Letting Go

Bob Cringely of PBS (thanks Keith) recently wrote something that resonated with me. His was one of those articles you find every once in a while that helps your mind coalesce scattered fragments of thought and helps to give clarity to an important idea. He begins:

There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life. It is a war that will ultimately and inevitably change us all, no going back. The early battles are being fought in our schools. And I already know who the winners will be.

Now without reading the article, do you know what he is talking about? Do you see it? If you are reading this, you are likely closer than most of your colleagues to understanding it. Now read this:

Here, buried in my sixth paragraph, is the most important nugget: we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

Now read it again. The idea has been an underlying notion in the edublogosphere for a number of years, and of course, it has a much longer philosophical history. Whether the approach is schooliness, deschooling or School 2.0, I do not think we are anywhere near in understanding what the future holds for the education of our children, and theirs.

And I think there is something big here for me. After reading this article, it wasn’t that I was surprised. I felt guilty. Really guilty. As a professor of edtech and media, i have the opportunity to effect hundreds of preservice and practicing teachers. I have typically focused on helping improve technological competency, media literacy and instructional practice with these individuals. This seems OK, doesn’t it?

But what if you know it is just a band-aid? What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change? What if you feel you are just prolonging the inevitable, and simply giving temporary life to a model that is clearly in its death throes?

It is about honesty. It is about being truthful to our students about the flaws of our educational system. It is essential that we open a dialogue with our children to help them design their educational processes. Together we can do more than simply patch the existing system, and we need to do it soon.

The walls are crumbling, but it’s OK. The future is in good hands.

Related: While you are here, check out Mr. Winkle Wakes, “an amusing, animated retelling of a popular educational story”. Thanks Matthew, this is a nice conversation starter.

27 thoughts on “Letting Go

  1. It’s true these notions have been lurking in the darker recesses of the edublogosphere, but it’s rare to read such sentiments expressed so nakedly.

    And yeah, if we try to effect small changes at the margins, co-opting some ideas and making them more palatable, perhaps we prolong the inevitable while we cash our pay-cheques… I’m comfortable with a certain amount of

    Interesting to think that waves that may end up resonating so powerfully might be “early battles.” Sometimes I think, historically speaking, that there really is no more compelling place to be than here and now.

    Provocative post.

  2. Yikes. Between the loss of paragraph formatting, and that unfinished sentence, I go beyond incoherence into full-blown delusional raving.

  3. Alec,
    I think the most powerful part of this compelling post is the positive ending! “The future is in good hands.” Too often posts like this read of doom-and-gloom, and that isn’t the message! The message is that things must change! The message is that if we stay inside the paradigm, we can’t change what we need to.
    The guilt you feel is uncomfortable, but necessary! (I feel it too). It is that discomfort that will help us to look for transformational rather than incremental change. The fact that schools will have to change is inevitable. So first we must change…
    We need to be empowered learners if we want to lead other learners. We need to create an environment that fosters doing new things in new ways, like many cutting edge organizations do.
    What do we need to do to nurture our own learning? What do we need to do to nurture our peers? How can WE become educational leaders that prepare our students for an age of prolific technological advancement?

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  5. I agree that it is important to speak truth to new teachers–they came through the current system, so it is also hard for them to envision the changes that they may face in their careers, as the demands of our students change.

    Eloquent and important post, and I applaud you for taking the challenge and illuminating this issue in a real way for future teachers.

  6. Absolutely, right. I’m privileged to teach orchestra, so the “sit at desks while teacher lectures” model seems ridiculous to me anyway. My job is all about creating opportunities for the little light bulbs to flash above my musicians’ heads, and I do that with whatever tools I can.
    Most students realize that they understand technology above and beyond what their teachers and parents do, and I think, if we showed an interest, they’d teach *us*. Instead, students end up seeing schools as the place they *can’t* use their online skills, and some begin to think that they’re more productive at learning on their own (scary thought!!!).

  7. You said:
    “What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change?”

    There are a number of things that make me uncomfortable with the idea of schools “ceasing to exist”, but since technology is such a fundamental part of this idea, I worry that the digital divide will become worse if many students no longer have access to technology in the current school setting. Things certainly need to change, but how will we deal with issues of access?

  8. I haven’t done a lot of work with K-12, but I am profoundly disturbed at the college level with the lack of understanding of digital media and connectivity and what the two together bring to the table. Sure there are computers every where, but I don’t see a real push for information literacy. Instead I feel overwhelming protection of traditional “disciplines.” I understand that a liberal arts foundation may, if done well, prepare students to be critical thinkers and manage information. But a purely liberal arts foundation, without any real regard for science, technology, math is a naive approach to providing an “educated” populace. And the way everything has been set up for students- you have x number of credits required to graduate and x number of credits in core courses– establishes education as an end-sum game, where students get a really clear message about the purpose of learning. The nature of information has fundamentally changed. What it means “to know” has fundamentally changed.

