of repressive regimes, they are drawn into the war between those who say, like the American Patrick Henry, “ Give me Liberty or Give me Death.” Is this, caught in a fight between liberty and oppression, where American schools should be?
**CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE**
As an educational technology administrator who champions Read/Write Web tools in schools today, I see that we are in the midst of a fight that we cannot win. Yet, how we lose, how we go down into the darkness must offer hope to those we serve, to those for whom we administer scarce resources, and, for each other. We face three terrific battles, and they are as follows:
- The Fight for Relevance
- The Fight for Connected Learning
- The Fight for Freedom from Consumerism
Redefining our vision of the future hinges on these three battles, conflicts that we can win only by losing. In fact, consider Ted Nellen’s words. They are invitation to despair, yet, also, something more that lies on the other side of defeat.
- I used to rant and rave and present and publish this for many years, but alas spitting in the wind has gotten the best of me and i have resigned myself to the demise of tech and substantial use of it in schools for the future because of the reactionary attitude of punishment and prohibition over the more intelligent choice of education of the user. as i have said before the adults who lead dont get it and never will. i have beat my head against this brick wall for too long, screamed and shouted till i’m hoarse, demonstrated the success potential for too long. as i near my twilight years, i am content to merely fade away on this topic as i see it getting worse and worse. we had our heyday and i dont see it happening again. camelot is dead and so it intelligent use of the tech in schools, IMHO.
Source: Ted Nellen, as cited in the Voice in the Wilderness Blog Entry
We must allow technology to not be “intelligently” used. Ted’s despair is our hope. We must abandon previous positions on the efficacy of technology in schools, and instead, use technology to amplify the human voice, the voices of our children. As parents, teachers, and administrators, it is our responsibility to do the right thing. That’s a simple expectation, incredibly difficult to accomplish.
On my way to work a few weeks ago, National Public Radio shared an interview with a musician who also happened to have been knighted. I regret that I couldn’t take notes and have forgotten every detail of the conversation, except what I’m about to share here. Let’s just say that as I listened to the story, I found a remarkable coincidence between the knight’s appraisal of how we treat hunger and education today. He said something along the lines of, “We know what the right things to do are, yet we consistently fail to do them.”
With such a quote, it would be easy to stop doing the right things, to say, “Aww heck, I’m giving up.” Yet, with the blogosphere, there are ample examples of teachers doing the right thing. Here is a short list of class blogs that I’ve surveyed recently. While there are literally hundreds of class blogs, I’m keeping this list short. You know the power of a child’s voice can galvanize a room of educators and parents. Why not take advantage of that? Here are four quick examples where you can find audio of children’s voices:
1) Paul Gates at Madison Elementary School. Ok, this teacher is in my own school district, but I have to shine a spotlight on this teacher to the ranks of blogging classrooms. Blogging as personal as you can get, and blogging classrooms are no different. Each depends on the personalities of the students, their background, etc. Paul’s students have consistently written about the garden that they keep, and everything they are learning about plants. You can find audio blog entries (a.k.a. podcasts) from individual students sharing what they have learned, written about, and drawn by hand. It is Paul’s class blog that has taught me the definition of a blog–an electronic notebook that facilitates conversations between those who blog there, as well visitors. Visit the blog online at http://lms.saisd.net/cblog/index.php?blog=6
2) Mark Ahlness‘ Mighty Writers Blog in Seattle, Washington. Mark’s class is using David Warlick’s ClassBlogmeister.com blogging tool, as are many others. There’s even a Junior SeaHawk Newsletter podcast along with print editions. If you’re wondering how to approach blogging and podcasting in schools, this is another example. Since I was a third grade teacher once–who thoroughly enjoyed teaching writing–I’d like to think that I might be doing what Mark’s doing now with his students.
