Disagreeing with Jeff Utecht

Jeff Utecht says that in
America (as opposed to China):

[W]e focus on getting students to think different, we encourage them to
think, to analyze, to question their findings. We teach them to learn on their
own.

Do we, Jeff? Or do we just benefit from our country’s overall openness
compared to China? ‘Cause I gotta tell you, I don’t see a lot of explicit
instruction here in American schools regarding how to learn on your
own
, at least not using present-day information and communication
technologies (which, of course, are what people need to master to be effective
learners in this century). And I don’t see a lot of encouragement of students
to really think, to critically dissect and analyze information that’s
meaningful and important (as opposed to better regurgitating
factual-procedural knowledge
or doing what we say more often). And
I see few opportunities for children to engage in discovery learning
opportunities where they might actually have findings that are interesting and
worth questioning (as opposed to the controlled and often contrived
‘experiments’ that accompany publishers’ science curricula).

I’m fairly certain that Postman & Weingartner’s quote from Teaching
as a Subversive Activity
is as applicable now as it was in 1969:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . .
. Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they
sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to
remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any
role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of
inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how
to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have
learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or
need to know
. . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and
even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to
somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this
fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art
and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is
not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the
environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if
you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of
inquiry, as part of their curriculum.

I agree with the general theme of your post, Jeff, but so far I disagree with you on this issue. I think that whatever advantages America may
enjoy over China regarding critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and the
like might be occurring despite our schools, not because of
them.

Thoughts, anyone else?

Tracy Rosen is revisiting digital literacy

Head on over to Leading From the Heart and leave Tracy Rosen a comment on her thought-provoking post about revisiting digital literacy. Here’s the comment I just left her:

I am by no means a ‘literacy’ expert. For me, the idea of literacy means something like ‘fluency in the dominant information landscape(s) of your time, both as a consumer and as a producer.’ In the past, that has meant being an adequate reader and an adequate writer. It is increasingly clear that the dominant information landscape of our present and future is one that is digital, networked, interactive, hyperconnected, dispersed, rapidly-changing, multimedia, and so on. This new information landscape requires additional fluencies beyond those needed for a paper-based world.

Fluency in paper-bound text and graphics is still a necessary skill today. The need to be a high-level reader and writer is going to be around for a long while. But the dominance of the written word slowly will be eroded by other forms of audio/video expression. For me, the exciting thing about many of these new ‘literacies’ is that students and educators now have unprecedented opportunities to create things of value to the larger world, to have a legitimate voice, and to reach authentic audiences.

Like any good progressive, Chris Lehmann advocates emphasis on facilitation of students as digital citizens rather than emphasis on preparing students to be digital workers. I too am very much in favor of empowering students personally and on the citizenship front. But I also want my kids to have a meaningful, rewarding career (that, hopefully, also contributes to society in some way). And that means getting what Richard Florida calls a ‘creative class’ job – one that requires autonomy, independent judgment, creativity, innovation, creative problem-solving, and, yes, fluency with digital technologies. Creative class jobs are facilitated and enhanced by digital technologies, not replaced by them (as often happens with service or working class jobs).

So I empathize with your concern, Tracy, about respecting others’ approaches to sense-making. And I too am concerned with the differential access that developing countries and underserved student populations have. But I think the task for all of us is to bring them into the digital, global 21st century, not to define ‘literacy’ in ways that continue to disempower them socially and/or economically for decades to come (note: I’m not saying you’re doing this).

Here’s an old post of mine on social justice that might be of interest:

  http://snipurl.com/35ivk

Thanks for a thoughtful, thought-provoking post. I look forward to reading others’ comments!

