principles of standards-based grading; “begin with the end in mind and work backwards;” understanding by design; and other more convergent learning ideas
project-, problem-, challenge-, and/or inquiry-based learning; creativity; innovation; collaboration; and our need for more divergent thinkers?
Yesterday was the final day of our Next Generation Leadership Institute, an initiative of the University of Kentucky College of Education’s P20 Innovation Lab. This was the big question I asked groups throughout the day.
How do (or would) you reconcile these potentially-conflicting concepts? How should schools navigate the tension between convergence and divergence?
Interest-powered. Interests power the drive to acquire knowledge and expertise. Research shows that learners who are interested in what they are learning, achieve higher order learning outcomes. Connected learning does not just rely on the innate interests of the individual learner, but views interests and passions as something to be actively developed in the context of personalized learning pathways that allow for specialized and diverse identities and interests.
Peer-supported. Learning in the context of peer interaction is engaging and participatory. Research shows that among friends and peers, young people fluidly contribute, share, and give feedback to one another, producing powerful learning. Connected learning research demonstrates that peer learning need not be peer-isolated. In the context of interest-driven activity, adult participation is welcomed by young people. Although expertise and roles in peer learning can differ based on age and experience, everyone gives feedback to one another and can contribute and share their knowledge and views.
Academically oriented. Educational institutions are centered on the principle that intellectual growth thrives when learning is directed towards academic achievement and excellence. Connected learning recognizes the importance of academic success for intellectual growth and as an avenue towards economic and political opportunity. Peer culture and interest-driven activity needs to be connected to academic subjects, institutions, and credentials for diverse young people to realize these opportunities. Connected learning mines and translates popular peer culture and community-based knowledge for academic relevance.
Shared purpose. Connected learning environments are populated with adults and peers who share interests and are contributing to a common purpose. Today’s social media and web-based communities provide exceptional opportunities for learners, parents, caring adults, teachers, and peers in diverse and specialized areas of interest to engage in shared projects and inquiry. Cross-generational learning and connection thrives when centered on common interests and goals.
Production-centered. Connected learning environments are designed around production, providing tools and opportunities for learners to produce, circulate, curate, and comment on media. Learning that comes from actively creating, making, producing, experimenting, remixing, decoding, and designing, fosters skills and dispositions for lifelong learning and productive contributions to today’s rapidly changing work and political conditions.
Openly networked. Connected learning environments are designed around networks that link together institutions and groups across various sectors, including popular culture, educational institutions, home, and interest communities. Learning resources, tools, and materials are abundant, accessible and visible across these settings and available through open, networked platforms and public-interest policies that protect our collective rights to circulate and access knowledge and culture. Learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture and community.
Below is an infographic made by Dachis Group that highlights these essential components of connected learning. What if every learning environment was centered around these principles?
Let’s assume that the goal of teacher training and professional development (PD) is to prepare teachers with powerful models, tools, and pedagogies that will inform expert practice over a career. If so, the 21CTP is designed to help us as a community, 1) hear from 39 award winning teachers, and 2) ask relevant questions about how to study and design teacher training and PD in the coming years.
When over half of these teachers say they completely changed their practice mid-career, I’m particularly interested in what, who, and how those trajectories started. In the first part of this series, I shared one data point on what wasn’t working. The following posts will highlight what was working, who did support these teachers, and how they did grow into expert practitioners.
21CTP Theme 2: Narrated Beginnings
A beginning narrative explains ‘what started it all?’ or ‘where did you first start thinking about?’ practice in the classroom. These questions inform essential beliefs, experiences, and exposure that is relevant to expert practitioners.
Immediately, ‘best practice’ studies are designed to give indications for expanded inquiry. Ideally, we can be given new insights toward recreating similar narratives with a similar end. (By the way, thanks for the clear and helpful feedback from the last post! You are all a gift and the comments are largely being integrated into the final write up of the study.) So we begin simply by asking those that are doing what we hope to see more of, ‘How did you do that?’ – then we listen.
My own assumption was that award winning teachers were going to be those that entered their professional life with a sort of ‘gift’. Their spark of life, talent, and refinement would eventually lead them to promotion and recognition – they were just gifted. They would have begun with a clear vision for expert practice and simply grow towards it. These teachers would have a ‘positive predisposition’ towards expert practice.
Upon completing the first phase of interviews, not one of the preliminary teachers fit this model. Instead I found teachers that claimed to have actually started teaching with faulty predispositions requiring change before they tapped into digital resources, paradigm shifts, and other teachers with great ideas to copy. Instead of having an internal compass, these teachers grew in a community of practice, looked for new tools, and laughed about epic failures as they learned and grew. They weren’t ‘gifted’ as much as they were ‘growing’ the way the rest of us do.