3) Cheryl Oakes’ is doing a fantastic job with her blogmeister experience. What stands out for me, aside from the Audio Notes with Ms. Oakes, is something she wrote that sends such a terrific message to the rest of us in schools embroiled in the MySpace discussion:
This project is a great project for young people to start with, I am having a say in how they will use myspace and Xanga later on. I am not na?ve enough to believe that there will never be bullying or sharing information with this group of students but I do know that they know it is not COOL to share personal information and it is not COOL to be mean to someone. Students this age are really black and white when they view the world. I immediately get sticky messages or email when they observe someone has done wrong! These are teachable moments.
If only all of us took advantage of those teachable moments.
4) Kathy Cassidy’s Grade 1 blog, which I was introduced to in discussions online via the Class Blogmeister list, struggled recently with trying to get enhanced podcasts online. I love the fact that the student entries are unedited by the teacher, and that podcasts and images abound. One un-edited entry is this one, “It is olmoste easter in aprol my mom and dad will hide easter aggs it will be fun.”
It reminds me of how young writers shouldn’t be afraid to write what they’re thinking, even if the spelling and grammar are a bit off. While it is disappointing to see young teachers edit their children’s work prior to publication, it is always refreshing to see a teacher unafraid to share students’ writing “as is.” In the long run, students become better writers when they’re not edited into silence…a valuable lesson for administrators working with their teachers, too.
A quick laundry list of students podcasting appears below:
- I am So Scared Poem!
- Room 5 Podcasts
- Radio WillowWeb
- Mabry Middle School – Includes principal, teacher and student podcasts and blog entries.
- Long Elementary Podcasts
- Our City Podcast
Although there are many more blogging classrooms, these are a few that can be used as examples to demonstrate the power of writing, podcasting using blogging tools that are available for free. I hope that more will choose to do the right things with our children. If you would like to see a blog featured here, I encourage you to share it here and mention why it captured your attention!
Don’t underestimate the power of children’s voices. Let those voices fight for the freedom to use technology to learn in a way that is relevant, connected, and free. As educators, especially educators responsible for administering school environments, must awaken to the power within us to bring about change through the relationships we build with others. An administrator who fails to build relationships in his district may soon find himself out of a job. The standard has been raised. The administrator who fails to build a web of connections with others online will soon find himself managing irrelevance.
THE FIGHT FOR RELEVANCE
Walk into any school district in America, and the focus isn’t on learning. I know that is an unbelievable assertion, yet it is a true one. Our schools are caught up in a frenzy of high-stakes test preparation, angling to move their students 10 points up in the rankings. How do I know this? Last week, I stepped into a superintendent’s office. Her words to me were shocking, as shocking as watching the MySpace? fiasco play itself out.
If you give them fairy dust, something that will improve their test scores by 10 points, then you’ll have technology integration in every elementary, middle and high school. Schools are not doing well in math and science. What technology solution do you have that will raise scores 10 points if they use it?
In the face of such ardent desire for a magic bullet, as an educational technologist, I stand defeated. K-12 education leaders appear to have learned nothing. Sound instructional practice, pedagogy blended with appropriate technology use that is hands-on, inquiry-based is the only solution. Like C.S. Lewis’ characterization of Christianity as an untried prescription for the human condition, this is a solution that has seldom been tried or implemented.
In this situation, can any instructional technologist seriously consider advocating for Web 2.0 implementation? The obvious short-term solution is to invest in integrated learning systems, those tools of tutorial and drill-n-practice that yield short term gains but long-term dis-enagagement from learning. We come now, at the end of days, to the stark reality of a fish out of water, gasping for survival, praying that his gills will let him breathe the thin atmosphere. Quietly or with desperation, educational technology as we knew it is dying.
The change comes about, not because we failed to show its power to impact students, but because teachers, legislators have closed ranks against the vision of transformation, fear coalescing like beads of sweat in the face of virtue.
Jeff Utecht writes about the suspicion of fear, the dawning realization that technology in America’s schools is OPTIONAL. I say he has not gone far enough in his characterization of an expensive investment.
For most schools technology integration is optional. So I am supporting an optional program. I know it’s been said before but: As long as teachers have the option to integrate technology, some will opt not to. Since computers first started showing up in schools it was optional. Some teachers used the computer labs others didn’t. I think we set a standard why back when of technology being optional. Now we are faced with the reality that as a system, education views technology integration as optional.
