Connecting ed-tech to ed-reform

The design of American education is obsolete, not meeting the needs of our students and our society, and ignores most of what we have learned about education and learning in the past century. This panel will explore a new paradigm, including some specific examples, of how education in America can be reshaped in more productive and democratic fashions. YEARLYKOS: Education Uprising / Educating for Democracy

At the annual Yearlykos 2007 conference, a group of educators, including teacherken from The Daily Kos, will discuss a year-long project to implement education reform in America. The opening paragraph above is followed by an essay on education reform and links to support resources.

What does this have to do with technology?
As educators find themselves re-imagining learning based on their own tech-based awakening, the sense comes quickly that this is not about new technology, access to information, 21st century skills, or even 2.0-goodness, but broader-based education reform. But just as quickly, it starts to feel like there is no hope of changing a lumbering, entrenched educational system with a tiny lever called technology.

However, we are not alone, and it would be a win-win for both tech-loving educators and education reformers to join forces. The tools of Web 2.0 could tip the balance in the effort to reshape education “in more productive and democratic fashions.” The virtual voices of students and teachers alike could finally be heard in force.

Roadmap for education reform
The online handout from this session is a roadmap of current education reform efforts focusing on teacher autonomy, authentic student work, and educator-driven reforms.

Just a few gems:

Forum for Education and Democracy, founded by a group of prominent thinkers in education, including Deborah Meier, Angela Valenzuela, Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, Ted and Nancy Sizer, and others:

The Education Policy Blog is group blog in which both Sherman Dorn and Ken Bernstein participate. It has the purpose of examining education from a social foundations perspective, and many of the participants teach social foundations of education in teacher training programs.

Educators Roundtable is the product a group of educators who came together to attempt to stop reauthorization of NCLB in anything like its current format.

Coalition of Essential Schools, based on the thinking of Ted Sizer:

And wait, there’s more… This is not just whining about how bad things are, it’s a positive call to action. Be sure to read all the way to bottom of the page for a manifesto of how to change the teaching profession, not from the top down, but by leveraging (and listening to) teachers themselves.

Teachers and Teaching: Prospects for High Leverage Reform
Peter Henry (aka Mi Corazon)

Wedged between two Byzantine bureaucracies—unions and school districts, constrained by unreasonable public expectations, hammered by ideologues, criticized by the media, saddled with policies shaped by non-educators, America’s teachers have almost no room to maneuver. Their training, workplace, schedule, and assignment are mostly determined by others, and their curriculum arrives “canned” in the form of textbooks from large, well-connected corporations. In some schools, extreme instructional strategies tell them what words to say, when, and how, as if teaching can be reduced to a standard script.

There is, however, reason for hope: If teachers are liberated from these structural limitations, they have tremendous potential as “high leverage” reform agents. As Peter Senge maintains in his thoughtful classic, The Fifth Discipline, small, subtle modifications of a key organizational element can have a major systemic impact.

It goes on to call for two fundamental reforms:

  1. Giving teachers autonomy, power, control and authority
  2. Ending teacher isolation

And ends on this uplifting note:

A great and resilient society, capable of successful adaptation and change, cannot thrive with an educational system built in the 19th century—managed by top-down hierarchies, one-size-fits-all models and ruled by the cudgel of fear. Excellence is achieved through individual mastery, a collegial network awash with inquiry and creativity, undergirded by trust and tangible support from the larger community. If we want teaching excellence and the resultant development of full student potential, teachers must be lifted up, given the responsibility, authority and training which enhance their natural human abilities, and then respected for taking on this most crucial and challenging work.

Educators inspired by technology and looking to create their ideal of authentic learning will see parallels in these resources with many of the thoughts expressed daily in the ed-tech segment of the edublosphere. There is much to learn and much to do.

But finally, at this time in history, we have to tools to actually make this happen. Ed-tech reformers have an important part to play… and we are not alone.


Calling HS students – Global Debate Series

Student activists in Ghana This Fall and Spring, high school students across the U.S. and select countries will have the opportunity to participate in The People Speak: Global Debates. Occurring over ten days each in October 2007 and March 2008, students will organize public debates in their high schools and coordinate a global student vote on the debate topic.