In fact, data from the 21CTP revealed four distinct ‘beginning narratives’’. For a full reading of all 39 stories, check here.
In the expanded round of interviews there were in fact teachers that had a great model of teaching they were seeking to resemble, and simply worked towards it. 15% of the teachers fit this beginning narrative I’ll call a ‘positive predisposition’ toward expert practice.
These narratives generally agreed:
“I have always taught the way I do now but I try to constantly try to find new ways and innovative ways to teach so, I’m a constant learner myself. I like to try new things.”
These teachers often had examples that they were trying to follow.
“I remember another elementary teacher who was very active and action oriented. She would act something out every day… I think that is the person I am trying to emulate.”
Those with a positive predisposition shared similar accounting of where they started on a path toward expert practice. They claimed to have always taught they way they did and often had a clear role-model they were trying to emulate.
Not all teachers shared a positive role-model. On the contrary some entered the profession itching to change things or re-create their practice to look different from their past experiences. 28% of the 21CTP teachers fit this profile:
“Even in my early teaching, I was looking for a different approach towards teaching and learning.”
A progressive predisposition is equally powerful as a starting point for PD on the part of these teachers. However, lacking actual models, they often feel pressure from ‘the system’ and often reported looking outside the profession for new models.
“Again, because there is still a lot of pressure for the test and just getting things done.”
In year three, for instance, one teacher was “exhausted” and took a leave of absence. Upon returning, he reported re-connecting to, “The stuff I enjoy doing outside of school…” Refreshed, he was “always learning something new.”
For both predispositions, teachers were always looking for new ideas and tools to help them grow in the classroom. They held a constant idea of what they wanted and grew over time towards these mental models. 43% of 21CTP participants had a predisposed vision for teaching they continually worked toward.
Theme 1 noted what wasn’t necessarily working for expert teachers. From here forward this study turns to what was working for these teachers. For 57% of teachers, they changed their practice mid-career. It can’t be understated how relevant ongoing PD is for expert practice for these teachers.
The first narrative that experienced a change in disposition fit a profile where they experienced a person, tool, or PD program that they report was the start of a new way to practice their craft. Like those with a positive predisposition, these teachers identified a model of practice, through external influence, that became a driving goal. For instance, in the preliminary phase, one teacher credited their social network:
“Developing networking early on… Just sharing ideas, the basic web 2.0 type practices, ideas, tips, software with other educators within my state and increasing abroad. Shortly thereafter, within a year or so, I began to look at integration of video games and video technology into the classroom.”
There was a laundry list of external influences that seemed unique to each person. In Theme 3, I’ll break down traditional and non-traditional PD assets and the degree to which the teachers were influenced by them. 23% of the teachers named these programs, people, and tools as the starting point for their changed practice.
The largest percentage of the 21CTP teachers reported a “sudden realization” or specific moment they could recall. Much like remembering where they were when they heard a major news story, these teachers had a moment when they perceived their own practice as deficient and in need of change. For progressive change narratives, they didn’t yet have a positive model, but recognized what they couldn’t do anymore. For example:
“I remember crashing and burning real bad on what I would consider traditional lectures.”
“We all love our field, it’s so horrible to feel like you are torturing someone with the things you are passionate about.”
“I wasn’t bold and brazen, I was naive.”
“I had the moment where I realized I was teaching the same way my teachers taught me in high school and I was bored then and I was looking at some of my students who I knew were bright and energetic, lively kids and I could tell they were bored.”
These teachers (33%) did not consider themselves experts initially. They reported a simple realization that what they were doing wasn’t going to work anymore. They changed as a reaction and began doing anything else to garner better classroom results – starting a PD journey from a ‘sudden realization’.
Our best practitioners have told us that there are at least four beginning narratives toward award winning practice; it is a stretch to claim there is a predominant beginning narrative. Teachers can have positive models of practice, or a negative one. Teachers can enter the profession with a predisposed vision of practice, or not. Sources of change can be internal processes, or externally affected. As with our students, there are multiple types/paths for learning among adults. School leadership cannot afford to think that there is only one way to build expert practice. There is no ‘one size fits all’ that actually works for all.
I spend more time in the larger write up on this section noting that these beginnings don’t appear to be exclusive. Teachers noted one as primary, but often shared the importance of others.