Source: Jeff Utecht, The Thinking Stick
The reality is that schools don’t see technology as optional. Rather, it is irrelevant…whether the laminating machine works is a more relevant concern. Maybe that is splitting hairs, but I see irrelevant as much worse than optional. Optional implies that technology might be used if the teacher chooses, that it has some worth. Irrelevant says that there is no worth, whether you choose to use it or not. I’m often fearful that the best I can do seldom impacts what happens in the classroom.
Into this mix, we must accept the fact that the System is fighting back. On the one hand, Web 2.0 advocates preach a vision of children, teachers, and administrators creating their own personal learning networks, collaborating with each other, but the reality is far from that. But, how do we deal with that reality? In many ways, we are cast as jihadists fighting a battle to war to retake our schools, a struggle for domination. Is this the role we wish to play? And, how will such ideas be greeted? Will we, as ed-tech administrators, get the carrot or the stick?
As we share information and ideas–about anything at variance with the doctrine of those “in power”–we set ourselves up to be punished. In fact, the effort begins with fear, uncertainty, and doubt being spread about an innovation, then goes downhill from there. It’s an unfortunate turn of events, but is it something we should be surprised at? Whether it’s the Church, a school district, a government, a private company, the fact is that if you appear to challenge the status quo–even for the benefit of the organization–you will face censure and punishment. The world’s response is to fight to win, to seek to oppress the other side. It is to destroy the opposition one way or another. It is a human response.
Yet, I wonder if the better approach is to fight to lose. It is the idea that we are fighting, not on our own behalf, but to the benefit of the organization we are a part of. If we are willing to sacrifice our jobs, our livelihood for the organization, we gain a tremendous power. Think of Gandhi lying beaten down on the ground in South Africa, his hand reaching up to burn the work passes non-European people had to carry there in 1906, the British officer–imbued with the power of the dominant authority–poised to hit him again. In that moment, the power shifts from the oppressor to the oppressed, the beaten-down.
How do we deal with this? First, we have to be willing to accept the risks of disobedience, to suffer the consequences of that disobedience. That’s too nice. We have to accept that we may be beaten down, perhaps even utterly destroyed by those who wish to maintain the status quo. When we consider that irrelevance is the other option, is that such a bad thing? As administrators, we have taken on a powerful role–on behalf of the oppressors. Should we subvert the system or preach outright rebellion?
>…not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, …by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.
Can we on the one hand preach the benefits of Web 2.0 to transform teaching and learning, while at the same time oppress the use of these tools in K-12 schools? Gandhi has given us our answer–our fight for relevance must be one to enact a program of transformation of relationships ending in a peaceful transfer of power. Our role–as administrators–is to resist, quietly, respectfully and to educate as many people as we can, as quickly as we can as to what the options are. And, there are options. The power of Web 2.0 is that those options can be quickly shared and responded to in ways that email never permitted. As schools move to embrace technologies that are by their very nature, disruptive, they set themselves up for the kind of change desired. In their rush to play along, to keep up with the district two counties or states or territories over, they forget that Web 2.0 technologies are intended to disrupt their control of the information flow. Your task as administrator is to cast fear aside.
The courage comes from knowing that others are suffering with you. Knowing that we’re not alone removes the sting of suffering alone…somehow, we’re bound together by common bonds of fighting fear and isolation. Connectivity is so important. It is the defining moment in our century for people. The more connected we become, the more we reach out even beyond our limited face to face contacts, the more we recognize our common humanity and…divinity.
We have to change ourselves, commit to that change…because we have changed who we are, we change others through our interactions, and our connectivity changes the world. Our simple commitment to change ourselves means that we can fight the un-winnable fight. While we are not assured of winning, we are assured of victory over fear and suffering. Join me in saying,
It is important that I, as a teacher and administrator be able to tell my own stories, not have them scripted or mediated by any one organization. It is time that I take advantage of the tools available to me, and find a way to change myself so that I might be the change I want to see around me.