  • October debate topic: lowering carbon emissions
  • March debate topic: water rights

The Global Debates are an opportunity to develop the skills of being a global citizen and informed community member. This seems like a great, authentic opportunity to use Web 2.0 tools to plan and organize debates, or even to have a virtual team organize a virtual debate.

In addition, participating students and their teachers will have the chance to win a trip for their six-person team (four students, two teachers) to a Global Youth Leadership Summit at the UN in July 2008. There they will meet students from around the world, tour the UN building, and interact with UN officials. Teachers will receive a special training on integrating global issues into their curriculum.

Visit for more details. The contest and debates are an initiative of the United Nations Foundation.

Web 2.0 and historical perspectives

There’s been an interesting discussion on David Warlick’s blog about what Web 2.0 means, and is it really new. David Thornburg weighed in with some historical perspectives on the subject and the discussion really took off.

The historical perspective is important, but I think it got techno-centric very quickly. My concern is that we’ve already forgotten (or never knew) the history of what happened to the last education reform that starred technology.

Right now the concept of Web 2.0 in schools is in the hands of excited educators who have felt the power of learning something new and want to share it with their students and other educators. It’s a contagious, revolutionary feeling that we are on the cusp of something that will change the world.

This feels SO much like the 80’s, when computers first started trickling into schools. But the dark side is how schools, instead of letting educators show the way, turned to corporations and publishers to commercialize and pre-package the computer into school-friendly forms. It deprived students and teachers of authentic chances to program, to make music, and to create. Instead of the revolution in learning that seemed to be ever so temptingly on a permanent horizon, it turned computers into test prep machines that reinforced the way school “delivered” information to students.

The score: Technology – 0, “School” – 1

Now we have a chance to recapture the authentic use of computers for education. It is, however, just as likely that history will repeat itself, since schools tend to purchase “solutions” that meet administrative needs for control and search for ways to “scale” any innovation until it becomes a bland caricature of itself.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I hope that people who are new to educational technology as a result of Web 2.0 know that a whole movement of school reform started by technology pioneers had a tragic history, because its meaning was co-opted by corporations and the willingness of schools to give up their control of the educational process.

Maybe it won’t happen again, maybe the free/open source concept is a weapon that will help this time. Maybe we’re smarter, maybe we can stay more connected on blogger networks. But free stuff can be bad and mis-educative just as much as stuff you pay for. Lines of communication can become self-referential. The vigilance HAS to be on individual educators to stand up for what they believe in, and unfortunately vague, techno-centric Web 2.0 terminology is not much of a educational foundation to stand on.

As I wrote in a post a while back, the use of fill-in-the-blank 2.0 is what marketeers call an empty vessel. It’s a way to convey feeling without meaning, using words to convince a buyer that the product is good because the wording is so vague that everyone can write their own script. Watch carefully as school product marketeers co-opt the language of 2.0 and turn it on its head.

I’m not here to lecture people about what the right term is. Find your own — it’s the ownership that makes it concrete and actionable for each individual. Project-based learning, constructivist, inquiry-based, student-centered… whatever. But make it educational, not technical. Tell me what you believe, not what tools you use.

By the way, I’m guilty too! I’m not going to give up saying “2.0”–it’s way too convenient a shortcut. But I will try harder to say what I mean by it. That’s my Promis2.0.


Technology-enabled service-learning projects, a perfect partnership

Toolkit imageMany technology-using educators realize that technology is not something you can teach in a vacuum, but that providing students with context and real-life projects makes learning come alive. Web 2.0 tools can greatly increase student ability to collaborate in global projects or develop their own voice by participating as equals in local projects. This means students can go beyond “tech skills” to authentic learning and citizenship that lasts a lifetime.

Marrying tried-and-true resources and research with new technology means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every aspect of student projects. Having a well-established project to participate in may also alleviate some of the access issues that arise when introducing new technology tools for student use. It’s harder to argue that blogs or social networks are just time wasters when they are being used to discuss cultural issues with students in Tibet, or say that student email is unnecessary when students are key members of a city-wide safe water campaign.

