Does your school organization reflect our new digital information landscape?

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

CASTLE has been doing a great deal of technology leadership training for the School Administrators of Iowa, some of the Iowa Area Education Agencies, some of the Minnesota Service Cooperatives, and other school organizations across the country. One of the discussion activities that we’ve been doing lately asks session participants to think in groups about the impacts that the Internet and other digital technologies have had on various sectors of our society:

  • newspapers, magazines, and the news industry
  • banking, money management, and personal finance
  • television, movies, and video
  • maps, travel agencies, and the travel industry
  • radio, CDs, and the music industry
  • medicine and personal health
  • reading and books
  • how we communicate, connect, and share with each other; and
  • universities

[Download these slides: ppt pptx]

This is not an exclusive list – for example, it doesn’t include the postal service or politics / political campaigning [or real estate agents] – but it does include many of the major sectors in our society that are information-oriented. In other words, they’re societal sectors and activities that, at their heart, are all about information and knowledge in one form or another.

In groups, participants can quite easily identify that ALL of these societal sectors are undergoing major, radical transformations because of digital technologies. Information-oriented societal activities are being reshaped in significant ways, and it’s just getting started as digital tools and environments continue to advance at a rapid pace.

Characteristics of our new digital information landscape

If asked to describe the ideas or themes that cut across all of these societal changes, participants can identify the general characteristics of our new digital information landscape. It is

  • open
  • more accessible
  • more convenient
  • more immediate / real-time
  • networked
  • connected
  • shared
  • collaborative
  • interactive
  • individualized
  • empowering
  • flexible
  • adaptive
  • less dependent on “experts”
  • rapidly-changing
  • more comprehensive
  • searchable
  • often crowdsourced
  • creative
  • multimodal / multimedia
  • more efficient
  • often less expensive
  • global
  • less dependent on geography
  • technology-suffused
  • less dependent on physical media
  • and so on…

These apply to us too!

The challenge for us as leaders, of course, is that P-12 schools also are information-oriented institutions. At our hearts, we too are all about information:

  • information mastery
  • knowledge transmission and transference
  • organizing and accessing information
  • making meaning
  • etc.

Because of this, schools shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from the same changes that are radically altering other information-oriented societal sectors. We can’t continue to pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in significant and as-yet-unknown ways.

How many of the big ideas / cross-cutting themes above describe your school? Does the daily work of your school organization reflect our new digital information landscape?

24 Responses to “Does your school organization reflect our new digital information landscape?”

  1. This is a great post, Scott. I really appreciate the list of ways that information driven industries have had to respond to the new digital marketplace—even if it does scare the pants off of me!

    You see, I’d argue that my school and classroom wouldn’t measure up too well against any of the items on your checklist. While I know that theoretically my classroom should be a better reflection of the behaviors on your list, I just haven’t gotten there at all—despite pretty serious efforts.

    And I’m trying to figure out why. Is is because I don’t have the tools, networks or connections to make that kind of work possible? Is it because the policies that drive the work done in my classroom don’t encourage/allow for the kind of work you describe? Is it because parents wouldn’t support the kind of actions/behaviors that you list?

    Thinking about all that would need to change in order for me to “reform” my classroom leaves me almost completely overwhelmed and intimidated—and I’m a guy who is super open to change!

    Anyway…you’ve got me thinking….

  2. Your list of impacts is filled with “good” words. (My, isn’t all this technology so wonderful!)

    Where are these words regarding impacts of the Internet??

    Legitimacy of information?
    Danger of self-diagnosing, self-analysis, loss of context, etc.

    Nobody ever mentions any plausibly negative consequence in all these discussions?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet as much as anyone, but I also waste a lot of time there. Kids spend a lot of time of the Internet – what would they be doing otherwise?

  3. Great post! Your characteristics of our new digital information age describe my school perfectly, but then it is an online school.

    Mainstream education will catch up eventually. It has to if it wants to remain competitive in an ever shrinking world.

  4. Hi Susan,

    With the exceptions of the more normative words ’empowering’ and ‘creative,’ I actually don’t read that bulleted list as being qualitatively “good” or “bad.” I think that list just describes what is.

    I think most of your words ALSO are applicable if we’re describing characteristics of this new digital information landscape. Some of this IS normative and/or relative, however. One person’s ‘isolating’ is another person’s ’empowering.’ One person’s ‘addictive’ is another person’s ‘engaging.’

