This story came to me through my subscription to the North American Council for Online Learning forums today. Being a Michigander the message hit a little closer to "home". TOM WATKINS, president and CEO of TDW and Associates, a business and education consulting company, was Michigan's state superintendent of schools from 2001-05. I decided to contact Tom about using his article in my blog and he graciously accepted. I included it in my blog because I have been struggling with this idea of "keeping up" lately (my last post-Of Big Hair and Social Networking) and what and how most teaching in the world continues to look like despite the fact that the world has changed drastically from the time when the pedagogy we continue to practice was effective in meeting the needs of the learners and society is served. Anyway, here is Tom's article.

Detroit Free Press Schools must play high-tech catch-up April 18, 2007 BY TOM WATKINS The iPod-in-every-pot plan that state House Democrats appeared to be promoting and then backed away from last week was just plain goofy. The idea of bringing more technology into our schools, however, is not, and it's too bad that the House Democrats have set it back some when they should have been focused on solving the state budget crisis. That's the best thing they can do for kids. But let's be clear: The students in our schools today will confront a rapidly changing, disruptive, information and technologically driven world that will defy predictability. Will they be ready? The answer is no, if we continue to think our public schools should resemble what they were when today's adults passed through them in the 20th Century. A recent report by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization that includes the country's top business, education and technology leaders, captures the essence of the dilemma facing our schools: "Today's education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn." We need to break down the 2-by-4-by-6 paradigm of today's public education system -- two covers of a textbook, four walls of a classroom and a six-hour school day. As Michigan attempts to catch up with the 21st Century, this state must realize that our children have to compete with the children of the world, not just those from adjacent school districts or states. It is imperative that policy makers and educators address the fact that in a hyper-competitive, entrepreneurial, information age, the old way of providing education must be altered -- and sooner rather than later. Michigan's students must be the recipients of an agile system of education and public policies that effect substantive change. IPods and other technological opportunities can and should be part of revolutionizing our schools. Information technology changes the relationship between people and knowledge and is reshaping in profound ways when and how we learn. Does the rapid evolution into a knowledge-based global society driven by information technologies sound like your neighborhood public school? If not, how can we expect our children and our state to be prepared to compete in the future? In a rapidly changing world, staying even is falling behind. Michigan cannot lead without casting off the anchors of attitude, archaic laws and public policies and beliefs that bind us to the 20th Century, status-quo education model. The House Democrats had the right idea, but rather than advancing the cause, their bumbling may have tied another anchor to the much needed education revolution.
In my response to Tom's article I wrote the following email to him

This issue brings me to start to wonder about school sovereignty. Would schools be more readily adaptable to changing technologies if they were independent of state mandates, budgeting, etc. In other words, if schools we empowered to make the choices that they saw fit would we as educators be able to adapt and “keep up” more consistently to the changing technological landscape that education faces? It also strikes me how much, at the Carol Morgan School, we do not deal with since we are a privately funded school and what that means in terms of the use and integration of technology at this school. It is much easier for me to get the tools that I see as necessary to teach my classes. Whether that be ipods, webcams, land on Second Life (we are exploring this now along with the implications for how these virtual settings might be used in the elementary grades-if you know anything about this please pass it on), money for video conference field trips, etc., as long as my rationale for the request is sound I usually am able to get what I want. However, there is one major component inherent in all of this and that is trust. I have the trust of my administrators that what I am doing as a tech teacher is the direction our students need to be taking to stay “current”. They trust that the tools I need are the tools that the students need and this is where I feel that the public education system sometimes falls short in the US.

I think trust is a very important factor of educational reform. Without trust from administrators, school boards, or state legislators reform seems to be headed towards a dead end. Jeff Utecht has written on the topic of trust and I think it fits well here with what Tom is saying in his article.