NECC 2008 – From digital divide to digital opportunities

RestaHere are my notes from ISTE’s annual digital equity summit at NECC. There is too much information to fit in one post so I’m breaking it up…

From Digital Divide to Digital Opportunities
Dr. Paul Resta, U. Texas-Austin

  • Current estimate of world repository of pictures/words/movies = 7 exabytes (Library of Congress is largest in world = 20 terabytes)
  • It’s not just more information. More is now different.
  • UNESCO Digital Opportunity Index allows the tracking and comparison of countries in different aspects of the information society
  • Essential conditions – access to…
    • Basic literacy skills
      • 26% of world adult population (1 billion people) is non-literate (2/3 are women)
    • ICT devices, software, and sufficient bandwidth for Internet connectivity
      • Most of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East has less than 10% of the population with personal computers
      • High-income economies are far ahead (International Telecommunications Union, World Information Society 2007 Report)
      • The top 1,000 companies in the world have over 70 million computers to dispose of
      • Low-cost laptops: OLPC (600,000 orders from Birmingham (AL), Peru, Haiti, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Mexico, Uruguay, Mongolia), EeePC, Intel Classmate (150,000 orders from Nigeria, Libya)
      • Cloud computing (virtual servers) means not much power has to reside on the computers themselves
      • Asia and Europe both have more Internet users than North America; a near-perfect relationship between Internet use and income
      • Broadband access takes up 2.1% of high-income (and 909% of low-income) yearly wages
      • USA is now 15th in broadband penetration (see www.itif.org)
      • Wireless access is increasing exponentially in many developing countries
    • Meaningful, high-quality, culturally-relevant content in local languages
      • 68% of Internet content is in English; next highest is Japanese (6%)
      • 4Directions project is an indigenous model of education to create culturally-relevant curriculum resources
      • Virtual museum partnerships
    • Creating, sharing, and exchanging digital content
      • The majority of the 7 billion videos streamed on the Internet each month are user-generated
      • The number of blogs has roughly doubled every 6 months
      • We need to enable indigenous voices and to use the Internat to foster cross-cultural understandings and share knowledge
    • Educators who know how to use digital tools and resources in pedagogically-sound, culturally-responsible ways
    • Effective leadership in policy and planning
      • Removing policy barriers and formulating new policy frameworks
      • Broadband challenges require new thinking
  • There is a need for ICTs customized to the needs of the poor in the developing world
  • How do we ensure that the USA stays competitive?
  • What is our role as educators to help address the global digital divide?
  • From the Digital Divide to Digital Opportunities

The rise of the rest

If you haven’t yet done so, The Rise of the Rest in Newsweek is worth reading. Here’s an excerpt (hat tip to Richard Florida):

American parochialism is particularly evident in foreign policy. Economically, as other countries grow, for the most part the pie expands and everyone wins. But geopolitics is a struggle for influence: as other nations become more active internationally, they will seek greater freedom of action. This necessarily means that America’s unimpeded influence will decline. But if the world that’s being created has more power centers, nearly all are invested in order, stability and progress. Rather than narrowly obsessing about our own short-term interests and interest groups, our chief priority should be to bring these rising forces into the global system, to integrate them so that they in turn broaden and deepen global economic, political, and cultural ties. If China, India, Russia, Brazil all feel that they have a stake in the existing global order, there will be less danger of war, depression, panics, and breakdowns. There will be lots of problems, crisis, and tensions, but they will occur against a backdrop of systemic stability. This benefits them but also us. It’s the ultimate win-win.

To bring others into this world, the United States needs to make its own commitment to the system clear. So far, America has been able to have it both ways. It is the global rule-maker but doesn’t always play by the rules. And forget about standards created by others. Only three countries in the world don’t use the metric system—Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States. For America to continue to lead the world, we will have to first join it.

Americans—particularly the American government—have not really understood the rise of the rest. This is one of the most thrilling stories in history. Billions of people are escaping from abject poverty. The world will be enriched and ennobled as they become consumers, producers, inventors, thinkers, dreamers, and doers. This is all happening because of American ideas and actions. For 60 years, the United States has pushed countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. American diplomats, businessmen, and intellectuals have urged people in distant lands to be unafraid of change, to join the advanced world, to learn the secrets of our success. Yet just as they are beginning to do so, we are losing faith in such ideas. We have become suspicious of trade, openness, immigration, and investment because now it’s not Americans going abroad but foreigners coming to America. Just as the world is opening up, we are closing down.

Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don’t want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.

I love those last two paragraphs!

The world is spiky

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

I’m working my way through Dr. Richard Florida’s new book, Who’s Your City? Many of you may be familiar with Dr. Florida’s previous books, The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class. I typically recommend one or both (along with some other texts) to school leaders who wish to learn more about global workforce changes.