Also, among calls for reform, this data reconfirms past research that teacher beliefs about practice are significant PD components (see lit sources below). Some traditional models of training and PD (especially ones that provide models of practice – good or bad) should be clung to instead of thrown out with the bathwater primarily because, for some of the teachers, they work.
Finally, much of the PD field claims one progression for change: 1) Teacher learns, 2) Teacher changes practice, and 3) Student learning increases. For a significant portion of our sample, this was not what they claimed happened. For these teachers, they claimed they: 1) Got frustrated, 2) Changed practice, 3) Learned over time, 4) Student motivation increased, then 5) Student learning was enriched. Knowing does not necessarily preclude doing for these teachers.
In Theme 3, I’ll share a closer look at traditional and emergent resources reported as essential, or not so much, to these teachers. What worked, what didn’t. Among the leading PD assets: Effective Leadership, a Community of Practice, and New Media digital tools and resources. More to come…
Do all teachers with positive role-models progress toward them over time? Really a larger study of a random sample of teachers could gather this and more about predispositions. In schools, talk to teachers and find out if there are predispositions that drive their PD, vise versa, or both.
There isn’t a clear ‘best’ beginning narrative, which means many types of beginnings can work towards expertise – not just “gifted” people. I find this encouraging to the rest of us! The data actually slants just a bit toward narratives where the teacher was “crashing and burning”, then resolved to be better. Never give up on teachers willing to grow, today’s worst teachers may be winning awards tomorrow if they are ready to try new things.
Buffet style PD is a growing technique for district and building level training. Are these models intuitively accepted more easily because they are addressing actual adult learning styles more effectively? Teacher selected PD opportunities should at least be targeted for further expanded study, at best these should be the default for district level leaders.
For all four beginning narratives, teachers had or sought a better way to teach. What they called the traditional model of ‘sage on the stage‘ or ‘grill and drill‘ was obsolete – which is expected of these participants – but not to be understated.
Seann Dikkers is a researcher and dissertator in educational technologies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dikkers spent fourteen years as in the public schools as a teacher, principal, and consultant. Dikkers has presented nationwide as a designer and consultant in new media integration strategies for educational leadership, teaching, and learning. His design and research bridges education leadership and curriculum and instruction scholarship – including CivWorld, ParkQuest, History in our Hands, Mobile Media Learning, Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling editor (ARIS), the Comprehensive Assessment for Leadership in Learning (CALL), and the Teacher’s Toolbox. Dikkers edited the recent release of Real-Time Research: Improvisational Game Scholarship and is the founder/president of GamingMatter. Currently, Dikkers is in the process of interviewing award winning teachers across the country to find out strategies for professional development growth in digital media use.
Beliefs of practice aren’t conclusive, but they can be informative for a field of study. For those that are interested in more detail, this study is built to complement current evidence being gathered on PD (Desimone, 2011), revisiting teachers as case units (Borko, 2004), accomplished examples of practice (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990), and beliefs that affect practice (Calderhead, 1996; Pajares, 1992; Ertmer, 2005), in a time of emergent digital skills and ‘literacies, (Trilling & Fadel, 2009; Lankshear & Knobel, 2008; Collins & Halverson, 2009). That’s the short version. Though done and IRB approved, the full lit review will be approved for posting in the next couple weeks at the project home site – along with detailed descriptions of selection, collection and analysis methods. Look for it at: 21 Century Teaching Project.
Borko, H. (2004). Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.
Calderhead, J. (1996). Teachers: Beliefs and knowledge. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psycology (pp. 709-725). New York: Macmillan Library Reference.
Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology : the digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.
Desimone, L. M. (2011). A Primer on Effective Professional Development. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 68-71.
Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? . Education Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25-39.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (Eds.). (2008). Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies, and Practices (Vol. 30). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307-332.
Sheingold, K., & Hadley, M. (1990). Accomplished Teachers: Integrating computers into
classroom practice. New York: Centre for Technology in Educaiton.
Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21 Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
In my first year of teaching a veteran leaned over during a particularly dry workshop and said blandly, “If you spend a whole day in these things and walk away with even one idea, it was worth the day… Today is not our day.” Cynical? Yes, but true. After 15 years as a teacher and principal this veteran’s words came back to me twice a year during professional development (PD) workshops. For good PD the wisdom was decidedly more uplifting.
Yet, there has to be a better way. Doesn’t there?
Now I’m knee deep in research on new media technologies for learning at the University of Wisconsin – Madison under Kurt Squire and Richard Halverson; both of whom argue that there are better ways. As much evidence as we muster, (in support of new models for leading and educating for learning), those in the system must embrace new practices for any changes to occur. In other words leadership matters and teaching matters as much as (or more) than GamingMatters (shameless self promotion) or any relevant new ideas for education.