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. I think Susan has some good points and these aspects should be considered. The sentence that stood out for me was “At our hearts, we too are all about information:”
    To me, that is one problem with education today. We should be more about analyzing, evaluating, and making sense of information. I am not sure these skills are being stressed as much as simple information gathering. Yes, it’s important to know things, especially history – otherwise how can you evaluate particular assertions about history? But it’s also important to be able to go beyond information. I find the internet to be a great source of quick easy facts, but not as good a source for thoughtful discussion of those facts and their implications. For that, I believe that good old-fashioned professional journalist sources excel.

  6. Susan-

    While I admit that there certainly negative aspects to the internet, many of the words you have listed are common misconceptions.

    One of the most common issues people take with the Internet’s impact on society, is it’s supposed isolation. I could personally divulge the wonderful friendships and professional connections that have only been made possible by the internet, but I’m just one person; instead, I refer you to the PEW study that found the internet is actually not isolating. It’s mention in this article:

    I also don’t think information is less legitimate, there’s just more of it (possibly overwhelmingly so, as you mention). However, the increased availability to information from a variety of sources, makes it possible to counter misinformation. Whereas before, a small number of the population people (government, news outlets, book publishers, etc) had control over the media, making it easier to distribute false information.

    The “danger” is not the internet itself, but people’s lack of information literacy, which is why technology in education is so important. Technology and digital information will only increase; we need to teach students how to use it, not fear it. After all, the internet cannot intrude into one’s life any more than a book can jump off a shelf and bit you.

  7. I will argue with myself now and say that I might have been more interested in facts when I was younger (I learned them, but then forgot them, since I had little use for many of them.) if I had had access to more discussion of them and why they were important, or not. also more access to differing points of view. The internet is neutral – we can either use it to stay in our bubbles with our friends, or use it to explore other points of view. The latter opportunity is indeed valuable.

  8. Pardon the extra commas and spelling errors in my post; I’m typing with gloves on, because I live in the artic, aka Minnesota.

  9. What a great post! I have been thinking and discussing with my peers the practical and real-world implications of technology education. You have captured the essence of some of our conversations. The internet and other technologies have had a huge impact on the fields you identified and these are the fields that our students will be working in very soon. I like your list of characteristics of the new digital information landscape and I think you could add Susan’s list as well. While I don’t think we should focus on the negative aspects or make policy or plan curriculum based on what could go wrong (we need to do what is best for our students because it is the right thing to do), I do think it is important to be aware of the “plausibly negative consequences.” When we worry too much about what can go wrong we tend to do less or avoid doing anything at all.

  10. Oh, words are a wonderful thing. Let’s look at the negative words and frame them in a different way

    Intrusive The Internet doesn’t intrude on you, quite the contrary we intrude on it for our information and entertainment.

    Overwhelming Finding ways to utilize the power of the information available makes it manageable. The fact it is so overwhelming is a demonstration of it’s power. At least the internet doesn’t weigh as much as a 300+ page textbook. To students today, that is overwhelming.

    Fractured Oh, but it’s quite connected…unpracticed or indecisive use can be very fractured I’ll admit.

    Addictive Let’s work to make education addictive for a change shall we…the Internet poses a greater chance at doing that than a lecture or test.

    Anti-social/Isolating I’m an anti-social/Isolated facebook member with 200+ friends…hmmm

    Legitimacy of information? – Outdated misconception…Wikiepedia has been validated as reliable, and there are so many legitimate, well know resources at students fingertips that teachers can guide them to as well.

    Danger of self-diagnosing, self-analysis, loss of context, etc. And my son’s doctor’s recommendation of “rest for two weeks” in regards to his over use soccer injury really took a $10 copay to find out when the same thing came out of my mouth the night before WITH stretches to help alleviate his discomfort?

    I’ll go with Scott’s list.

  11. I would add to any list describing the internet that it’s not done yet. It is not a perfectly cooked casserole sitting on the window sill to cool. The internet is a half-baked mish-mash of servers, fiber, copper, radio waves, protocols, services, content, and users.

    Before we fashion our schools in the image of the almighty internet, let’s remember which institution was in existence first.

    It’s not hard to determine the chicken and the egg in this scenario, and the egg may not even be hatched yet. Perhaps the internet as we know it today is just a small stepping stone toward something that we can’t even fathom. If this is the case, then we should be growing students and institutions who can act from deep purpose and exercise wisdom, discernment, disciplined thought, and disciplined action, no matter the medium.

