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So What’s Different? (another questions post)

My friend, Eric Langhorst, (seriously check out his classroom web site) posted a comment on yesterday’s blog entry, The Next Story. It’s a common lament of educators, but it got me to thinking. Read his post first.

I am frustrated about the lack of willingness to take “risks” in terms of a dynamic change in the way we teach our students. I do feel a glimmer of hope when I think of what has been done in Maine with the 1 on 1 program and today I saw mention of a plan to give laptops to all 7-12 students in South Dakota. One of the biggest things that troubles me is that students today in many cases are using web 2.0 tools to live and participate in live outside of the classroom. School is becoming another hoop that some of these gifted students must jump through before they move on to the next step in their life. Is that really what we want school to become? – a meaningless hoop that must be “endured” to get on with other things?

OK, so we need to change. But why.

Organisms change. They adapt to new conditions — or they become extinct.

So how has our climate changed? Why are we so excited about Maine’s initiative and other pockets of innovation? Is it the technology, or does it precisely address specific needs? If so, what are those needs? If we can identify a core set of new conditions, that can be universally acknowledged, then we might be able to wrap more compelling ideas around them for affecting change.

What do you think? What’s changed?

Compiling a List:

  • Access to information (Eric Langhorst)


  • http://speakingofhistory.blogspot.com speakingofhistory


    I think what has changed is access. I’m sure everyone over 30 has this same story but think back to when we did our term papers or major projects in high school – our sources were limited. I grew up in a small town or around 600 people and I needed to drive 45 minutes to get to a library with basic resources needed for my research paper as a senior. Today students have access to an incredible amount of information and could actually talk to various experts on any topic through e-mail, etc. I think many of traditional methods of teaching still focus on the “gettingof information” when that is no longer the issue. The issue is now deciding which information is accurate and then usable for our purpose. We have the potential to now move beyond the lower levels of learning with gathering information and reciting it. Now we can get the information quickly and then create with it, build with it, ask more questions from it. That is what I see as the value of having a project like Maine’s where students have access to the information and then have a creative way to create and build with it. It’s not about the technology but I would love to see what would happen if each of my students had their own laptop. I think we need to rethink what we are teaching our students and why – see “The World Is Flat). Gathering information should not be our primary goal anymore, we’re spinning our wheels.

  • http://elgg.net/csessums/weblog/ Christopher Sessums

    First, technology is not what’s important here. It’s people.
    Second, the US primary-secondary school system is a wreck. It is a historical artifact that keeps putting students through the paces without consciously recognizing the effects/affects.

    The climate in most US schools is the equivalent of a fetid swamp. There’s life in there, but it is limited and offers little support for biodiversity.

    Perhaps it’s time to drain the swamp. We built it, so we have the opportunity to rebuild it.
    However, if teachers and administrators continue to work in a broken system and sit on the sideline complaining and pointing fingers, then nothing will ever be changed.

    Perhaps it’s time to organize our faculty unions. Perhaps it’s time for critical educators and administrators to draw up a plan.

    Again, all these great opportunities for community building and learner-focus that technology affords will amount to nothing until we change the system.

    And this time, the revolution will be podcast(ed)….

  • http://edu.blogs.com ewan.mcintosh

    There’s a post that might help explain some of the climate change and why we are having so much more trouble adapting to it than we have had adapting to the renaissance or the industrial revolution (the post is here: http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/2005/12/8_ideas_that_wi.html).

    The technology revolution, and more importantly, the social technology revolution we are currently experiencing, is based on previous technology. Science tends to build upon itself to get better, faster, taller… There always comes a point when science can’t go any further. Ben Hammersley’s good example: the racehorse. There came a point where breeding two horses created a horse that could not run any faster without breaking its own bones. That revolution was over and done with and people knew what to expect – they even started taking bets on it.

    Technology, however, and the social technology we are using, will not break. Because, as Christopher says above, it’s about the people it cannot break. It’s not industrial, it’s not a thing that can break. If it looks like it’s gonna, we just add another server or extra bandwidth.

    And here is the problem that states and education authorities have. They often talk about ‘keeping up’ with technology, but I don’t think it’s about that. Nor is it about recognising change and then coping with it (did anyone say “Wow! Look at this Renaissance, Leonardo” or did they just get on with it? I think it’s about realising that it’s not about the revolution and reacting to it but just BEING PART OF IT. By hedging our bets and not engaging with the technology’s human aspect we risk breaking ourselves in not understanding what is inevitably going to happen around us.

    Goodness, I hope that makes some sense to someone.

  • http://jeff.scofer.com/thinkingstick/ Jeff Utecht

    I love being the 3rd or 4th comment to a post as you have just that much more information to absorb. Dave talks about access, Christopher about people, and Ewan about being apart of it.

    So is it about “Being a part of the change through access to people?” I guess we could substitute people for information, but I think Christopher is on to something here: access to people. HHMM..here I sit in Shanghai, China and I have access to people all around the world through this site. The information that they are producing is what is intriguing, but in no other ‘age’ would I have access to people like I do now. So when you ask Dave: what’s changed? I would have to agree with Dave, Christopher and Ewan. That today we have access to people and information that allow us to be a part of the change, unlike changes in the past where most people were just swept along with the change, we have a real opportunity to be apart of the change, a part of the information, and I think that is where 1-1 laptop programs really make the difference. They allow students to be apart of the change through access to people and information.

    Just my pennies worth.

  • http://mhetherington.net/blogs Mike Hetherington

    The COST of tools needed to access, manipulate and network information has changed. The $100 laptop is moving from concept toward production, and I predict the private market will eventually finish the job, making the low cost machine available to anyone at close to the target price. Time and place shifting hardware (IPOD,digital recorder, etc.) prices continue to drop. Software costs are falling and in many cases, given the open source alternatives and on-line applications, are approaching zero. School systems will be driven toward change by the visionary ideas, and lower costs will finally end significant opposition from all but the most entrenched statists. Given that some states (Maine, North Carolina)have already started major technology and pedagogical changes, I see significant movement toward 21st century literacy in the public school system over the next 2 to 4 years.

  • http://autonolearner.blogspot.com/ Marco Polo

    School is becoming another hoop that some of these gifted students must jump through before they move on to the next step in their life.
    Some argue, like John Gatto, that schools are not primarily places for education to happen, they are not designed for that, but they are designed to be people managers, sorters, slicers, dicers. Why stop at giving the kids laptops? Give them laptops (and free Internet connections) and LET THEM STAY HOME! (or run around wi-fi-ing). Isn’t it time, with so many decrying schools and schooling and its still-stuck-in-the-past outlook (facing backwards), that the onus be on schools and schooling to prove that it can do a better job than homes, families and local communities? Isn’t this the logical extension of what you are saying, David? That technological advance has not just made present-day teaching methods irrelevant but has made school irrelevant.

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com Dave


    You’re baiting my, man ;-)

    I agree that schools have become largely irrelevant to our students needs, as inheritors of their future. However, they have not become obsolete. Our endeavors should be to adapt our schools to the changing times, not give up and turn it all over to whims and conveniences of homes, churches, and communities. Preparing children for their future takes leadership. It makes much more sense to me to empower teachers to positions of community leadership, and to make decisions about curriculum that are relevant to our students, and their (and our) future.

    2 more cents!

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