Furthermore and on a slightly different tack, I have been struggling lately here with my role and my job. Truth be told, if teachers at my school were "keeping up" with the changing educational landscape and 21 century literacy skills I would be out of a job. We would not need an upper elementary tech. facilitator because teachers, given the proper professional development and resources, would be facilitating their own use of technology in their classes. In fact they would be facilitating it at all they would just be teaching with it similar to their use of a whiteboard, a pen, or a pencil in their class. The truth is though, we are a long ways from this from where I stand. Among the factors I see contributing to our need to "catch up" in education is lack of on-going accountable professional development for teachers, teacher resistance to change, the failure of teacher training programs at the university level to adequately prepare new teachers to meet and foresee the changing educational/technological landscape, the failure of school administrators to "take the bull by the horns" and do what is right for student learning rather than what is right for the school board, local politicians or state legislatures to name a few. Unfortunately what happens here in classrooms I feel is, at least, the norm of what is happening in international schools around the world as well as stateside schools for that matter. The question looms then, will we in education ever fully catch up? Will we ever get ahead of the curve? Will our students ever leave a 12th grade ready for the world that awaits them outside of academia?

I would love to hear any comments or thoughts from those of you who might read this who teach in the states. What are your thoughts about "catching up" Can we catch up? What are the major barriers in your opinion?

images from NACOL.org, http://www.slowleadership.org/2006/06/mistrust-and-trust.html

Of Big Hair and Social Networking

Remember the good old days when things like Calvin Klein jeans, big plastic combs in your back pocket, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and big hair bands were all the rage. Remember what we referred to these things as? Fads. That is right Fads. Yep, they have all come and gone (and they might come back again someday-hopefully minus big hair rock 'n roll), but they were just that, fads. Upon return from a very relaxing and very unplugged spring break here in the DR I cam e back to find a number of the edublogs I follow in my Netvibes account were discussing these new social networking sites such as Twitter, Ning, Facebook, the omnipresent Myspace, Jaiku, and beyond. It got me wondering...

There seems to be a lot of talk out there about how and where these fit into the realm of Educational Technology or if they fit at all. Most bloggers are trying these sites out themselves in order to see how they might fit them into their classrooms. I have no problem with this and actually I enjoy reading about their trials with these new Web 2.0 apps.

Stepping back though and trying to grasp what these networking sites provide, and what they might provide educationally, I was struck by an iconic vision of the 80's, the tight jeans with the big comb in the back pocket. Shortly thereafter, the word fad jumped into my head and I figured it worthy of a post here. You may have disagreed when you saw the picture of Poison above but if you're still reading, congratulations. I'll admit, I went to many of the sites I listed above to see what they were all about, most I had already checked out but Twitter for example was new to me. So where does social networking and technology in education fit? Hell, after thinking about this for a week, reading numerous posts, and writing one of my own, I have no clue. I don't see it/get it like many others out there are also saying. I guess I am starting to wonder if we do need to get it. Do we need to include social networking in the tools we employ as educational technologists? Will social networking sites last-are they here for good? And, what about the changing landscape of social networking sites themselves. The massive Myspace population is now losing some people to Facebook. Was Myspace the first of many social networking fads or will it re-invent itself to avoid the outcome of big hair rock n' roll?

Obviously I am not posting answers here but just some thoughts. Should we as educators be chasing fads and should we also be trying to see they educational benefit in every new Web 2.0 application? Would we be better off to let time and good judgement take its due course before actually rushing to the next "new" thing? When did it become important for us to "know" people we don't know and will never meet? What is the educational value in students knowing up to the minute updates of someones personal goings-on? Have we really moved that far from face to face social networking?

Finally, anyone who has ever been to Latin America will tell you about the plazas in the middle of most towns, from the smallest to the biggest you can usually find one with a statue of someone dead or a nice fountain of falling water. While there is much in Latin America that I do not admire, the idea of the central plaza is one that I have come to fully embrace. I now find myself rating the plazas I see driving through towns or when traveling. I guess what strikes me is that there are always people in these plazas, relaxing but almost always talking to other people...face to face no less. In the flat world will there be room and/or time for this type of social networking or will all of these non-virtual meeting places become the ruins of the pre-social networking age?