I got called, yesterday, on my recent post on the long tail, A Landscape for Good and Evil. It seems that I may be mixing metaphors, where I’m describing the flat school as a vertical mass, slapped up against the Y-axis, and my frequent discussions of the flat classroom which spreads out along the X. So let me see if I can extricate myself from this mess.
First of all, the long tail and the flat world are two different things — sort of. So is there really a chance that over worked, over stressed, under appreciated, and under compensated professional educators might get confused? Well, yes!
So let me elaborate a bit more about my thoughts as they ride down the tail of the emerging information landscape. I’m starting at the top, and at the beginning (at least the beginning of my education experience).
|Added on 10/10
Tom Hoffman criticized this graph early this morning in his usual subtle and good-natured way. He made some good points, so explanation is warranted, and should have been provided when this post was submitted. I see the long tail graph as a platform that describes an emerging information landscape. I drew this graph using Photoshop Elements, and have been playing with it for a number of days from the perspective of an educator. For instance, it makes sense to me that the tail, a place of limitless geography and limitless shelf-space is where students might start to direct their own learning (they are already), as opposed to the spike, where textbooks live. But I may be wrong, and I’m certainly considering what Hoffman said. I do plan to play with this some more, and hope to give you a chance to play with it. So ya’ll come to the K12 Online Conference.
1) In this region we had no personal computers. In fact the personal computer hadn’t even been invented when I started teaching. We used textbooks and taught from local curriculum, because of the limits of geography and shelf-space.
2) Then we started seeing computers come into some of our classrooms, and started seeing computer labs. Only some teachers adopted these new technologies in meaningful ways, but some pretty interesting things happened in some places related to the emerging tail. For instance, Oregon Trail had students learning with seemingly limitless combinations of experiences (unlike the textbook). Printshop gave us our first taste of desktop publishing and the opportunities to become producers of content, not just consumers. Yet, it would be overly generous to say that these developments in any way redefined a curve in what schools did.
3) Then came more PCs and dial-up telecommunications. Integrated Learning Systems arrived as great information systems that provided students with limitless variety on how to perform long division and the proper placement of the comma. Not insignificant, but also, not redefining of education. FrEdMail, on the other hand, started to reshape the thinking of a handful of educators across the U.S. and beyond, as teachers started to give students assignments where they literally communicated with students in other lands (or across the street). Yet, again, this was so rare, that I can’t change the curve of education, though the curve of our information world was certainly beginning to shift.
4) Netday and E-Rate brought us were we are today. I didn’t fully realize how much E-Rate has done for us until I worked in Canada a few weeks ago, where they pay market rate for their Internet connections. unfettered communication made state and national standards possible. Many teachers started running their own web sites. But this was still old school. What shows promise in terms of access and leveraging the long tail of content are teacher blogs, course management systems (teacher controlled curriculum), education-based social networks, student blogs, and class wikis. Still, these developments are not a part of the institution yet, merely the experiments of visionaries. So I’m leaving the school up against to Y.
5) Finally, more and more homes are getting broadband. If you need it, you can find it. I’m sure I’m going to get hit on this, but there is almost no excuse now for not having a computer. If you want one, there are ways. But it’s the near ubiquitous access to broadband that we see the full breadth of the tail. This is where we’re seeing IM, MySpace, online video games, collaborative media development, YouTube, etc.
Now, if we consider the classroom as a room of millennial children, literate in the skills of digital, networked, and overwhelming information, then we’d have to say that that classroom is flat — against the X-axis. However, when we consider our schools or schooling as remaining reliant on textbooks and centrally created and maintained standards, then they are flat — against the Y-axis.
How did I do?
In conclusion, it’s that very small point of intersection that must concern us. The children in that flat classroom will very soon be voting for or against our bond referendums and deciding between pro public education politicians and anti-education politicians. For the sake of maintaining an institution that is central to a democratic society, we should be very very concerned that the education that today’s children are experiences means something to them.
technorati tags:warlick, education, flatclass, longtail, textbooks
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