Dr. Florida notes that the world isn’t as ‘flat’ as we have been led to believe. Instead, the world is rather spiky. As he describes in his opening chapter (and in his excellent article in The Atlantic Monthly), half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, up from about 3 percent two hundred years ago. Indeed, in industrialized countries, this percentage is around 75%, not 50%. This is societal shift on a massive scale.

So what? Why does it matter that the world is spiky rather than flat? Well, as Florida describes, often it actually does matter where you live (unlike what Friedman sometimes says in The World Is Flat). For example, we are seeing the emergence of ‘mega-regions,’ areas like the Boston-New York-Washington, DC corridor or the Amsterdam-Antwerp-Brussel region that not only are the ‘powerhouses behind national economies; they’re behind the global economy as well’ (p. 24). There are only a couple of dozen ‘places worldwide that generate significant innovation. These regions have ecosystems of leading-edge universities, high-powered companies, flexible labor markets, and venture capital that are attuned to the demands of commercial innovation’ (p. 27).

As Florida notes

Creative people cluster not simply because they like to be around one another or prefer cosmopolitan centers with lots of amenities (though both things tend to be true). They cluster because density brings such powerful productivity advantages, economies of scale, and knowledge spillovers. Four kinds of places make up the landscape of our spiky world: first, the tallest spikes that attract global talent, generate knowledge, and produce the lion’s share of global innovation. Second are the emerging peaks that use established ideas, often imported, to produce goods and services. Some of these cities, such as Dublin and Seoul, are transitioning into places that generate innovation, but most, from Guadalajara to Shanghai, function primarily as the manufacturing and service centers of the 21st-century global economy. The two remaining types of places are being left behind: third-world megacities distinguished by large-scale "global slums," with high levels of social and political unrest and little meaningful economic activity; and the huge valleys of the spiky world, rural areas with little concentration of population or economic activity. The main difference between now and a couple of decades ago is that the economic and social distance between the peaks has gotten smaller. People in spiky places are often more connected to one another, even from half a world away, than they are to people in their own backyards.

We have to note the clustering effects of the global economy (the ‘centrifugal force’), not just the spread (the ‘centripetal force’). Florida says in his new book that ‘the reality is that globalization has two sides. The first and more obvious one is the geographic spread of routine economic funtions such as simple manufacturing or service work (for example, making or answering telephone calls). The second, less obvious side to globalization is the tendency for higher-level economic activities such as innovation, design, finance, and media to cluster in a relatively small number of locations‘ (p. 19).

I just moved to Ames, Iowa. The state capital, Des Moines, is a small creative center just 25 minutes away. Given his methodology, I’m guessing that Ames and Iowa State University are included in Dr. Florida’s statistics on the Des Moines region. Of all medium-sized U.S. regions (0.5 to 1 million people), Dr. Florida ranks Des Moines as the #1 ‘Best Buy’ region for families with children and #2 for professionals age 29–44. That’s cool for me and my family and my professional colleagues. But the reality is that we’re surrounded by fields. Over 90% of the state is corn or soybean fields (or hog farms).

So what do I tell the rural school leaders with whom I’ll be working? They’re already in communities that are struggling to survive. Do I tell them that, because they live in Florida’s ‘huge valleys,’ that their schools and communities are basically doomed? Or is there a way for them to still be economically productive and viable?

Conference 2.0: The Global Stage Awaits

[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys]

My
life as an international educator is bursting with exciting
opportunities and experiences. Being a guest blogger for Dr Scott
McLeod is one challenge I have been looking forward to. As a leader in
educational technology I blog about my own journey in the classroom as
well as interactions and collaborations with colleagues around the
world and try to make sense of the changing learning landscape.

Recently I have had the opportunity to attend in person conferences in Madrid, Prague and Mumbai. I have also been able to attend virtually a number of online events/conferences, in particular EduCon 2.0, where I was Skyped in by George Mayo to discuss global collaboration and the amazing CUE 2008 this past weekend where I was Skyped in by Steve Hargadon to a session discussing Web 2.0 in Education.  I have been reflecting on what it means to be a 21st century conference attendee and presenter at, as it is being called, Conference 2.0.
Gone are the days when information is only delivered via the conference
presenter and only at the conference. Gone are the days where
information is uni-directional and non-conversational. Gone are the
days when information is delivered via hard-copy handout and boring
bullet-points on a ubiquitous slideshow.