  9. I really should have had a better conclusion. I meant: Though the nature of information has fundamentally changed and what it means “to know” has fundamentally changed, these issues are not addressed. Actually, if anything, they are mocked.

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  11. This is a great post about the change that needs to occur, but I am not sure that all teachers see this issue. They see that students are not engaged, but keep doing more of the same in hopes that the students will magically “show up”. We need to convince the whole profession that change is needed and rid them of their fears of technology. I have seen these “light-bulbs” being Elluminated (inside joke) in our ECI 831 class this semester and teachers are really embracing technology and making a difference in their schools. I think you are making a difference, Alec. I see it in our class and you can’t conquer the world, but you can work at it, one class at a time :)

  12. I see a number of factors at work here, factors that are keeping our schools locked in the past (while our students are surging into the present/future). One is fear. I see a lot of fear of the “dangers” of exposing our kids to the Internet. One is ignorance – many adults who impact schools just don’t really know enough about what is going on. There are too many leaders and “powers-that-be” who are themselves too far from the cutting-edge. And then there is the issue of overwhelm. There is so much to learn, things are moving so quickly out there, that I think many people feel completely overwhelmed.
    I recently wrote a post about how I see myself as a bridge between two worlds. I, the tech coordinator at a K-8 school, am the bridge between the incredibly expansive web 2.0 world and teachers at my school, some of whom still do not use email. It’s an interesting place to be, often frustrating, and I often feel completely overwhelmed myself. But, and this may sound trite, the students make it all worthwhile. I really see the impact I am making with THEM. I am interested in seeing the changes to come. Our schools will change.

  13. I believe it is important to have these conversations and as Carolyn said new teachers have come through the same system, I see this repeatedly in new hires. Our administration believes those just graduating from college have such a technological edge over veteran teachers and truth be told, they don’t, not in their instructional practice. New teachers know about technology but in our area pre service teachers only have to take one “technology” course as an undergraduate, there are few conversations surrounding edtech as a classroom tool. You are a great example Alec for the students you teach.

  14. Technology has fundamentally changed our society, and it will fundamentally change our schools.

    While I’ve read quite a bit of the deschooling, schooliness debate, I believe that humans are social beings and we can only thrive as a species if we treasure our social places. The most open, accepting, nurturing social places we have are our schools.

    So while I believe that what goes on inside our schools MUST change, we need to use technology to engage students and help each of them to grow a large web of flat world relationships, we must also see our schools as social places, as communities, where we come together to learn rather than teach.

    Finally, I agree that we must begin to collaborate with students to build these communities because the future is indeed in their hands.

  15. Timely post! I particularly connect with the comment of feeling guilty. As our district’s curriculum technology coach I often feel frustrated/guilty at the kind of teaching I see going on in the classrooms. ( I should/could be doing more.)
    I recently expressed to our asst. superintendent that I was concerned that our students were “powering down” to come to school. She looked startled…said she had never heard of that before.
    Your post goes nicely with Karl Fisch’s post: Is It Okay to Be a Technologically Illiterate Teacher? http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2007/09/is-it-okay-to-be-technologically.html

  16. As long as we continue to have these discussions with technology as a major focus, there will be glacial-speed change. The technophobes are strong and have stamina.

    The focus of any “change” conversation needs to be pedagogical – how do 21st century citizens learn? Unfortunately many of our teachers are returning to their classrooms after a great technology PD session to continue doing the same thing, just in a new way.

    There was an article in the Toronto Star last week, http://www.thestar.com/article/357017 about Ryerson students using the new state-of-the-art theatres in the AMC multiplex (located in the Toronto Life Square building) as lecture halls.

    The article states:

    “But this time, the dual purpose has been planned from the start, and there wouldn’t be many of the pitfalls – poor lighting, nowhere to take notes…

    “We’ve designed special mini-desktops for students that will fit into the cupholders but can be stored away when moviegoers arrive…”

    I was so shocked when I saw the article that I had to re-read it to make sure it wasn’t a spoof. Why are we creating more lecture halls??? Yes, the powerpoint slides will be in high def; yes, the prof will be able to drone in dolby digital; yes, the seats will be comfortable; and yes, it’s an example of partnering between industry and academia, but give me a break – technology enhanced “sit and git” isn’t going to be any more effective than more traditional lectures. The pedagogy is not sound! That’s where the conversation needs to start. How do we learn?