Many studies seek to inform practice by examining experts in a field. In this post, I want to share some of the preliminary findings in the 21st Century Teaching Project (21CTP) – a study of teacher professional development trajectories toward the integration of new media technology.
I’ll edit the study details a bit: This is a ‘best practice’ style qualitative study after Dan McAdams’ methodology. Phase one: find out relevant practices. Phase two: quantify them in a larger sample to see if they hold water. 39 of the nation’s award winning teachers (TotY, PAEMST, ING, AMF) and authors make up the data set. If these are the teachers we choose to recognize as excellent, then we should listen to what they have to say about their PD – especially when there are consistent messages emerging.
In the initial interviews the participants kept telling me, with a conspiratorial tone, that their training wasn’t like most teachers, “It’s a rather unorthodox journey”, said one. Then, one after another, they shared stories that all converged one one point. Traditional teacher education was at best – irrelevant; and at worst detrimental to being an outstanding teacher today.
“I don’t care what school you go to, it really doesn’t prepare you for what you are going to do in a classroom”.
One author/teacher has yet to get an official license to teach, another accidentally dropped out of high school, another manipulated the system to use certain technology regardless of the class content, and it went on. Each felt their story was unique – yet there was this common thread that was worth pursuing in the larger study with new questions:
Were you trained to teach in a teacher education program? What training most equipped you to teach like you do?
The results were striking. Stop for a moment and consider the following numbers from 39 of our award winning teachers.
10% credit their primary training to a traditional four year certification program.
21% credit their primary training to a hobby, game, or interest.
33% credit their primary training to another job/profession.
36% credit their primary training to another field of study.
Only 31% completed a traditional four year certification program.
46% were employed in other fields or left the teaching profession for a time.
67% were trained in other fields of practice before getting a certificate in a 1-2 year program.
Only 10%, or 4 of 39, affirmed that their official ‘teacher training’ was relevant to their current practice. The rest were inspired elsewhere.
There were no patterns on what these other field/professions were other than that they covered the gambit: Medicine, Aviation, Acting, Mortuary Work, Rock-n-Roll, Journalism, etc. etc. Commonly, these teachers felt their training in that field was what actually influenced their teaching.
Ironically, those that are being recognized as excellent teachers, were largely not trained as such. Moreover, they largely went out of their way to make sure the world would know it.
So what does this say to educational leadership?
Do we want more 21st century teachers? The most innovative teachers are drawing on experiences and skill sets they developed outside of education.
Later I’ll show results that 21st Century skills are a key part of what they are bringing into the classroom, while traditional education programs still reduce “technology training” to the use of an over-head or interactive whiteboard. The following posts will uplift the sources that positively affect teacher training.
Immediately, a few things… this data would suggest if you want to employ innovative creative teachers, you may want to consider:
1) Interview non-traditional candidates; those with other training, lifelong learners with avid hobby interests, avid readers, and yes, computer gamers. These seem to be better predictors of potential among the sample set.
2) Refine your interview protocol to uncover these interests outside of the profession. What do you do for fun? What other interests do you have? Have you ever worked outside of education? Where?
3) Encourage workshops and training outside of education and validate those experiences with modified accreditation. NASA led summer workshops for teachers that were brought up by three of the candidates – none of them were high school science teachers and two of them went on to get flying licenses.
4) When a teacher leaves to work in another profession, this may not be the end of their teaching career. It may be the beginning of an adventure that will return to teach in coming years and win awards for excellence. Stay in touch with teachers that have left to work elsewhere. Encourage them and keep the door open.
5) We can’t assume that teacher training is actually doing so. When the local prep program is redesigning, participate and vocalize what skills today’s teachers need. Ask for the things that worked for our nation’s ‘best’. Demand that professors are modeling new media pedagogical practices, out-of-field training, student teaching for every course, design work, and community building.
6) Finally, when planning your school’s professional development time, consider experiences over content area. I’ll speak more in future posts on the specifics that were useful to my participants. For now, weight 2-3 day workshops, conferences, curriculum connected technology, and buffet style PD considerably more than guest speakers, mandatory training, and mass technology purchases for the staff (drop-in tech).
Earlier this week the New York Times wondered whether investments in educational technology were worth it since most schools don’t see any concurrent improvement in students’ standardized test scores. That’s not exactly a new issue but it’s worth examining again. After all, we are talking about large sums of money here. I’ll start with some broad categories of pushback against the article…
1. Striving for different, higher-level learning outcomes
It’s hard to get at critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, complex synthesis and analysis, and other higher-order thinking skills with a bubble test. Many schools aren’t aiming at low-level factual recall and procedural knowledge with their technology initiatives.