Leadership isn’t about getting others to do what I want. Leadership is about changing who I am, it’s about acknowledging my hypocrisy, my fear, my unwillingness to follow my conscience. It is easier to remain silent, to say nothing when speaking up is required, simply because to speak up means stirring up ripples. It means knowing that silence is agreement, sometimes with the most hypocritical of ideas. For me, it is in that moment that the meaning of what it is to be lukewarm in Revelations book of the Judeo-Christian Bible–worthy only of being spat out, useless–is driven home.
Consider this call to change:
>The nation has begun to seriously look at the restructuring of our schools. The crisis of education demands it. The future of our nation’s ability to compete in a new, global economy depends on it. And to promote learning in America, dramatic changes in all areas of education–from in-class instruction to school-building design–are being contemplated.
The beauty of that quote is that it works in 2006-2007, as well as 1990 when it was originally written.
That’s right, those words were written in 1990. The authors were urgent in their writing, eager to see America deal with the crisis. But, you know what happens when people are in crisis-mode all the time? Experts say that you shouldn’t allow someone else who is insecure about your ability to complete a task on time, throw your own priorities out of whack. It would be far better for you to make decisions about how to best allocate time and energy to address the crisis. So, let’s step back from this education crisis and consider a few points.
1) What technology has been used over the last few years to get us out of the crisis?
2) What can you do to get out of crisis mode and control how your time and energy are allocated?
3) How can technology help you accomplish that?
QUESTION #1: WHAT TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN USED OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS TO GET US OUT OF THE CURRENT CRISIS?
After poring over multiple reports regarding educational technology in the last 20+ years, it becomes obvious that school districts have been worked up to a fever pitch. One report actually comes out and says, go ahead and experiment with new technologies! And, the money poured in. Through it all, some teachers valiantly tried to keep up while others just endured until retirement.
Consider that Henry J. Becker gives us this timeline (with a few modifications at the end):
1982: Have students program your computer.
1984: Have students program the computer using LOGO.
1986: Use integrated learning systems to teach students.
1988: Use computers as tools, like adults do.
1990: Integrate computers with existing curriculum
1992: Have students use technology to create products
1994: Have students interact with the world via email.
1996: Have students publish to the World Wide Web
Now, if we skip ahead a bit, we can see what is in store for us.
2000: Have teacher design webquests that require students to role-plays and collaborate to solve a real life problem.
2006: Have teachers and students engage in conversation through the use of blogs and podcasts, as well as create digital stories.
As you look at this timeline, you start to realize that every time technology became available, it was rushed into schools under the guise of educational crisis. Now, that is the crisis we have to overcome.
QUESTION #2: WHAT CAN DO YOU TO GET OUT OF CRISIS MODE AND CONTROL YOUR TIME AND ENERGY?
Technology advocates in classrooms, teachers by any other name, often find themselves alternating between two extremes. One the one hand, they are struggling to prepare their students to pass the test, while on the other, they are introducing their children to the latest technologies, experimenting with new approaches to engaging students. While some argue that experimentation is too risky, it is the experiential learning–learning by doing–that engages human beings. When we learn by doing, we remember more, we are more actively engaged. In fact, as adults, the environment we need is not “dissimilar to the atelier of an artist, to be created for accelerating practical learning of both novices and more experienced practitioners” (Argyris & Schon, 1978). Simply, students make discoveries and experiment with knowledge themselves instead of hearing or reading about the experiences of others.
This approach is now being exorcised from classrooms today. Instead, the “hear, understand, and do” model of education is making its return. As a teacher, you face several mandates, the most important of which is to ensure students become lifelong learners and responsible members of society.
This goal is enshrined in the vision or mission statements of most school districts. Interpretation of how to accomplish that mission, however, has been taken out of the hands of teachers by lock-step scope and sequence documents. Teachers and campus administrators have lost control. How can they be expected to experiment with technology, to learn by doing when the consequences are so dire?
