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Young people are desperate for learning that is relevant

Mimi Ito says:

parents more often than not have a negative view of the role of the Internet in learning, but young people almost always have a positive one

Young people are desperate for learning that is relevant and part of the fabric of their social lives, where they are making choices about how, when, and what to learn, without it all being mapped for them in advance


Which students don’t get to use technology, then?

Next time you question whether one-to-one is relevant, count the number of devices you use in a day.

A school board member recently echoed on her Facebook page a community member’s desire to stop funding the district’s 1:1 initiative. Here are the community member’s comments that were shared by the board member:

Technology is a wonderful thing and is much needed BUT these kids needs to know how to take a pencil and paper, spell worlds with out spell check, make a sentence with out using grammar check an do math with a calculator. Seems all the school board can see is the good sides of everything before buying it. They don’t seem to be able to think of what bad can come from things or if what they are purchasing with other money is redundant. I’d like to see results of an old fashioned math, and spelling test and even writing. Many young people can’t spell these day and only print, have no idea of how to do cursive writing. Schools need to stop “dumbing down” our future which is our children.

Below is my contribution to the discussion on the school board member’s Facebook page…

Some quick thoughts:

  1. Our information landscape is no longer ink on paper. It’s digital bits in the ether. It’s completely technology-suffused and EVERYTHING is moving as quickly as possible to the Internet. There is no foreseeable future in which the primacy of printed text is not superseded by electronic text and multimedia. Given this fact, how are you going to prepare students for this digital information landscape if you don’t put digital technologies in their hands?
  2. Our hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy requires that developed countries move as rapidly as possible to creative and services work rather than manufacturing and agricultural work, with an emphasis on higher-level thinking skills rather than low-level fact and procedure regurgitation. All of the job growth in this country is in knowledge work sectors. BUT… knowledge work is done with computers these days. You can’t prepare graduates to do real-world knowledge work in a digital landscape by going back to ringbinders and notebook paper. Do you want your students to have jobs? Ignore the comments about ‘spell check’ and ‘old fashioned math’ (which have no basis in actual data or reality) and instead ask whether your students are immersed in cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments that actually prepare them for the demands of knowledge work after high school. As pretty as it is, we must admit to ourselves that cursive writing is not a 21st century skill and neither are many of the other practices that we are trying so desperately to cling to in P-12 education. The biggest barriers to change are our own mindsets of what schooling should look like, which unfortunately are usually based on a past that no longer exists.
  3. It is the job of schools to prepare students to master the dominant information landscape of their time, to be productive workers, and to be successful citizens. All of these require digital fluency, something that is not achieved by a few hours per month in a computer lab. All that said, we also must recognize that change is scary, it’s complex, and it takes time. There’s a learning curve to navigate for students, teachers, parents, and community members. Acknowledge the difficulty of the challenge. Work to make the change as smooth as possible. Learn from mistakes and keep moving forward. Give yourselves time to make the transition. But don’t regress. Don’t give up. Does the district actually believe that NOT using computers is the path to future success for its children? If so, it will be the only one in America that does and it will be dooming its youth to irrelevance. As Abraham Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” In rapidly-changing information and economic environments, we all need to be future-focused, not nostalgic.
  4. [School board member], you say that putting technology into the hands of all students is ‘not the way to go.’ Which students get to use technology, then? Which students get to be prepared for the world as it is and will be (and which ones don’t)? Which students are you going to intentionally disadvantage by hobbling their college and career readiness by removing technology from their hands?

I’m happy to have a further conversation with you and/or the rest of the board about this. I work with schools, districts, and communities all over the world as they struggle to meet the needs of students and educators regarding technology. All my best.


Image credit: One-to-one

You aren’t literate anymore

At what point do we stop talking about digital literacy and recognize that people who cannot apply their literacy in digital situations aren’t really literate any more?

David Wees via

Technology is a given, not a debate [SLIDE]


Technology is a given, not a debate.

 – Sanne Bloemarts

Download this file: png pptx

See also my other slides and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

Image credit: John Biehler

In an open access world, are you giving back or just taking?


The same movement that we are seeing toward open educational resources in higher education also is permeating P-12. Many educators have happily tapped into the incredible learning opportunities that are available to them and their students. Our ability to be powerful learners has never been greater.

Lost in all of the eagerness around consumption, however, is a concurrent felt need to contribute. Many educators are willing to take and use free resources as they find them, but far fewer create and share resources for the benefit of others. This lack of reciprocity undercuts the ethos of sharing that helped create – and now sustains – the vigor of our new online information landscape.

One of the best things that we can do to improve our local and virtual learning communities is to take seriously our ability and obligations to be contributors to our shared global information commons. We should do this ourselves as educators and we should have our students do this too.

How often do you, your staff, and/or your students contribute something online (with a Creative Commons license) to benefit others? What can you do as a leader to foster an environment of sharing and giving back, not just taking and using?

Drop me a note if you’re a principal or superintendent who is ready to think seriously about this. I’d love to chat with you.