2. An appalling lack of support
Most school districts ask their technology coordinator(s) to support computers and/or people at ratios that would absolutely horrify folks in the business world. Support ratios that are 3 to 10 times higher than in other sectors don’t result in meaningful, reliable technology usage. Also, many (most?) school districts still don’t have technology integration personnel on hand to work with teachers; they just have IT support folks.
3. An appalling lack of training
We shouldn’t expect test score gains when few teachers have been trained well to use digital technologies to improve learning outcomes. Instead, teachers usually are just given various technology tools and, if they’re lucky, some minimal training in how to access the various features. Deep, rich technology integration training that has the potential to change educators’ pedagogy is rare.
4. We need more technology
There’s not enough technology in schools to adequately judge the claim that they don’t impact test scores. The average student still uses digital technologies pretty infrequently. Ask the children in your extended family / circle of friends how many minutes per week they get to use technology to further their learning in school. Most likely will say very little…
5. Technology at the periphery leads to replicative use
Digital technologies have yet to significantly impact the day-to-day core work of learners and teachers. Instead, we have seen mainstream adoption and growth of replicative technologies (i.e., those that allow teachers to mirror traditional educational practices only with more bells and whistles). We still primarily see learning environments where teachers push out basic information to student recipients and then assess them on the kind of stuff that you can find on Google in 3 seconds. Also, when digital technologies are used, it’s primarily teachers using them, not students. Schools still mainly buy teacher-centric tools, not student-centric tools. We’re not actually seeing technology uses that would ‘change the game’ and thus maybe ‘change the scores.’
6. It’s the future [actually, it’s the present]
In case we haven’t noticed, it’s a digital world out there (and will be even more so in the future). What’s the alternative to putting learning technologies in the hands of students? Is there one? Knowledge workers in the real world (i.e., outside of school) use computers to do their work. Can educators really claim to be relevant to life outside of schools while simultaneously ignoring the technological transformations that surround them, as if digital technologies were a fad that were going to go away?
So, let’s sum up…
We have schools and classrooms that are still doing what they’ve always done, but with some additional infrequent and marginal uses of new learning tools. We have educators who don’t really know how to use the tools very well and who also have little access to those tools, reliable IT support, and/or regular integration assistance. For some reason we expect changes in certain learning outcomes to occur anyway, despite these environmental factors and despite the fact that those outcomes may not be what the schools were striving for in the first place. And, if we don’t see those outcomes, we’re going to claim it’s the fault of the technologies themselves rather than human and system factors and then we’re going to claim that traditional analog learning environments are just fine in a digital, global world.
Does this make sense to anybody? Apparently it does, because plenty of people chimed in to support the slant of the New York Times article…
This has been a long post so I’ll close with three thoughts:
If it changes how information is created…
If it changes how information is shared…
If it changes how information is evaluated…
If it changes how people connect…
If it changes how people communicate…
If it changes what people can do for themselves…
Then it will change education, teaching, and learning.
Digital technologies and the Web WILL change education, teaching, and learning. Maybe not yet, at least not in the ways that we hope (and definitely not in the ways that we think). Maybe not until we get our collective act together and actually get serious about these technologies and start recognizing their learning potential and begin doing the things we should be doing to realize their affordances. Maybe right now we’re still in that place where corporations were in the 1980s and 1990s when pundits bemoaned that productivity gains were yet to be realized from technology investments, the place where we have yet to change the human and system factors sufficiently to realize the desired goals. But change is coming (and for many of us it already has).
we can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist. We can’t keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills [that students] are developing on their own. And above all, we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don’t happen to possess it.
These I didn’t have technology when I was a kid and I turned out okay or technology makes kids dumber attitudes to which Heffernan refers are both rampant and unhelpful. Again, what are we supposed to do, go back to the quill or slate? I struggle particularly with folks like Larry Cuban, who somehow can internally reconcile his statements that digital technologies have no place in P-12 learning environments (“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period. There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”) with his own admission that he has learned greatly from using the very tools he criticizes (“Learning also has come from the surprises I have found in the 1300-plus comments readers have posted. From those comments, I have received ideas I had not considered, sources sending me off to explore other topics, and counter-arguments I had overlooked.”).
There are many barriers that prevent us from retooling our classrooms for 21st century teaching and learning. But at the core is the story of education that resides in our minds. Most adults base their knowledge of schooling on their education experiences from 20, 30, or 40 years ago. It is a story that is etched almost indelibly by years of being taught in isolated, assembly-line fashioned classrooms.