One of the best collections of resources for connecting to or creating projects that can change children’s lives forever is the National Service Learning Clearinghouse website.

As an example, the National Service Learning Clearinghouse has a new K-12 Service-Learning Project Planning Toolkit available for download. This free PDF contains resources, guides and worksheets to help you and your students implement a well-organized project, including:

  • Choosing a meaningful problem for your service-learning project
  • Linking to curriculum standards, citizenship and social-emotional goals
  • Developing an assessment plan
  • Implementing a high quality service-learning activity
  • Designing reflection activities
  • Organizing a culminating event

This website provides a wealth of resources, funding sources, and links to projects that are perfect for Web 2.0 and technology-enhanced activities.

The both/and solution to tagging vs. sorting – Google docs update

I’ve posted before about Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and also about the “lookup” feature, which I believe has the potential to revolutionize how we think about data representation by feeding real time searches into spreadsheets.

Now Google has added folders to their main Docs interface, which is very helpful once you get past more than a handful of documents. It is a nice way to organize docs by student, teams, professional vs. classroom docs, or any other organization scheme. Google docs did have a tagging scheme, but apparently people want to sort by dragging, not tagging, and Google listened. Interesting — is this just people hanging onto an outdated metaphor? Or are folders simply a personal folksonomy in visual form?

But Google is a “both/and” kind of company, so they didn’t draw a line in the sand and say, “you will use tags and you will like them!” They simply changed the interface, so that when you drag docs into folders, it automatically tags them. Plus, you can have the same doc in several folders, which is essentially the same as having multiple tags on the same document. And they made it pretty too!

The latest update is explained nicely in TechCrunch, but if you want it straight from Google, their announcement is here.

Google docs interface

Facility vs. Fluency

We confuse kids’ facility with technology with fluency. We go on about how “tech-savvy” kids are, how the “digital natives” outpace us oldsters in what they can do. In my experience, kids who really know what they are doing technology are the exceptions, the rest of them just muddle through, doing just enough to get by. They just do it quickly, don’t get married to one service or system, and don’t get upset when things don’t work.

Digital natives are completely different than previous generations? Oh please. Of course we need to treat them differently. Every child is different, not just generationally, but individually. Of course that means a teacher has to be aware of their worldview — when has this not been true?

We wonder why students don’t have good information literacy skills, but we reap what we sow. School has traditionally set itself up to be the single, unquestioned authority – teacher, curriculum, textbook, test — all taking place in a closed classroom, the beginning, middle and end of what the student needs.

So before, kids could NOT go to the library and NOT search out primary sources and NOT find the dozens of resources that might be out there. Today, kids can NOT search effectively and NOT learn about millions of resources–really, what’s changed?

Kids have always skimmed and crammed, because you can easily complete superficial assessments that way. In fact, it’s sometimes better if you don’t think too hard, you might confuse yourself with too complex thinking on simple test questions. Now, kids just skim a lot more stuff a lot faster and more easily share their skimming with their other friends, not unlike the well-worn Cliff Notes we passed around back in the day.

We dazzle ourselves with new technology, pretending that something has changed and that by studying this change, we will magically find solutions to problems that have nothing to do with the change.

Information overload? Let the kids decide.

In a recent post (Information Overload: Do Kids Manage Their Media Better?) on the Shaping Youth blog (about media and marketing influence on kids), executive director Amy Jussel discusses the difference between how adults and children handle information overload.

She quotes Marketing strategist Steve Rubel in an Ad Age article (unfortunately you have to be a subscriber to view this one) –

“In-boxes, smart phones and IM windows are overflowing. Always-on connections, mobile devices and new publishing tools have expanded the media we consume to include content from peers…New networks and platforms for participation are sprouting up and going supernova overnight, with no end in sight.”