  17. I wonder if a conference showcasing what the new learning looks like – with actual high school and even middle-school students invited to participate and mix freely with teachers and ed students – in part, sort of an “info fair” for digital literacy- wonder if that wouldn’t take the discussion to a broader group (and on the face of it you’d think there would be plenty of sponsors for the technology aspect, too.)

    Also think that so many “in-service” or professional development days are wasted, with teachers going off to be bored stiff at predictable workshops etc and students staying home to amuse themselves online – hardly a “meeting of the minds” — surely a new kind of PD day needs to be envisioned where the students are allowed to show what they know to teachers who need to see it – that could be *real* professional development!

  18. You may not get the “opportunity to effect hundreds of preservice and practicing teachers.” The “new teacher” will probably not encounter your course. Our local university has had very few science education candidates in the past 15 years. The last 3 new teacher hires in my department came without benefit of a college of education and must attend an alternative certification program within their first three years of teaching.

    I, until recently, was relatively optimistic about adoptive use of technology in education as indicated in my hopeful analysis in this post. In a conversation with a teaching colleague of mine, our discussion often returns to the adoption curve and impediments to it, outlined by Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations. Particular interest given to the 5 classifications of people based on how quickly they adopt an innovation, (i.e. innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards ) and thus help determine the rate at which the innovation is adopted. These characteristic are humorously/satirically portrayed here.

    My colleague and I more than half expect a crash of the system will have to occur before things improve. In the US, that will more than likely occur 2012 (2014?) as No Child Left Behind stipulates that all students will show annual yearly progress (state assessment test). Unless that yearly progress bar is very low, most schools will be deemed as failing and the logic will follow that we have a failing system.

    In any event, change will come.

  19. I think it goes beyond technology.

    Schools are essentially designed as prisons to keep students in line and obedient. You have to expect that at some point the inmates are going to rebel, particularly at a time when they’re being empowered by technology in the real world.

    Even allowing students to talk to each other and collaborate on projects together, giving them some choices about their own learning, and shifting the teaching model from teacher as expert to teacher as facilitator (with a little bit of technology thrown in) would be revolutionary in most schools.

    And thanks for checking out my “Mr. Winkle Wakes” movie.

  20. I don’t think there is a war, any more than the transfer of knowledge from personal communication to printed books in the 16th century was a war. It’s a shift. There should be no guilt in trying to improve the current system. The guilt may come rather in examining the role of educators in general in a society that is rapidly becoming anti-intellectual. It is not a case of the liberal arts versus digital literacy, or the disciplines versus technology. Greater access to information and perspectives *within* the disciplines, and in interdisciplinary fields, is the treasure. For people who want to learn, technology is a natural tool, because real learners are always looking for more paradigms as well as more information. I’m much more concerned with how many people have no interest in learning at all, and whether the use of technology can help improve that situation.

  21. Alec your post raised a number of questions in my mind. Do we need to change? Are we doing the right things to support change? Is change inevitable – does it matter what we do?
    I think it does matter what we do. Some need to step out and be provocative to stimulate the conversation. Jeannine raises good points about the social nature of learning in her comments, and about their needing to be a safe place for learning. But at the same time we must be careful to not let the buildings act as prisons, as Matthew points out. I have observed modern buildings with rich technology and flexible spaces become “old” models of teaching and learning. It’s really not the space, it’s what happens inside. I think that is Jeannine’s point.
    One way we’ve been tackling the question is through guided discussion. Our district’s work on 21st Century Learning provides a collection of materials for thoughtful investigation and reflection. One of my favourite pieces is the six scenarios from the OECD. Why scenarios? (from the site–>) “Scenarios have the potential to help us see the familiar in new ways. By standing in someone’s shoes and walking around in an imagined, probable future, we may understand more about our current direction of travel and our values and principles. By viewing scenarios in combination, we can begin to imagine the preferred future we hope to shape together. We can then explore, quite practically, how school leaders and policy makers at a local and national level can work to make this a reality.”
    Including students, parents, teachers in this conversation may just give us a chance to get it right.

  22. There is a reason why there are no dinosaurs!

    adapt (evolve if you like over time) or perish..cease to exist because you are no longer able to exist. Schools have not always been(there)..nor are they required to continue if they are no longer providing the service expected.

    Truancy is one problem, leaving for a better offer is another…when the majority have abetter offer it will be too late too change, just time to close the doors.

    some do that already if they do not provide what their students/community/clients want. no different o business really…just better subsidised by the political forces of control and tradition.

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