How do we retell the story of education and fashion a new image of the classroom as a rich and comprehensive environment where students learn by asking questions, experimenting with a rich and diverse information environments, and interact with people around the world — in order to discover and build knowledge?
Right now – as evidenced by the New York Times article and its many supporters - we educational technology advocates still aren’t telling ‘the story’ very well to many educators, parents, community and school board members, policymakers, and/or the news media. That’s something we all have to work on if we ever are to accomplish the goal of making our children’s learning environments relevant to the world in which they and we now live.
The Did You Know? (Shift Happens) videos have been seen by at least 40 million people online and perhaps that many again during face-to-face conferences, workshops, etc. This week saw the release of the latest version, this one focused on the state of Iowa. Titled Iowa, Did You Know?, the video is aimed at Iowa policymakers, citizens, and educators and is intended to help them feel a greater sense of urgency when it comes to changing our schools. Right now there’s a fair amount of complacency; the average Iowan isn’t coming to his or her school board or politician saying, “Hey, why aren’t you preparing my kids for this digital, global world we now live in?!”
Take a look at the video and see what you think. Even if you don’t live in Iowa, I think you’ll find it quite pertinent to your educational context too. More thoughts and resources after the video…
We are hopeful that the video will be shown to groups all over the state. It comes with a facilitator’s guide to help spark conversation as well as PDF versions of each slide. The idea is that any local group – school, Rotary club, senior citizens’ center, community group, or book club (or even just a small bunch of neighbors) – can convene for 30–60 minutes, show the video, and then start talking and acting. Additional resources and information are available at the Iowa Future web site to help these groups. We need a groundswell of Iowans to start advocating for 21st, not 19th, century schools.
Leadership Day 2011
In addition to announcing Iowa, Did You Know?, this post also is going to serve as my Leadership Day 2011 contribution. If our schools are going to ‘shift’ and prepare students for the next (rather than the last) half century, school leaders are going to have to be much more proactive about engaging with parents, community members, and policymakers. Whether it’s pulling snippets from this blog or Mind Dump and mentioning them at every possible gathering, showing videos like this one and inviting discussion and action, or finding ways to regularly and visibly highlight innovative student and teacher uses of higher-order thinking skills and digital technologies, principals and superintendents can’t just focus on what occurs within their school systems. We MUST engage the public and we MUST engage the people who make policy at the state and federal levels. Right now we’re not doing this nearly as much as we should be. For example, we debuted Iowa, Did You Know? at the School Administrators of Iowa conference earlier this week. I heard lots of comments afterward from administrators about how excited they were to show the video to their staffs. But nary a single one said that he or she was excited to use it to help spark needed conversations with parents, citizens, or legislators. If we don’t have these latter conversations too, we’ll continue to run into the external mindset and funding/policy constraints that surround and hinder what we do, regardless of how innovative we are internally.
Does every state need a video like Iowa, Did You Know? Probably. If not a video, then a report or a recorded speech or something that galvanizes citizens to start putting pressure on school boards and lawmakers to do something DIFFERENT when it comes to learning, teaching, and schooling. Right now most of the discussion regarding educational reform is simply tweaking what we’ve always done, trying to make it a bit better or more intense. Given the transformational impacts of digital technologies on learning, communication, the global economy, our jobs, entertainment, and just about every other area of life we can think of, tweaking just doesn’t cut it.
It is with great appreciation that I thank:
Troyce Fisher, School Administrators of Iowa, and everyone else involved with the Iowa Future initiative for being so patient with me as I worked to get this done, for insisting that the video have an encouraging ending, and for having the original vision for a visibility initiative to reach Iowa citizens and legislators, not just educators.
XPLANE, who now has done the graphics on 3 of the 5 ‘official’ versions of Did You Know? and who came through yet again despite a very tight timeline. I can’t emphasize enough how creative the folks there are and how wonderful they are to work with. I have absolutely no hesitation recommending them for any project, any time. They are truly amazing and gifted.
All of the wonderful Iowans, educators or otherwise, who will help spread this video across the state and maximize its impact. I’m thanking you all in advance; it’s up to us to make these conversations happen!
Karl Fisch, who started the whole Did You Know? phenomenon and has graciously included me on every step along the way.
I served on a panel, Education in a Digital World, at the Iowa Education Summit today. Here is what I said during my 5 minutes of opening remarks.
We have to start with the recognition that digital technologies are transforming EVERYTHING.