To be a leader in
education today means to be a contributor, not a passive onlooker. A
‘conference’ opportunity is to be embraced for all of the dynamic
cross-links and flowing ideas it brings. Let’s use Web 2.0 tools and
what ever else we can online to enhance and extend the experience and
learning.

So what does a Conference 2.0 look like? On one level
it has presenters who have set up learning experiences and objects
ahead of time including posting resources online and organizing virtual
input via Skype and chat etc. Let me tell a story here and then give
credit to some great colleagues out there who are already writing about
this in a more succinct way than I am.

My experience at the ASB Unplugged
conference in Mumbai, India recently highlighted the need to be mobile,
online and interacting at different levels. Connected to the WLAN and
therefore with connectivity to the world (the only way to be at a
conference!) I was able to ‘moblog’ to our school Ning (mobile blogging, or blogging on the run, a phrase coined by David Warlick I believe), Twitter,
Google Chat and search for resource URLs as presenters mentioned
them…all at the same time. In one session I remember Twittering with Kim Cofino, who was also attending a conference in Berlin, Germany, while at the same time chatting with Vicki Davis, who was also at a conference presenting on our Flat Classroom Project and more in Illinois ICE
and wowing the crowd with her exemplary style and sharing her latest
Zoho online material with me, while continuing to blog and interact
with people back at Qatar Academy via the Ning and also with people
around me re the current presentation in Mumbai.

What I really
missed in Mumbai was what is called a ‘backchannel’ where the audience
(real and virtual) can chat about the presentation. An effective way to
do this is to have the backchannel (using a tool such as chatzy.com)
projected onto the screen so the whole room can see what is being said
(including the presenter) and react to it as needed. This method was
also used by Karl Fisch, although using slightly different tools, for his fishbowl sessions with students and guests discussing Pink’s ‘A Whole New Mind’ recently.

What
I also miss at non-Conference 2.0 events is the use of RSS as the glue
to bind us all together. Once again David Warlick leads the way with
his hitchhikr.com conference
aggregator. I need to know where I can find other blog posts, images,
etc tagged for the events I am in. I need to know what the tagging
standard is so I can use it. I feel this still has not caught on with
educators around the world as it should have done.

I am in awe of the recent blog post by Steve Hargadon detailing his views and experiences with Conference 2.0 ideals and thoroughly  recommend his new wiki Conference 2.0
where, in typical Steve style he has provided a valuable resource and
service for everyone to use when attending/presenting at a conference.
Describing this wiki he states:

Web 2.0 has provided a number of
opportunities for new collaborative events to take place at and around
conferences. The events can enhance participants’ connections, dialog,
and engagement. Here are a number of these activities that can be
planned specifically for educational technology.

A recent blog post "The Ultimate Conference Attendee" by Will Richardson, although a little esoteric, has similar sentiments.

So,
it is true, the global stage does await every real and virtual attendee
at a conference. There are opportunities to foster and continue
conversations, make connections, squeeze the essence out of each
session and breath life into the topic. Is this information overload?
Is this too geeky for the average conference goer….well yes, maybe it
is however let’s lead the way, let’s set the standards internationally
and move beyond the static, dry, hard-copy handout, non-Internet based
session that does not deserve to exist in the Conference 2.0 mode.

Julie Lindsay, Guest blogger

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Musings from Mumbai: Fostering a climate of innovation in the middle and high schools

ASB Unplugged is a 1:1
laptop conference for international schools, hosted by the American School of Bombay and the Laptop Institute. These are notes
from a session I attended on technology-related change at the secondary
level…

  • Andrew Hoover, middle school principal
  • Devin Pratt, high school principal
  • Dianna Pratt, middle/high school tech coordinator

Img_0489

[the educators in this room are from more countries than you probably can
place on a map!]

