Reactions to Podcast 40: Redefining & Telling the New Story

[Because this is so long and since I have invested an entire morning to its writing, I will also be posting it as a podcast]

Skypecast ParticipantsLast week, while I was driving across southern Illinois, some very smart people were engaged in an important discussion, one of Wesley Fryer’s International Skypecasts. Contributors included, Miguel Guhlin, Mark Ahlness, Ewan McIntosh, Darren Kuropatwa, and Jeff Allen. Wes and I had tried to work out a way that I might participate through my mobile phone, while I was driving, but I had so little access to e-mail during that day, that our messages sort of passed in the night.

I have listened to the podcast now, and have jotted down some notes and reactions. First, thanks guys for your time, and for helping me to better understand my own ideas — growing knowledge. Second, before reading this, it might be helpful to listen to the podcast. Then, on the other hand, it might be interesting to read this blog entry, and then listen to the podcast.

So here are my jotted comments:

What strikes me about the term, “Untried & Untested” is that it makes sense only in a world that is stable and secure, where the testing how we are doing, can be relied upon to predict our students’ future success. In a time of rapid change, the measure of success depends more on how adaptive and inventive the learner is — their ability to turn instability into opportunity. In this world, summative testing makes no sense. I continue to maintain that when we can not clearly predict our children’s future, it becomes much less important what they are learning, and much more important how they are learning it, and what they are doing with it.

Gulin said that the practices of innovative teachers are considered, “…untried and untrue because they don’t connect with the traditional environment of school.” I think that the real story is that our schools are not connecting to (relevant to) their own goals, preparing children for their future.

He goes on to say that change may not happen from within our schools, but as a result of the demands of society. I agree with this, and this idea may be helpful in responding to Darren Kuropatwa’s apparent struggle with what I mean by “telling the new story”. Actually, he seems to understand quite well what I mean. It’s the demands of that society and our children’s future that needs to be made into a story, and then told in compelling ways back to the community (and to communities of teachers). It requires that we observe, speculate, converse, and construct a compelling story that clearly defines what children need to be learning, and how they need to be learning it, and in what kinds of classrooms (or not) it should be happening in. That story has to connect to a market-place, to deeply held values, and it needs to be something that we can point to and say, “Isn’t that the kind of education your children deserve?”

Mark Ahlness, equally confused by the question, and who seems equally to understand the answer, asks why new learning techniques like blogging are not catching on faster. I believe that it is because it does not resonate with today’s prevailing stories, test scores. We have become convinced that test scores indicate an effective school and a successfully educated student, and by extension, a citizen who will prosper, contribute, and be happy in their future. It’s a story that is pretty easy to swallow because it is simple, and it connects easily to our own education-experiences of 10, 20, or 40 years ago. It’s the reason why we need a new story that will be so compelling, that it will shatter the ideas of high-stakes testing, by showing it to be totally irrelevant to our children’s future, and might I add, “our future.”

Ewan McIntosh mentions digital immigrants and talks about the BBC reporter, who was younger than Ewan’s 28 years, but did not know about students’ use of social networks (MySpace and Bebo). He extended his point by saying that “… this is someone who is tapped into youth culture, being a radio reporter for the BBC.”


I have faced similar frustrations, most recently by a blog that is written by our capital paper’s education reporter. It is an education blog, but he has not, in a singly entry, ever talked about education. He writes exclusively about the school board, county commissioners, redistricting, budget and year-round schools, and never about the classroom. I’ve asked him about this, via e-mail, and he says that this is what people want to read. This is the story that they want to hear because it resonates emotionally with them, because these issues are about the market, about their children, and it makes assumptions about the education experiences of their past.

We need a story that equally resonates emotionally, but that forces new conclusions about the needs of learning children.