Image credit: From proprietary to open

Microadjustments to the current system are insufficient

effective implementation cannot be done by making microadjustments to the current system. We cannot, for instance, install project-based learning as a new layer on top of the standard instructional approaches we have. We cannot squeeze real teacher development into three annual inservice days and a monthly faculty meeting. Each of the strategies requires us to rethink and redesign the whole system from the ground up and build it collaboratively.

And all of this has to take place while we continue to teach kids and continue to feel the relentless pressure from outside our walls for unfaltering and ever-increasing improvement. The risk associated with those foundational changes increases every year, and most schools have not been able (or willing) to risk the possibility of the unknown. When given the choice between something that has been at least moderately successful (the status quo) and something with no guarantees for improvement, we choose the safe route.

Gerald Aungst via

5 videos on connected learning from the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub [VIDEOS]

Here are four very powerful videos from the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub that are guaranteed to make you think hard about learning, teaching, and schooling. You can watch them all in less than half an hour. My quick notes from the videos are included underneath each one…

Engaged (7 minutes; Connie Yowell)

  • we are fundamentally starting with the wrong questions
  • we start with learning outcomes – and content defines everything – rather than “what is the experience we want kids to have?” 
  • our core question is around engagement; if you ask “is a kid engaged?”, you have to pay attention to and start with the kid
  • we have to make room for curiosity, we don’t have enough opportunities for kids to take things apart and wonder about them
  • little opportunities to fail and iterate are also opportunities to play with identity
  • we need opportunities to explore who we are in the world and how the world works, particularly as teenagers
  • we so decontextualize learning for kids, we’ve forgotten we have a passion for learning
  • in school they could care less, but in complex games kids demand that they learn how to do something so they can move on
  • as adults, we have to deeply connect content and students’ activity, otherwise learning has no meaning

Everyone (7 minutes; Mimi Ito)

  • we give responsibility for learning to professionals instead of remembering it’s the fabric that frames all of our interactions with everybody
  • connected learning networks force us to fundamentally rethink what we think is the problem and goal of education
  • it’s about expertise that’s widely distributed; anybody can help somebody else get better at something
  • if you have an educational system that always tell students what to do, you’re not building their capacity to make effective learning choices themselves
  • we used to have capacity bottlenecks for learning, so you had to go to school or a library – now we don’t have that problem but we still act as if we do
  • education isn’t bound to particular institutions anymore, it can happen anywhere
  • how does a kid find a mentor or peer that helps them develop their interest, make their interest relevant, find a sense of purpose, etc.
  • how do we use the capacity of the network to bring people together who want to learn together?
  • everybody can participate in a connected learning model
  • the great side benefit of interest-based, connected learning is that it fosters social connection and well-being: fulfillment, belonging, and purpose

Play (7 minutes; Katie Salen)

  • play creates for people a reason for them to want to engage
  • body and spirit are transformed by play
  • play is a state of being, a very different state of mind, openness to ideas and other people
  • not a closed, rules-bound place – the openness of the play space is extremely important
  • play is one of the most fundamental human experiences
  • play is a practice space, we play to get better at something, it helps us build confidence
  • kids are driven to want to share with you what they’re doing, what they’re making, what they’re learning
  • at school, we cordon off a time for play (recess) and then you’re not doing that anymore
  • when you get older, play becomes embedded in objects (video games), you can activate play when you pick up that object
  • when we’re young, play is the frame for how we experience the world
  • adult life becomes about a set of responsibilities rather than a way of engaging your soul in the world

Creative (5 minutes, Nichole Pinkard)

  • we’re just now getting to the place in America where we realize it needs to be different everywhere, not just in some places
  • we have to completely overhaul how we think learning happens, where it happens, and what people are capable of
  • technology transformations show us the world is going to be different
  • they are going to have to be more nimble and more proficient with technology to communicate and to learn, or they’ll be a new form of illiterate
  • we no longer live in a world where you can only write and read text and you will be successful
  • we have to teach these new literacies and then let kids be creative in how they express themselves with these literacies
  • schools always have been about ‘the right answer’
  • now we care more about how kids find information, think about information, communicate information

The DML Research Hub also has an 8-minute summary video, Essence, which includes some of the best pieces from each video above plus some new stuff.

  • there’s no longer a promised future for all kids
  • how do we create environments that delight learners at all ages?
  • open up the question of who contributes to learning
  • how do we help kids grow up to become curious, engaged citizens?
  • kids say over and over that schools are (merely) a node in their network of learning
  • we have an embarrassment of (information) riches but we still have to figure out how to bring those pieces together
  • learning principles need to start with the idea of connectedness 

Finally, be sure to check out the core values, learning principles, and design principles of connected learning:

  • Core values: equity, social connection, full participation
  • Learning principles: interest-powered, peer-supported, academically oriented
  • Design principles: production-centered, openly networked, shared purpose

See also the infographic below. There’s a lot here to digest. Thoughts?

Connected Learning

The future of learning [VIDEO]

Ericsson released a new video that highlights descriptions of the future of learning by top educational technology experts and others. It’s 20 minutes but well worth the time. Happy viewing!

