Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yeah, I knew 2.0

Over at that the Dangerously Irrelevant blog Scott McLeod posted about engaging the broader community - local folks he called them - in a discussion of the revolution in 21st century teaching-learning. I couldn't agree more and I should know, I'm local folks. I don't teach or administer anything and I am not a parent. I suppose serving on advisory boards for technology programs at a couple of different school districts (and blogging about it) makes me a little different than average "local folks". Nevertheless, the revolution won't be happening without me.

If you read the edubloggers enough you will eventually find a post lamenting the hard work changing the educational system one teacher/administrator at a time. My response is always the same - converting teachers is only one essential part of the puzzle. The revolution of 21st century teaching-learning is a part of a larger transformation of the society (information revolution, death of mass). Transformation of the part cannot be done without transformation of the whole.

As a result, the broader community will need to be included in the conversation. Not only must we rethink our collective mental model of education, but we must then redefine all the rules, constraints and measures that maintain the status quo. You know, teacher pay, school year, use of information and communication technology (ICT), teacher/student ratios, union rules, etc. 21st century teaching-learning will always fail if the measures for success are from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Furthermore, demographic changes make outreach to the broader community essential to just maintain the status quo, let alone complete the revolution. I am specifically referring to the fact that a greater percentage of the customers of the education system - customers being those that write the checks - don't directly benefit from the system. A greater percentage of our society is older and their kids have long since left school and the district. We also see an increase in the number of couples like my wife and I that will go childless throughout our lives.

Engaging that broader community will be no small feat. Robert Putnam documented the decline in social engagement years ago. If few people will attend a planning commission meeting on a topic that directly effects them, then how many do you think will show up for a school board meeting when they don't have kids? How many show up when they do have kids? Equally challenging is to get the broader community to recognize and acknowledge as positive the underlying changes that are driving/enabling the revolution in teaching/learning. I can assure you that where I work, the idea of a building inspector or plans examiner as a knowledge worker has not sunk in at any level. Remember what I said about crisis and illusion a couple of months back.

So what's a poor 21st-century education evangelist to do?
  • Look for kindred souls within the broader community and work together. The employee I need to enlighten about web 2.0 and the parent you need to enlighten about web 2.0 is the same person. Let's work together.
  • Keep it personal. It's easier to dismiss the ideas of the teacher's union than it is the teacher who lives next door (remember, the broader community thinks schools are bad, but not their schools).
  • Stay on message. In the business world we have the elevator pitch, what you will say to an executive about your idea on a 30-second elevator ride to the 40th floor. Create a 1-page talking points document on key topics and publish them so that any teacher/kindred-spirit can give the pitch at any moment.
  • Tie it back to the goal of a better future. Remind people that 100 years ago leaving the farm for factory work seemed like a road to disaster. After a difficult transition it was that feared "industrial" future that became the American Dream (see Glen Hiemstra's video Beyond 2020).
  • Read Selling the Dream and Made to Stick.
I don't know if it will help any of you, but since I didn't initially buy into the use of computer technology in the classroom it might be informative for you to know why I changed my mind. Basically it came down to 4 revelations:
  • In addition to teaching facts, schools also model desired behaviors. Unfortunately too many of the behaviors they are modeling aren't needed in 2008, let alone 2028. A rigid adherence to an arbitrary school day, for instance, doesn't really prepare anyone for a 9pm conference call to India or working from home one day a week.
  • You can prepare students for an uncertain future. Instead of facts and figures we need to focus on skills that allow the student to adapt to various situations. Isn't that what the Boy Scouts are all about ("be prepared")?
  • Computers are disruptive the 1960's-style classroom. Yeah, okay, but it's 2008. Maybe we need a little less lecture and a little more project time. An introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy helped my conversion.
  • It's the information (age) stupid. Information technology needs to be in the classroom so that students learn how to gather, assemble, assess and synthesize information. The enabling technology needs to be integrated into the course, not stand alone. You never had an Introduction to Pencil class (or AP Pencil, for those going to college).
Good luck with the revolution and let me know if I can help.

Tags: , , , , , , ,


lgrt said...

Wow way to put it. I would like to feel self-important by restating what you wrote but you did a great job so I'll just bask in my self proclaimed humility and wait for your next post.