Finally, Ewan hits hard with what’s haunted me for months. He says that the phrase, “New Story” is annoying and that it verges on jargon. Thanks, Ewan. That was below the belt, but the intent was to knock some sense into me, and you are absolutely right. It is frustrating for people to read what I say about “The New Story” and then they start talking immediately about Digital Story Telling — which is an entirely different thing. So I need to clear this up — allot.

Ewan gets it, as he says that critical mass is not exactly what we need immediately — but evangelists. Mark wants to shout from the rooftops that blogging is the most motivational and exciting tool for student learning that he has ever seen. So where is the rooftop? How and where do we tell that story?

More Questions?

I really like Jeff Allen’s question, “If the technology is a tool, then what is its function?” There are probably a million ways to answer that question, and his, “…the technology is an amplifier,” has an enormous amount of value. But he goes on to talk about Dennis Littky’s “The Big Picture Company” (which I had not heard of, but will certainly learn more about), where students are deeply investigating topics that interest them, and he says that the teachers get out of the way. I think that part of the story is “What does that look like?” What does a classroom look like, where the teacher is getting out of the way of learning. Jeff mentions the phrase, “Guide on the side,” which is certainly useful. I like the shift from teacher delivers instruction to the teacher creates and crafts learning experiences, maintaining the classroom as a learning engine.

Ewan goes on to make a valuable point in trying to draw us away from talking about blogs and podcasts, and more about instruction and learning. Bingo, again. But! The story must be as free from education jargon as it is from technology jargon. The story is about people, how they do things and afford to do things (market), what the care about (values), and what we can point to that everyone (kids, teachers, administrators, parents, legislators, government ministers, and presidents) can all identify with. Wes says it has to be about relationships and connections. Yes!

I guess I’m talking about really big stories, that come in really small packages.

Darren did a wonderful job of tying things together when he asked, “What is it about blogging that makes it transformative.” He then referred to different statements that the participants had said, that it was all of it, and it had almost nothing to do with the technology (at least that what I gained from his statements). I really liked his reference to push/pull learning, and it speaks pretty effectively to the difference between industrial age learning, and creative age learning. When people contributed their muscles to the economy, you wanted to be able to push them along. But when our contributions come from our adaptability and innovation, then you want people who can teach themselves, — pulling learning from their experience.

Finally, there were several instances in the podcast where the following phrase was used:

Flat world technologies and their affect on teaching.

This phrase bothers me a bit, and I think it is for the same reason that “integrating technology” bothers me. It’s like saying, “Jack sold his mom’s cow for some seeds — and the giant fell to earth from his castle in the clouds.”

There are components to this story, and ours, that are missing and assumed, such as:

  • Jobs today, depend on talent, not geography.
  • We live in an exciting time of rapid change, new challenges, and enormous opportunities.
  • We now have access to brand new and compelling opportunities to learn by building knowledge in collaboration with others.
  • Being educated today depends less on what you have learned, and much more on what you can learn, unlearn, and relearn — learning to be specialized, highly adaptable, and creative.

The emotional impact of the compelling new story, is in the details — not a lot of details, but they have to connect with market, values, and it has to be something that we can point to.

In Conclusion:

  • What we need, is a new vision about education, one that reflects our increasingly digital and networked information environment, with new notions of the basic information skills — literacy,
  • That reflects a future of vast opportunities, and untold challenges, for which we are preparing our children — where their economic activities will be based far more on their inventiveness, than their ability to perform tasks and retain knowledge,
  • That reflects a new breed of children, with amazing new learning skills, who are adept at technology, but who desperately need us to teach them how to work the information.

To build that vision, WE need to be telling a new story, one that so compels on an intellectual and emotional level, that it shatters the old stories of seats in rows, nine-pound textbooks, lectures day-in and day-out, and the notion that we can measure success with a bubble sheet.

It’s a story that we tell to anyone who will listen, but especially to parents, community members, governmental leaders, other teachers, administrators, and even to our children. The stories must be short and they must have a moral.

Did you know that…? and
So what are we going to do about it?

That’s my 2¢ Worth!

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.