(CC) Photo by Enoch Lai
I’ve been struggling for quite a few days with a question that has actually been on my mind (and tongue) for quite some time. The question emerged most recently a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting in the only session at the Laptop Institute that I had a chance to actually attend. It was Convincing Your Constituencies by Fort Worth Academy head of school, William Broderick. He skillfully outlined the DOs of selling a 1:1 initiative to teachers, parents and boards — and the DON’Ts.
One of the DON’Ts that Broderick shared, and one of the mistakes he said that his team had made in their initial campaign to promote a 1:1 program at their school, was selling the technology instead of the learning. “Technology” was actually a fairly easy sale. Most people equate computer technology and the Internet with the future and consider technology skills to be synonymous with 21st century skills. The problem came when they started implementing the program. The approach was to teach teachers how to use the computers rather than helping them learn to use this new connective environment to craft and manage effective and relevant learning experiences.
So we say to each other, “Its not about the technology. It’s about the learning.” But even that is not good enough, in my opinion. It Does not sufficiently answer the question, “If it’s not about the technology, then what is it about?”
Certainly, it’s the learning. But what kind of learning? How is the learning different? What is fundamentally new about learning with a computer in front of you, instead of a textbook? ..and perhaps an even more practical question is what does the “teaching” look like?
To answer these questions, I think that it is far more useful to take an approach that I shared today with a group of school administrators from across East Texas. I suggested that rather than wondering how learning might be accomplished with technology, we might, as I often urge people, think about the information. Rather than focusing on the machine, we should explore the new potentials of learning with, and within, an environment of networked, digital and abundant information.
What does learning look like when networking enables us to facility multiple channels of conversation that transcend classroom walls, school campuses, and bell schedules? What does the learning look like when digital information has less to do with something to be taught,and more to do with providing learners with information raw materials that the can shape, mix and remix to construct their own learning? And what does learning look like — for that matter, what does it mean to be educated — when we have increasingly ubiquitous access to increasingly abundant amounts information? The technology is simply the window.
As for the teaching? Well a simple way of expressing this might be the vision of the textbook equipped classroom, with the teacher in the front of the class, leading the way. In a classroom that is equipped with networked, digital, and abundant information, well the teacher stands behind the learner, looking over his shoulder, suggesting questions, provoking conversations, rewarding success and celebrating mistakes, and, expressing the wonder that new learning causes — because she, perhaps, might be learning something new as well.