“True peace of mind,” wrote Lin Yutang, “comes from accepting the worst.” As a teacher, as an administrator, what is the worst that can happen? In our high-stakes testing environment, the worst that can happen is that my class of children fails to do as well as the class next door or the kids in China or India. This may result in a negative appraisal, or worse, dismissal or reassignment to another campus or office. The worst also means that your students may be promoted to the next grade level unprepared for the next round of tests. In the long run, it can mean the end of civilization as we know it.
But, let’s be honest. Civilizations end. Are they more likely to end because of fear-driven education or because we fail to nurture the flickering flame of learning? Will civilization fail because we teach to our fears, rather than what motivates us as learners?
“What is important is to keep learning,” said Martina Horner, President of Radcliffe College, “to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers.”
Consider the worst, then allow your students to learn by doing.
QUESTION #3: HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP YOU ACCOMPLISH THAT?
Since politicians, pundits, and experts all have an expensive way of using technology in your classroom, I encourage you to ask 3 simple questions. The first question is, “How is technology being used in society today?” This provides some insight into what technologies your students may be using, and that perhaps, you can use. The second question is, “How can such technology facilitate communication, collaborative problem-solving, or solution development?” And, third, “What technology can I use that will be effective for use with all students in the class, not just a select few?”
The only way to have hope of responding to these questions is to “First, cast out fear.” As you consider your responses to these questions, remember that adults, as well as children, accelerate their learning and remember more when they learn by doing. The crisis in education isn’t in our schools. It’s in the fact that we as teachers and administrators have let others who are insecure about our ability make decisions. Don’t you think it’s time we took back our artist’s workrooms, and put fear aside?
The only way through this, to find joy in being, is to become a creator, to share one’s testimony, one’s story, perhaps played on an instrument that is out of tune, to sing with a voice that doesn’t quite hit the notes right, to dance with a faltering step. Simply, it is a fight to do things that are relevant, that unite and bring us closer to each other. It is the possibility of being useful to one another and sharing our journey. In a world that is increasingly connected, we will see repeated efforts to use that connectivity to regulate and control rather than encourage autonomy and collaboration for creative purposes. It is the fight for connected learning, the courage to reach out across the waters, cross borders and great walls we have built, and let children be as they are.
THE FIGHT FOR CONNECTED LEARNING
Leaders seeking change must abandon the fantasy that human organizations function as hierarchies–and recognize the reality of networks.
Source: Of Hubs , Bridges, and Networks (Douglas B. Reeves), page 32, Educational Leadership (May, 2006)
The price for connected learning is too great for any established government–or school–to pay. Governments oppose connected learning because they can serve as tools for social justice.
Web 2.0 tools–blogs, wikis, etc–can obviously serve as tools for social justice. The powers that be caught a glimpse of that with MySpace.com being used to coordinate immigration walkouts in the Dallas area and other places. Some school districts decided to ban the words–not just the web address/URL–to prevent students access to MySpace.com. While the official reason given is, “MySpace.com is dangerous for students to access due to cyber-predators,” the REAL reason is that students can use such blogs to coordinate their social justice efforts.
Among educators, new leaders are emerging that probably would not have been allowed to organize in public schools. Blogs are enabling leaders to grow and collaborate with each other in a battle for freedom from repressive regimes that have evolved from America’s schools. Bill Kerr, Australian educator, writes:
On the one hand education departments are calling for innovation, change, creating the future, constructivism, more emphasis on engagement with less emphasis on content. On the other hand they are blocking one of the most important sources of the creativity (the read / write web) that they profess to crave for.
The reason given that blogs, wikis, and other Read/Write Web technologies are blocked is to protect our students, as well as protect the District from liability. In education, one of two roads may be taken. The first will be to just eliminate technology integration in schools. This will happen easily since it costs too much. The second, worse than the first, is that technology will become the education version of “treacherous computing” that Richard Stallman refers to. Look around, you will see the reality of this in your district. Have you given up your freedoms without a fight? If you teach in schools today, chances are, you not only gave it up, you did so willingly.