Technology is allowing everyone to do more powerful and also more complex work, but that creative power is accompanied by significant disruptive impacts. For example, the same technologies that allow us to have a voice, find each other, and work together also are destroying geographic boundaries. We’re seeing to our dismay that offshoring and outsourcing allow everyone, everywhere to compete with each other and with us. In addition to replacing jobs here with folks overseas, jobs also are being destroyed by software. If the Industrial Revolution was about replacing humans’ physical labor with machines, the Information Revolution often is about replacing humans’ cognitive labor with computers. In short, these new tools are radically transforming every single other information-oriented segment of our economy.
Does the workforce preparation that most Iowa schools do reflect our new hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy and the impacts of these new technologies? Nope.
More important than the economic concerns, however, is that digital technologies also allow for dramatic impacts on learning. For example, students and educators now have access to all of the information in their textbooks – and an incredible wealth of primary documents – for free. They have access to robust, low cost or no-cost, multimedia and interactive learning resources – texts, images, audio, video, games, simulations – that can supplement, extend, or even replace what is being taught in their classrooms. Via collaborative Internet-based tools, they can learn from and with students and teachers in other states or countries. They also can quickly and easily connect with authors, artists, business professionals, entrepreneurs, physicians, craftsmen, professors, and other experts.
Students and teachers now can more authentically replicate (and actually do) real-world work through the use of the same tools and resources used by engineers, designers, scientists, accountants, and a multitude of other professionals and artisans. They can share their own knowledge, skills, and expertise with people all over the world. They can find or form communities of interest around topics for which they are passionate and they can be active (and valued) contributors to the world’s information commons, both individually and collaboratively with others.
Essentially, our students and teachers now have the ability to learn about whatever they want, from whomever they want, whenever and wherever they want, and they also can contribute to this learning environment for the benefit of others.
schools have kept new digital technologies on the periphery of their core academic practices. Schools … do not try to rethink basic practices of teaching and learning. Computers have not penetrated the core of schools, even though they have come to dominate the way people in the outside world read, write, calculate, and think.
If we were REALLY serious about educational technology, we would do things like…
put a robust digital learning device into every student’s hands (or let them bring and use their own) instead of pretending that we live in a pencil, notebook paper, and ring binder world;
we’d teach students how to properly maintain and manage those computing devices rather than removing user privileges and locking down the ability to change any settings;
we’d show students how to edit their privacy settings and use groups in their social networks instead of banning those networks because they’re ‘dangerous’ and/or ‘frivolous’;
we’d teach students to understand and contribute to the online information commons rather than ‘just saying no’ to Wikipedia;
we’d understand the true risk of students encountering online predators and make policy accordingly instead of succumbing to scare tactics by the media, politicians, law enforcement, computer security vendors, and others;
we’d find out the exact percentage of our schools’ families that don’t have broadband Internet access at home rather than treating the amorphous ‘digital divide’ as a reason not to assign any homework that involves use of the Internet;
we’d treat seriously and own personally the task of becoming proficient with the digital tools that are transforming everything instead of nonchalantly chuckling about how little we as educators know about computers;
we’d recognize the power and potential (and limitations) of online learning rather than blithely assuming that it can’t be as good as face-to-face instruction;
we’d tap into and utilize the technological interest and knowledge of students instead of pretending that they have nothing to contribute;
we’d integrate digital learning and teaching tools into subject-specific preservice methods courses rather than marginalizing instructional technology as a separate course;
we’d better educate and train school administrators rather than continuing to turn out new leaders that know virtually nothing about creating, facilitating, and/or sustaining 21st century learning environments;
And so on…
If we were really serious about technology in schools, we’d do these things and more. But we don’t.
Look, we know, simply from projecting current trends forward, that in the future our learning will be even more digital, more mobile, and more multimedia than it is now. Our learning will be more networked and more interconnected and often will occur online, lessening our dependence on local humans. Our learning frequently will be more informal and definitely will be more self-directed, individualized, and personalized. Our learning will be more computer-based and more software-mediated and thus less reliant on live humans. Our learning will be more open and more accessible and may occur in simulation or video game-like environments. And so on. We’re not going to retrench or go backward on any of these paths.
Here in Iowa we thus need to begin envisioning the implications of these environmental characteristics for learning, teaching, and schooling. We need school leaders who can design and operationalize our learning environments to reflect these new affordances. If we are going to create schools that are relevant to the needs of students, families, and society, we need policymakers who are brave enough to create the new paradigm instead of simply tweaking what we’ve always done.