  • Change is not linear
    • Expect both bursts and delays
  • Complacency and resistance come from…
    • Being busy
    • Maybe being risk adverse
    • Perceived (and actual) threats to professional identity
  • DyKnow software really takes advantage
    of the tablet PCs’ functionality, making it worth the tablets’ extra cost
  • Key implementation stages (from John Kotter)
    • Establish a sense of urgency
      • Generate cognitive dissonance!
    • Create a guiding coalition
      • The leadership team has to be on board
    • Develop a vision and strategy
    • Communicate the change vision
      • Repetition of message, vision, goals, etc. is key
      • Lead by example
    • Empower educators for broad-based action
      • Lots of just-in-time professional development
      • Ongoing instrucational support
      • Reliable technology and infrastructure
      • Small, frequent, purposeful meetings
    • Generate short-term wins
      • Teacher-sponsored demos and highlights, tied into concept of enduring
        understandings

        • Repetition of this gradually overcomes the resisters
      • Teachers are asked to use DyKnow just once and have the lesson observed to
        get feedback
      • There is a curriculum to foster a sense of responsibility among
        students

        • Students carry around eggs first; if an egg breaks, the student has to go
          through a process before she gets another one
        • Later students graduate to laptops but have to leave them at school
        • Finally students get the laptops 24–7
    • Consolidate gains and produce further changes
      • “You don’t know how comfortable you are until you start moving on”
      • Keep stressing ‘here’s where we were 2 years ago and look how much progress
        we’ve made’
      • Andrew is using a blog to keep staff, students, and parents informed of
        progress
      • Work on facilitating dispersed leadership
    • Anchor new approaches in the culture of the school
      • Recognize how culture already has changed and build upon it
      • Foster a climate of continuous improvement (kaizen)

Scott’s trip to Mumbai: pics at Flickr, movies at
YouTube
.

Sharing the global stage: Musings on Mumbai

[cross-posted at the TechLearning
blog
]

After nearly 24 hours here in Mumbai, several things already
are quite apparent to me…

  1. The Southern states in the USA – my previous benchmark for hospitality –
    have nothing on the folks that I have encountered so far in India (and I say
    that as a native of the South). The people here have been uniformly gracious,
    friendly, and welcoming.
  2. The word that best describes this city might be LOTS. As in LOTS of poverty
    (it’s staggering, really, to a Westerner such as myself). As in LOTS of traffic
    (a bewildering mess of cars, trucks, taxis, buses, auto-rickshaws, scooters,
    bicycles, and pedestrians, all darting in and out of extremely small gaps in
    traffic). As in LOTS of people and LOTS and LOTS of construction and LOTS of
    energy. Somehow it all combines together into a positive, tangible buzz. There
    is a feel to this place – a palpable sense that this is a city that is on the
    move.
  3. Mumbai is a place of startling juxtapositions. At the foot of a gleaming
    corporate office building will be a shantytown. Adjacent to an eight-block
    section of decrepit, decaying apartment buildings (that, of course, are packed
    with residents) will be a shiny glass-and-marble shopping mall. Next to a
    filthy, tin-roofed store selling tires (that appears to be held up only by the
    posters and ads affixed to its rickety wooden walls) will be a new high-end
    electronics store selling HDTVs.
  4. For all of the possibility that is here, there’s still an enormously long
    way to go. Mumbai and other parts of India may be on a tremendous upswing but
    there are hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who are seeing little, if
    any, of the economic growth. That said, it’s a numbers game. Even if only one or
    two hundred million people in a nation of over a billion join the Indian middle
    class, the economic impact on the global economy will be quite substantial.
  5. Any tech plan that starts like this (as does the American School of Bombay’s) is probably going to be pretty
    succesful:

As our world becomes more technologically and globally interconnected,
it’s increasingly imperative that we all understand and plan how to facilitate
student and faculty acquisition and mastery of 21st century skills. The 21st
century isn’t a time in the future; it is now.

Have I said anything that hasn’t been said before? Probably not. But I now
can feel in my gut a sense of what this city is like. In Flight
of the Creative Class
, Richard Florida notes that the
biggest danger facing the USA is not terrorism but rather that talented,
creative people will stop wanting to come to America
. There are
places for those people here in Mumbai (and in South Korea, Australia,
Singapore, Ireland…). Tom
Friedman
is right: we Americans are going to have to get used to sharing the
global stage.

Scott’s trip to Mumbai: pics at Flickr, movies at
YouTube
.