Education Really Needs an Upgrade

A Preface: Over the past six months, I have had the chance to ponder BIG questions in relation to leadership and education. While I’m incredibly impressed with my experience, I’ve been frustrated with lack of conversation around 21st century literacies and education – especially among our group of aspiring administrators and future heads of schools. This semester, I decided to do something about it. I enrolled in an elective class (Literacies and Technologies in Secondary English Classroom) which is outside of the official  education leadership umbrella (but obviously, not really). Although we’re not even halfway through the semester, I have found this class to be even more challenging than many of my core classes. We’re a diverse group, we’ve been grappling with tough questions having to do with literacy and education, and we’re trying to envision what our classrooms and schools will/should/could look like while we’re in the comfortable cocoon of graduate school. It’s quite a daunting task.

Our small group has been thinking about a number of interesting questions during the first few weeks of class. The following questions are based on Lankshear and Knobels’s ideas from New Literacies, but they echo some of the larger questions that are being considered across our nation/world:

  • Since literacies can be considered “new” in terms of both ontologies and ethos, what does “new literacies” mean? Are ethos/ontology mutually exclusive?
  • What is the connection between a mindset and a new literacy?
  • What are the effects of distinguishing literacies as new? How does this shape our ideas of these literacies – both the “old” and “new”?
  • Given that teachers and curricula form the backbone of the “deep grammar” of school, what implications does this have for educators?

While I wasn’t able to attend Will Richardson’s conversation in person, I’ve been following the aftermath (and will read through the archived Elluminate chat very soon). Will’s session was entitled “The Decoupling of Education and School” and he used ideas from Collins and Halverson’s Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology to start the conversation. While the questions that were created (by 100 people in person and 40+ people online) encompass a much broader sweep of the educational landscape, I think we can add some of these questions to our discussion and more importantly, learn from his approach.

After the weekend at Educon, Richardson created a Google Form with all of the questions and asked others to join the conversation. He called on the members of his incredibly large PLN to whittle the 30 or so questions down to the ten essential questions by crowdsourcing. This is when I got involved. I voted on the ten that were most pressing as did many others. The results, which Richardson extracted after only a few days and numerous tweets, speak for themselves. His blog post on the process (and what the future will bring) is worth reading.

As I think about the small group in our Literacies and Technologies class and the big questions we are wrestling with, I think it’s essential that we do a couple of things. First, in order to bring more voices into the discussion, I think it’s important that we begin to expand our network to include a variety of opinions. I appreciate Will’s approach – especially since he is considered an expert by many in the ed tech world – because it gives a tangible example of networked learning. Second, I think it’s important that we remember that our discussions (while heavily rooted in theory) have real, practical implications. Karen LaBonte suggested this video, and I think it’ll provide an interesting foundation for the issues that we’ll grapple with this week/month/semester. I think it will help remind all of us that our theoretical discussions have realistic implications – the students in this video are asking for something more. They’re asking for us to consider what the world will look like in 5, 10, 20, 30 years. They’re hoping we take risks to provide them with something different. I’m hoping for the same thing.


3 thoughts on “Education Really Needs an Upgrade

  1. I just watched the No Future Left Behind video and I thought it was too dramatic and a little eerie. Just because a classroom is not infused with technology does not mean that students are not learning, creating, and enjoying themselves. Technology is not a panacea that is going to enlighten every classroom and make the quality of the lessons so much better. Some teachers are not saavy when it comes to technology and some kids do not even like using it. I think it absolutely needs to be present in classrooms, but the huge emphasis being placed on classroom technology as being the do all or die seems a bit silly. Many classrooms and schools cannot afford technology and these students might not be getting as high of quality in this regard, but still are receiving a high quality education. I am all for technology in my classroom, but to a degree, and I do not want it to be the main characteristic of my teaching.

  2. Heidi – thanks for your pushback.

    I also thought the video was not as powerful as some other videos which focus on initiating educational change, but it gets the point across that our classrooms and schools can’t look the same as they did in 1950, 1975, 2000. Do we agree on this point?

    If we do, then I think we also agree that technology is NOT the panacea (as you said) – it’s only one method to bring about a shift in classrooms/schools, but used incorrectly, it has the potential to make things worse!

    A lot of the questions I am grappling with (through our class and through the crowdsourcing experiment) are meant to open the discussion past the computer and tools. Inquiry has a HUGE place in classrooms, and good inquiry based projects can happen without a lick of technology. Collaboration should be another focus in our schools/classrooms, and good collaborative exercises and projects can be successful without computers.

    BUT, my argument has to do with the fact that technology is playing and will play a HUGE role in our students’ lives. As teachers, I believe that we should create spaces where our use of technology is authentic and purposeful. It actually is “do or die” in my mind. If we don’t acknowledge the role that technology (and inquiry and collaboration) will play in the lives of our students, we are ignoring a major piece of who they are and who they will be.

    Take a look at the thirteen questions below (from the crowdsourced experiment) – only one of them directly relates to technology. The rest, I believe, relates to student growth and learning. Isn’t that what teachers sh0uld be focused on?

    1. How do we support the changing role of teacher? 116
    2. What is the role of the teacher? 110
    3. How do we help students discover their passions? 110
    4. What is the essential learning that schools impart to students? 109
    5. What is the purpose of school? 102
    6. How do we adapt our curriculum to the technologies that kids are already using? 100
    7. What does and educated person look like today? 97
    8. How do we change policy to support more flexible time and place learning? 97
    9. What are the essential practices of teachers in a system where students are learning outside of school? 92
    10. How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity? 92

    And here were the next three that didn’t quite make the cut:

    * What is preventing us from being adaptable to change? 79
    * How do you validate or evaluate informal learning? 77
    * How do we measure or assess the effectiveness of individualized self-directed learning outside of school? 68

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