Here in Iowa we’re currently spending less on school technology than we did a decade ago. Of the 40 states that have some sort of online learning options for students, we are near the very bottom in terms of number of students served. We continue to do the same old, same old and try to sprinkle a little bit of technology on top instead of putting these learning tools at the HEART of everything that we do. We must do better than this.
It’s 2011. It’s time for us to be serious about school technology. And right now as a state we’re anything but.
Well, I finally wrote the article I always wanted to write: a letter to my 3,000+ faculty peers in Educational Leadership preparation programs all across the country about how our collective inattention to technology-related issues is an embarrassing indictment of our lack of relevance:
Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of the language that I used in my broadside against my own profession. Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:
We also are witnessing the early adolescence of a vastly different global economy. For instance, the rapid growth of the Internet and other communication technologies has accelerated the offshoring of jobs from the developed world. Complex corporate global supply chains locate manufacturing work wherever costs are lowest, expertise is highest, or necessary talent resides. Geographic or product niche monopolies disappear in the face of Internet search engines. Micro-, small-batch, and on-demand manufacturing techniques facilitate customized, personalized production. Whatever manufacturing work remains in developed countries is high skill, is high tech, and, more often than not, requires greater education than a secondary diploma. The low-skill industrial system that was the backbone of the developed world’s economies in the previous century is increasingly a bygone memory.
Like manual work that is non-location-dependent, knowledge work also is frequently done cheaper elsewhere. Service jobs are increasingly fungible, able to be located anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection. Ongoing workflow and final products are exchanged at the speed of light via e-mail, instant messaging, and other corporate networking tools. The same technologies that facilitate interconnected global conversations also facilitate interconnected global commerce. As was done in previous decades for manufacturing work, the next two decades will see many complex service jobs broken up into component parts. Once these tasks are disaggregated, they will be done by lower-skilled workers who can do these discrete components of the overall work, facilitated by software. In other words, many high-paying service jobs will turn into globalized piece work. Since the service professions represent over three-fifths of America’s economy, the impacts of this are going to be quite significant.
If every other information-oriented societal sector is finding that transformative reinvention is the cost of survival in our current climate, schools and universities shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from the same changes that are radically altering their institutional peers. We shouldn’t pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in compelling and often as yet unknown ways. And, yet, for some reason we do.
As long-existing barriers to learning, communicating, and collaborating disappear – and as what it means to be a productive learner, citizen, and employee shifts dramatically – it’s worth asking how we as educational leadership faculty and programs are responding. Are we doing what we should? To date the evidence is pretty clear that most of us are not.
Can we as educational leadership faculty do better? Given the scale and scope of the transformations occurring around us – and their power and potential for student learning – we MUST do better. It’s embarrassing to consider how little we’ve done to stay relevant. A learning revolution has occurred and – given the attention we’ve paid it – it’s as if many of us didn’t care.
We know, simply from projecting current trends forward, that in the future our learning will be even more digital, more mobile, and more multimedia than it is now. It will be more networked and more interconnected and often will occur online, lessening dependence on local humans. It frequently will be more informal and definitely will be more self-directed, individualized, and personalized. It will be more computer-based and more software-mediated and thus less reliant on live humans. It will be more open and more accessible and may occur in simulation or video game-like environments. And so on. We’re not going to retrench or go backward on any of these paths. We thus need school leaders who can begin envisioning the implications of these environmental characteristics for learning, teaching, and schooling. We need administrators who can design and operationalize our learning environments to reflect these new affordances. We need leaders who are brave enough to create the new paradigm instead of simply tweaking the status quo and who have the knowledge and ability to create schools that are relevant to the needs of students, families, and society.
Like teachers, administrators, and media specialists, educational leadership faculty have a voluntarily-assumed (and paid) responsibility to be relevant to the needs of children and education today and to prepare administrators as best we are able for tomorrow. Our professional priorities must be aimed at preparing our graduates for the world as it is and will be. Otherwise, what are we here for? In other words, who’s going to prepare these school leaders if we don’t?
Please share this widely
Want to help further my cause of fostering technology-savvy school leaders? Share the Summer 2011 issue of the UCEA Review with any Educational Leadership faculty members that you know. I also think the article is good reading for most practicing administrators; in 4 short pages it sums up much of what I think principals and superintendents should be thinking about right now regarding 21st century schooling. Other great reads in the issue include Matt Militello’s article on technology integration challenges (p. 15), Jon Becker’s article on open access (p. 17), and the interview with John Nash (p. 12), one of my CASTLE co-directors.
All thoughts, reactions, and suggestions regarding my article are most welcome. The ironies of publishing my piece in a print / PDF medium are not lost on me, but sometimes you have to put your writing where your intended audience can find it.