Leading for the future [SAIS/MISBO NOTES]


[Warning: long post]

My ongoing notes from the 2012 SAIS/MISBO conference in Atlanta, Georgia… These are from a keynote panel of independent school leaders who discussed 10 critical new leadership skills postulated in Bob Johansen’s book, Leaders Make the Future.

Steve Robinson, President, SAIS

  • It’s a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, & Ambiguity). What is the impact of a VUCA world on independent school leadership?

1. Maker instinct. Reggie Nichols, Piney Woods School, Piney Woods, MS

  • Ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.

2. Clarity. Doreen Kelly, Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, NC

  • Ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see.
  • There is a difference between clarity and certainty. Certainty is expressed in rules. Clarity is expressed in stories and narratives.
  • What is a problem and what is a dilemma?
  • “What we permit we promote”

3. Dilemma flipping. Colleen Glaude, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities.
  • We must love the process of puzzling, not just putting the puzzle together

4. Immersive learning ability. Dana Markham, Pine Crest School, Fort Lauderdale, FL

  • Ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments, to learn from them in a first-person way. 

5. Bio-empathy. Damian Kavanagh, SAIS, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns.
  • Our competition is not the private school down the street. It’s the misunderstandings of parents and communities about what we do as educators.

6. Constructive depolarization. Suzanna Jemsby, The Galloway School, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
  • What is the food most commonly consumed by teenagers? Not pizza, hamburgers, chips, or chicken fingers. Rice (put on your global hat!).
  • What we’re talking about here is grace.

7. Quiet transparency. Cliff Kling, Jackson Academy, Jackson, MS

  • Ability to be open and authentic about what matters – without being overly self-promoting.
  • The days of the ‘rock star leader’ are over. Teams, not individuals.
  • Leaders will increasingly have to be open about everything that they and their organization do, whether they want to or not.
  • Check out the Online School for Girls

8. Rapid prototyping. Keith Evans, Collegiate School, Richmond, VA

  • Ability to create quick early versions of innovations with the expectation that later success will require early failures.
  • Fail early, fail often, fail cheaply. “Small bets out of sight”
  • Rapid prototypes have lifetimes measured in days or hours. Pilots take much longer.
  • Rapid prototyping emphasizes 1) trial and error mentality, 2) experience in the field rather than massive advance planning, and 3) maximizing our learning by prioritizing speed of learning
  • This mindset runs counter to key leadership values in independent schools, such as 1) leaders do extensive planning (don’t plan it, try it), 2) leaders cultivate democratic participation to build consensus (not necessary for small bets), and 3) leaders mitigate risk and promote success (we need a comfort level with failure)

9. Smart mob organizing. Chris Angel, Hammond School, Columbia, SC

  • Ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic media and in-person communication.
  • We all have mobs we can organize and leverage.
  • We need to teach students how to have a productive online presence. 

10. Commons creating. Paul Ibsen, Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC

  • Ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit all players – and allow competition at a higher level
  • We have new abilities to do this
  • Goldmine sessions at conference are great ways to do commons creating 
  • Shared opportunities and shared problems save time

My own closing thoughts

Small pilots (okay, prototypes!) are non-threatening and powerful. Iterate often. Learn. Iterate yet again. Learn. Iterate yet again…

Holding back our children


Digital technologies are magnifiers and amplifiers of our humanity. They extend the reach of our human voice. They increase a millionfold our capacities and inclinations to find, connect, and share with others. They boost exponentially our abilities to collaborate with others, do meaningful work, and contribute to the overall good.

Can you exercise human voice without digital technologies?
Can you find, connect, and share with others without digital technologies?
Can you collaborate with others, do meaningful work, and contribute to the overall good without digital technologies?

Sure. We did so for millennia. But in the digital, global world that we now inhabit, decisions to marginalize technology are intentional relinquishments of potential and power. In the digital, global world that we now inhabit, decisions to ignore technology are willful disconnects from community, society, and the way the world works.

In schools, we are supposed to be empowering children. We are supposed to be preparing our students to be not just competent – but hopefully adept – in today’s and tomorrow’s information environments, work climates, and learning landscapes. But instead of recognizing and seizing the affordances that these new tools provide us for learning, teaching, and schooling, we pretend that our students can be masterful WITHOUT learning how to use digital technologies authentically. Or meaningfully. Or powerfully. And by doing so, we do our students a horrible, sometimes shameful, disservice.

By now it’s clear that digital technologies are here to stay. By now it’s clear that they’re having transformative impacts on everything around us. And yet we hesitate. We dig in. We resist and we rationalize and we make excuses for ourselves and our institutions. And every day that we do so, the gap widens between our practice and our reality. Every day that we do so, our youth lose another opportunity to be better prepared for our present and their future.

Educators, policymakers, professors, and parents: Our lack of vision and our limited understanding of our technology-suffused landscapes are holding back our children. Why don’t we care more?

Bigstock image credit: Tired girl with many books


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