I grew up watching Star Trek re-runs, watching Captain Kirk navigate the stars with a directional gesture and a quip, “Somewhere out there, between those two stars” (or something like that). And, for me, that was the description of leadership, the leap into the unknown, the ship flying itself to pieces as a team of dedicated flesh and blood people worked together. It was also the idea that leaders can redefine the circumstances in new ways that make problems solvable. Consider the scenario of Kobayashi Moru, where Kirk reprograms the computer to make winning possible.
Kobayashi Moru is a training scenario for Star Trek captains where they are to rescue a ship called the Kobayashi Moru, which puts them in enemy space–it is, essentially, a no-win situation, and they want to test how the captains-in-training face no-win situations, ie., how you face death and failure is at least as important as how you face success.
Fascinating, no? Even though it’s fiction, reconfiguring our understanding of reality, redrawing the map is a critical leadership skill. When I read AssortedStuff Blog today, I ran across this sentence:
To have any hope of actually keeping up, educational “leaders” need to change their whole approach to understanding what the web is, how it works and where it’s going.
In other words, re-conceptualize the situation. What I’m looking for is not educational leaders trying to keep up with the pack, but ones ready to fly into a new star system, risking danger to understand how new technologies can impact teaching, learning and leadership. Yet, I think many of us are settling to be simply managers, and managers are fearful creatures who resent innovation and criminalize creativity. They fail to embrace technology for positive change.
While there are sets of established procedures to follow, the administrators’ task is to redefine reality, to re-design the procedures that change what is permissible and what is not in the culture. Our campus administrators are buried in the avalanche of things that must be done, so much that they seldom achieve the smooth, easy movements that make such leadership appear effortless. Instead of simply responding to the every-day, we have to be able to choose to live from principle, to create the future. This is summarized in this quote:
Choosing to live from principle–to create the future–separates, divides, and changes relationships. When we claim our integrity, when we exercise the courage to enter the fundamental state of leadership, we leave all existing patterns of social exchange. We leave the middle of the curve. We become truly unique.
Source: Building the Bridge as You Walk On It, Robert Quinn
This is really about moving from just responding to every day issues, and deciding to “define” rather than be defined, to predict the future by inventing it. AssortedStuff’s blog reflects that decision to become the change we want to see in the world, asking this question: How can anyone possibly understand what the read-write web is all about unless they do some of the writing?
In claiming our integrity, we need to come back and ask ourselves, our colleagues, and supervisors some questions, such as:
1) Should we, as educators, be monitoring these sites like MySpace to keep an eye on our students and possibly avert dangerous situations?
We need to be modelling digital citizenship, not spending time monitoring MySpace.com sites. Please note that several conversations on a variety of blogs by technology administrators–like you and I–already acknowledge that our filtering systems aren’t finely-grained enough to block some users, not others; some content, not others. For that, we need a human instrument…a human being. The only way to accomplish that is to actively encourage parents, students, teachers and others to practice and model digital citizenship rather than preach “NO MORE MYSPACE.COM!”
Social networking, adult spaces are being mis-appropriated by children. There is a clear desire, need to communicate with others that is facilitated by blogs and wikis. We need to model the right approach to doing so in an academic environment. I have prepared a list of tools that can be used in a “walled garden” approach for schools.
2) Is this our core business?
This is a great question because it refocuses us away from what’s the best content filter to teaching for living. We all acknowledge that living in the 21st Century, in the global economy, requires new skills and strategies. Daniel Pink refers to those new skills in his book, A Whole New Mind. They are different than information age skills. I also have to point out that research on using technology within the content areas is focused on communication. Although I explore this in more detail here, I end with this conclusion:
The focus across all of these content areas emphasizes communication and inquiry with appropriate data collection and analysis. Essentially, we need to encourage more information literacy. Yet…is it just me, but is information literacy the most poorly supported of all literacies? Print literacy is obvious…we need it to survive. Information literacy seems to be ignored, and yet it is the MOST critical for us according to these areas. It’s obvious that digital story/poetry-telling, blogs, wikis, podcasting are but one way for students to order the chaos. Perhaps, engaged students might not be so interested in circumventing content filtering and gain the resulting consequences…criminalization of their creativity.