  12. Joel your post hits the discussion of internet use in education directly on the head. IT IS NOT DONE!!!! Thank you for that reflective comment. We are having disuccions that relate to what we know now about technology and education as we know it. These discussions are important and relative to every day education. Part of the larger discussion is how to teach students about technology that is not even developed yet. That to me is the first and most important question. You answered …
    then we should be growing students and institutions who can act from deep purpose and exercise wisdom, discernment, disciplined thought, and disciplined action, no matter the medium. A worthy goal!

  13. Flexibility, learning, adaption, and understanding/use of developing tools are a must in any forum. How many of us are able to complete our jobs today with only the skills, knowledge, and ability we had when we first entered the position? My guess is likely ZERO, unless you were hired this week, and even then you would probably be behind.

  14. With the growth of technology in the schools how do we decrease the disparity that is growing between the students who have updated technology resources in their homes with the students who don’t? I’ve been in quite a few classrooms where the teachers will assign homework to finish research and type a paper. This is very challenging for a student who doesn’t internet, a computer, printer, and/or the knowledge of how to find quality online resources.

  15. THe last blog entry puts forth an interesting aspect of this discussion.
    We are talking about school organization reflecting our new digital information landscape. That is a worthwhile point, are we providing what students need in regard to technology and information. The question should be asked are we able to make it available for all groups of students. The characteristics of our new digital information landscape are great discriptures but what does it look like to a child of poverty or not even total poverty but struggling (which many are in these times). Example: Student in high school needs to do a report which needs sources from the internet, the library, and others and it needs to be word processed and sent in to Well I am sure the teacher will give the student in classroom time to work. Now imagine the schedule is not block schedule so the student has 40 minutes with half of it being instruction. The student has one studyhall two days a week, rides the bus to and from school, and does not have access to a computer at home. Parents can not provide transportation, or won’t, and the student does not live near a library.
    Now lets take some the followng list and apply it to this student.
    open to ,more accessible ,more convenient .moreimmediate / real-time, networked ,connected ,shared, collaborative ,interactive individualized
    empowering, flexible, adaptive, less dependent on “experts”, rapidly-changing, more comprehensive
    searchable, often crowdsourced, creative
    multimodal / multimedia
    more efficient
    often less expensive
    global..the list goes on and is useless to the student who cannot be part of the technology and information due to economic factors.
    So…the question tha can be added is how Does your school organization reflect our new digital information landscape and provide for access for all student populations. It shows I am an advocate for a lap top in every students hands.

  16. We need to keep perspective and be open to the possibilities. Often the possibilities out weigh the negatives, but the negatives seem so strong they still get the attention. There are many things in our society that can be intrusive, overwhelming, fractured, addictive, isolating, and be out of context. Insert: CNN, Fox News, ESPN, magazines, etc. We accept these as mainstream, but in reality they can be just as much a *problem* as we’ve labeled new social media and other emerging technologies that are impacting our culture.

  17. After reading this post and reflecting upon conversations held on Friday with Will Richardson, I have come to the conclusion that the only way we are going to make significant progress is to enlist the help of our students. We need to face the fact that we are not as capable as they seem to be in terms of adapting to technology. We need to realize that we are rapidly loosing ground because we still think that schools are a place where adults work and students learn. This should no longer be our attitude. It is a place where everyone goes to learn. Some are just paid to aid others in identifying essential skills and concepts and provide support and motivation for those who may have hit a bump in the road.
    I reflect upon some of my best teaching and learning experiences and realize that I was learning right alongside either my teachers or my students. That is what made it powerful. In each case I felt that I was a part of something rather than a presenter or a member of the audience.
    I did not teach students how to build a house, we learned about the process together. I did not teach students Aquaculture, but rather learned about the process together. In both scenarios, the skills and concepts were the focus not the facts. Terminology, technology and methods might change, but an understanding of the importance of resource management, understanding of open and closed systems are similar and different will allow for all of us to take what we learned and apply it to what ever career we pursue.
    We need to pose the students with the problem, or challenge them with a goal. If we allow them to identify tools to solve the problem or meet the goal and then provide them guidance we will all learn a great deal from each other. Our job is no longer to provide them information, means to understand it and evaluate their progress, but rather to provide them challenges and then support their efforts to meet them. We need to become expert learners rather than skilled entertainers/salesmen who have a package of facts we are attempting to sell. We need to transition from referee to coaching mentality.
    In order to accomplish this, we have to relinquish “control” not only of how learning will occur, but at times what should be learned as well. It will be messy, there will be times when our students disappoint us with poor choices and times when parents are angry with what they feel is a lapse in our role as supervisors and guardians. I am not sure that we are not dealing with that now, so I am not sure why cite fear of this as a reason for hindering student use of technology. Our reluctance is based on a “what if”, 1% mentality. As you, Scott pointed out on Friday this is just an excuse, similar to the one I fell into concerning we are doing it, they just aren’t learning it because “outside forces, baggage they are comming with, etc…” I am glad that I was called out on making it.

