The Question has Changed…

[Originally posted to TechLearning Blog on 6 Aug 2007]

Last week, I presented a featured address at the Council for Chief State School Officers’ summer institute in Portland, Maine.  This was a golden opportunity to enlighten state superintendents, commissioners, and deputies of education from each of the fifty states with the realities of schooling in the 21st century — if I might be so self-aggrandizing. 

Alas, I squandered that opportunity on the wrong question.

Dolls dressed alike...For several years, I have sought to make a case for a broader definition of literacy skills, and, consequently, to promote learning environments and experiences that demand these skills — as learning literacies.  It became clear, while in Portland, that the case has been made, the “Why” has been answered.  Many of the talks and demonstrations were centered around the economic realities of our times and the inadequacies of today’s basic skills.  Yet in every conversation that followed, it became increasingly clear that the case is made.  Leadership is convinced.  Certainly many influential people remain doubtful.  Some aren’t even asking the question.  But the time has come for us to focus our attentions and our creativity to the “What” and the “How.” 

At the CCSSO institute, one presentation did aim itself squarely at the “What,” Mark Tuckers presentation on Tough Choices or Tough Times, a controversial blueprint for 21st century schooling.  “How” arose in almost every formal discussion, primarily seeking ways to convince their constituents — telling a new story.

What and how are not new conversations for us.  They are our bread and butter.  But how do we elevate that conversation.  How do we inspire it with energy and new language?  How do we make it our interest to redesign and retool?

What do you think?

PS:  I just scanned through a recent

Image Citation:
Smit, Erik Eti. “Why are we doing this?.” Eti’s Photostream. 1 Apr 2006. 13 Aug 2007 <>.

7 thoughts on “The Question has Changed…”

  1. There are two things that come to me reading this post. First, it’s not a case of ‘retooling’. This implies that we get in some new tools and, once we’ve mastered them, we’re set to go. This is not the introduction of the electric drill over the screwdriver. It’s a continually changing landscape and so ‘retooling’, which implies a one-off change, is not quite right.

    The second thing is the emphasis on those very tools and skills. Both are tangibles, for sure, but not everyone cares about them. Everyone in education cares about pedagogy, though, and what I discovered in the States this summer through my conversations is very little understanding of the pedagogical changes many other nations have been experiencing over the past 10-15 years or more. For example, formative assessment, peer review, rich tasks, productive pedagogies… they’re all jargon, but they are jargon that help teachers speak a common language about a way to teach. Few of those I met, unless they were from NZ, Australia or Canada, had heard of them, let alone used them in practice in their own settings.

    When you do understand these basic foundations of effective teaching and learning then social media fits like a glove. People care about improving the metacognition, the self-improvement of their students, but they don’t care about tools or skills so much.

    That’s my tuppence worth on why things constantly seem to be a struggle. If we change the focus, we might see more success.

  2. Point very well made, Ewan! From that perspective, of looking only at the word (which is all I really offered), your position is quite appropriate for us, here in the U.S.

    However, my intention comes more from my years (decades ago) in manufacturing, where, when you retooled in the plant, it involved new tools or reworked tools. But it also explicitly included new training, new process, new tasking, and even a redesign of the plant section’s layout. So my image was much broader than the word implies.

    In addition, retooling is a word that I use frequently. But I almost always suggest it as an ongoing process, where “..teachers have the resources to retool their classrooms every day.”

    But I do take your point, and agree, that technology, in the U.S., has too frequently meant a shopping list of new tools to be installed in classrooms, with too little investment in professional development, way too little consideration of new pedagogies, and no thought to the ongoing professional development that can occur when teachers are encouraged to participate in supportive idea building social networks.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation!

    — dave —

  3. We need a message that is compelling and comprehensible to the public and a plan for communicating it. Short and sweet is where it’s at.

    Public would be elected lay education leaders (school board members, parents, and voters. I list voters separately because a demographic reality is that most households in the U.S. do not have school-aged children in them, but these people are voters.

    Go down to the Speed Matters heading on this post for a link to what an effective public opinion and policy campaign can look like. I think education technology would be much easier to sell than their proposal for affordable high speed access, we just haven’t tried nearly as hard.

  4. My experience… the shopping list for new tools installed in classrooms = They think they know the WHAT, but they don’t. They think they have already figured out the WHY, but they don’t get it.
    The leadership continues to purchase expensive harware and software devices that look great from the outside. What they don’t get… The most powerful tools, like the social networking sites, are all free to use. Not a penney would have to be shelled out to use these tools.
    This is a common theme in our country.
    Buy, Buy, Buy… Look what we have!! It’s like our leadership is in a consumption race with other leaders. It is as though the “whole point” has been lost in a world of bragging to the other guy about your toys.

  5. I agree it seems we’ve reached a critical mass with more people getting the ‘why’ than ever. (Though there are those who see it as trendy to be with ‘it’ – how many can really say “Oh, technology? I don’t care for it.”)

    That aside, like Ewan, I don’t think there should be a flurry of web tool workshops where participants learn how to make a blog, wiki or whatever. If they don’t change the questions they’re asking, you’ll get the same old thing in a pretty Web 2.0 package.

    At workshops I usually ask staff if they know where the QWERTY keyboard comes from? Most don’t. How, the letter placement was designed for the first typewriter keyboards to SLOW users down, because they typed faster than the machine could handle.

    It’s still with us.

    Now, much later, I see teachers using outdated methods and calling them modern. Unless one deliberately alters how they learn and teach – they’re just holding themselves, and more importantly, their students back.

  6. Yes! The powers that be are largely convinced that we must tell a new story – much of that due to you. Now, let’s tell them how to tell the new story. the nitty gritty on what must be done now to get there then. Sheryl raises good points in her latest post on her blog too.

  7. We need to get our eduational leaders to understand that we MUST teach our students how to use these new “tools” responsibly…the best way to do this is to show them some success stories.

    The students are already using it…but as we have seen on the news, it has not always been responsibly. Instead of forbidding students to use these tools at school, we should be showing them how cool they are to use to expand their knowledge by socializing online.

    Educational “leaders” like to see how it works before making changes, so let’s start showing them!

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