I keep coming back to this question Janet Swenson asks, writing on behalf of Language Arts specialists, “How can newer technologies help us to re-awaken in our students a sincere passion for learning in and across disciplines?”
If in answering Janet’s question, you realize that the focus is not on high stakes testing, then you realize the massive gap between relevant social communications and connectivity our children enjoy, and the irrelevance of what they are learning in school.
Allow me to share only two examples of this irrelevance with you, although be warned that there are more. Capturing these stories could easily become a full-time task.
Moses (his real name albeit in English) is a young man in his early twenties. He makes his living as a computer programmer/developer on a Mac. Although his parents consider him a genius, as do others, they were shocked when he dropped out of his university studies. Since both his parents are university-educated, value higher education as the way to get ahead in the world, they were not quite sure what to do. Moses’ reason was that university is too boring, so he dropped out and is running his own business using technology. He works in Panama but his work is finding its way across country and languages (Moses has been asked to translate his work from Spanish to English). His story, shared with me at a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Tx by the Panamanian “branch” of my family, reminded me of a similar tale. I had heard the story about my eldest brother’s youngest son, Joseph, who had done the exact same thing.
Joseph’s story is very similar. He began university studies, but then began programming using free and open source software tools, and now works on web sites, databases, and other technical stuff. I’m convinced that these two examples reflect an important fact that we are going to see more and more. It’s not that these two bright young men are failures or couldn’t have done well in higher education. But rather, that university level studies are so SLOW, PLODDING, and cannot keep up with the ACCELERATED PACE of Web 2.0 or Read/Write Web learning. I predict that this is a growing trend and when it branches out to other areas that are heavily involved with technology (e.g. communications technology), people will wake up.
We have children hooked up to the Web from young, learning how to learn online, grab information, “rip, mix and burn” in ways that are beyond our willingness, even power, to control. Information literacy, as critical as it is, is a fact of life that they are learning ON THEIR OWN. So, while they aren’t perfect at it, they are just doing it. (This is more than what the rest of us are able to say).
And, they’ll get better with time. Since they can tap into a global community of learners–after all, isn’t that what we are as blogging educators?–they can get answers to questions faster, learn and implement solutions in ways that university (and K-12 schools) just can’t keep up with. K-16 is competing with a GLOBAL community of teachers and learners. How do you get “credentials” in this kind of environment? Or is PRODUCT the only measure of your work? In the case of these young men, it’s clear that they are producing content that is not only marketable in one country, but across countries and cultures. In a flat world, our children design, build, play, tell stories about the tools they use to get the job done.
With the parents of both boys, I shared the story of how my school district bought a product to manage content management system accounts/sites from a Russian company, where the developers were young folks (early to mid 20s from the photos). Customers and service providers are brought together by the technology, as they live and work in a connected world.
We’re living in a world that has been flattened, and digital immigrants are waking up to the fact that the educational institutions that served them so well in the past…just aren’t cutting it for their children. Worse, credentialing and the benefits that once produced have been pushed aside in favor of those bold, clever and innovative enough to blaze their own trail in a a world is new reality. I’ve read–don’t remember where–that people don’t believe the World is Flat, or that our education system is in dire straits.
Part of me wants to say, we’re in dire straits, not because K-12 educators have failed, but because technology and our children have networked, connected. And, now that the network is alive and hooked up, there’s no going back.
Conclusion: The Role of Educational Leaders in Implementing Web 2.0
So, with this in mind, I would focus on taking three simple actions:
1) Build the walled garden in your District, acknowledging the Organization’s need to control the means of publication even as you model their use at all levels to transform teaching, learning, and leadership.
2) Do everything you can to amplify students’ and staff’s voices through the use of Read/Write Web Tools, carefully safeguarding and protecting the online environments so that no one may find room for criticism. Forget about the traditional approach to using technology in schools. Focus on communication and connectivity.
3) Acknowledge defeat and accept that only the children will realize the full benefits of the work you are about…and, isn’t that what we’re working for anyways?
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