  18. How many of us are completing jobs that due to the focus are not really that important anyway.
    I totally agree with you on this one. I think what I am trying to add is how many of us are still doing the same job we were doing when we first entered the position and is that still the job we should be doing?

  19. As for the first part, I truly believe that most of our jobs are pretty key. Yes, we may not be doing everything perfectly in a technology rich setting, but it’s still important to know math, science, etc. regardless of HOW we get that knowledge.

    On the second question, the simple answer may be, “too many” and “probably not.” Things advance, and if we haven’t, IMHO we aren’t providing the best opportunities for our kids.

  20. While reading this and knowing your skill as a classroom teacher (in a “former life”), how much of this is applicable to those teachers that really are the main source of content for their students. I agree that building a house, creating an aquaculture facility, interpreting art, creating meals, etc. may be areas that we can really focus on incorporating technology to provide options and alternatives and we can all learn along together. Take, on the other hand, day one of a Spanish classroom in an essentially all English community. Although there may be opportunities to use technology to connect with Spanish speakers, search on culture and customs, identify political information, etc. the basis of understanding the language relies heavily on the instructor. If that instructor is learning along with an introductory Spanish class, it may prove to be much more of a liability than an asset. This is kind of devil’s advocate (surprise) as I think learning together is the greatest opportunity offered to educators. The content, it must be argued however, will affect how and to what degree we can implement that concept.

  21. I might have to partially disagree with you on the Spanish class example. If that were the case, Rossetta Stone software would not be in use by our armed services.
    I agree that in the current structure we have to have teachers who have expertise in their field. That was not my point. My point is that expertise in the field is not enough. The teacher can be just an expert in the field. I have a background in the basic concepts of both science and past experiences in construction, but things had already changed a great deal in both areas shortly into my teaching career. If I were not willing to change what we were doing in my classroom and be willing to continue to extend my knowledge oftentimes right along with the students, I would have been doing my students a disservice.
    I see a Spanish teacher in my building that simply engages her students in closed book grammatical exercises and vocabulary tests. She spends a great deal of time with flashcards helping students memorize how to conjugate verbs but does very little in terms of unscripted or undirected conversation and her students pail compared to my German teacher’s students who focus on the conversational side of the language. His students progress far more quickly in acquiring the language. His students take one day a week and engage in a role-playing game with dictionaries readied. Then they write a reflection again with the use of whatever resources they would like to have. They are presented daily with a reason to acquire the vocabulary, learn verb conjugation etc.
    I would say that at times, they are forcing the German teacher to be learning German right along with them. They also all establish pen pals with students their age in Germany. Again they are forced to seek resources on their own to interpret the nuances of conversational language which many times differs from the formal language normally taught in our schools.

  22. First, although I admire and respect our military very much, just because they are doing somehting does not guarantee it is the best option available. That and the comparison to HS students creates a pretty clear divide in motivation (passing a class vs. shelter in an emergency, for example).

    I do think we are more alike than not in this topic as the key to me is the combination of a skilled teacher with the technological tools. The teacher is able to start with basic knowledge, challenge students, differentiate, assess, and re-teach as necessary. Most of this, a computer program could do also, but the limitation there comes with the maturity and dedication of students in an educational system. Maybe some could pull this off, but my experience with even highly skilled instructors is that there are so many kids that aren’t being reached. If technology is an ADDITIONAL tool, maybe that could be done, but if it is stand alone, it’s too easy to ignore/avoid. In the concept (not the letter) of No Child Left Behind, we can’t allow any of our kids not to be reached. We already are, and taking a personal interaction (one of the greatest keys to student success) away from this equation IMHO results in emminent failure to educate. What you have detailed above is clearly success vs. less success, but it is the use of the available technology by a competent educator that makes it so.

    As a former Spanish teacher (and therefore a student prior to that), my greatest learning curve was the reality of being in a culture that did not allow me to resort to the use of English. Yes, forcing one to seek resources (even if it looks more like charades) clearly caused me more learning than a book did. However, that course, that instructor, the base conjugation, still helps me when, years later, I may be in a situation where English is not an option.

  23. You are very right that changes will inevitably affect us one way or another. Many schools and districts fight and resist, and sometimes reluctantly give in. The best thing to do is to decide how to compromise with the changes around us and learn to accomodate ourselves to them.


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