Teachers looking at Web 2.0 and other technologies are well aware of this feeling of drinking from the firehose. The textbook is not the final word on any subject anymore (if it ever really was), you search for “lesson plans” on Google and get a number best expressed in scientific notation, parents want you to respond to email AND voicemail (and neither one of them work), you are supposed to download videos and upload podcasts and oh, by the way, here are 10 new tools invented yesterday that may or may not help you.

How will we teach students to handle all of this if we are overwhelmed ourselves?

But she asks a great question –

What if we preventively look to YOUTH for some of these answers? Youth voraciously digest media and STILL somehow seem to exercise more restraint than “addicted” adults overly dependent on their mobile devices and gizmos.

Many kids are able to ingest their digital media nuggets as tasty morsels instead of the ‘portion distortion’ some adults gorge upon, tanking up with “too much of a good thing.”

In my house, for example, my tween gets enamored in fits and starts with media’s ‘Next Great Thing’ then, like a pup with a new toy, she plays with it for awhile, puts it down and goes back to her primary modus operandi.

Why does this matter for school?

It matters if adults let feelings of inadequacy color what we teach and how we treat students. Information is overwhelming…. programming is hard…. the web is a scary, dangerous place… these messages are about adult fears. Students hear these as confirmation that adults don’t “get it” and it becomes just one more reason to tune out.

Students could be doing so much more to help teachers understand how technology and information works in their lives (Previous post: Web 2.0 – share the adventure with students.) In turn, students would be more open to the very important lessons teachers can teach–like good searching, media literacy, safety and using the web for appropriate, educational purposes. If we don’t teach appropriate, educational uses of technology, it’s our own fault if students fill the vacuum with inappropriate, trivial use. But we shouldn’t color the lesson with fear.

That’s hot – Web 2.0 and the empty vessel

“____ 2.0” is turning into a catch phrase for educational technology bloggers and conference presenters, who know that anything with 2.0 in the title gets attention. Taking a dip into the marketing world, it’s easy to see why. Although Web 2.0 has a definition that relates to the underlying technology, it has come to mean much more. It’s a social movement, a defining line between who “gets it” and who doesn’t, a feeling, a look, and a value system.

It’s what marketing mavens call an “empty vessel” – a phrase or name that has no real meaning, but sort of suggests someting. In that vacuum, people can insert their own interpretation and actually feel like they understand the product or brand better as a result. By simply adding 2.0 to pretty much anything, it neatly implies the “second generation” of something with a techie twist.

So themes like Classroom 2.0 and School 2.0 become a shared idea with no real meaning. They signal that something is changing without anyone having to say exactly what that is. We can all agree that “Classroom 2.0” is a good thing, because each of us fills that empty vessel with our own idea of what a new version of a classroom looks like.

Hey, I’m the first to admit I do it – I did a conference presentation this morning about including students in Web 2.0 implementations. My version of Classroom 2.0 has students involved in constructivist projects using open-ended technology tools in a collaborative learning community. It drew a nice crowd, even though everyone came in with a completely different idea about what Web 2.0 meant to them.

But that’s OK – at least we agree that something is changing and that’s hot*


* For those of you who hate TV and never read trashy magazines, “That’s hot” is the catch phrase of Paris Hilton, who has turned being famous for nothing into a major career.

Educomm – Including Students in Web 2.0

A big GenYES Blog welcome to everyone who attended my Educomm session this morning in Anaheim, Including Students in the Web 2.0 Adventure!

I’ve posted the PDF of the presentation here — all the links are active so just click and explore. Also, you might be interested in a couple of older posts in this blog, they touch on similar themes to our session this morning.

Also, the whitepaper about student leadership in your technology plan can be found on our main website, along with descriptions and research about all our programs for student involvement in technology integration activities.

Finally, it was absolutely fantastic to hear so many of the Educomm speakers talking about GenYES students in their own schools, leading the technology revolution! Scott Perloff, of the Milken Community High School in Los Angeles has been running a GenYES program so long we don’t even have records that far back! (Notes from his session) At the other end of the world, Martin Levins of The Armidale School (laptops grade 3-12) in Australia just started TechYES this year (Notes from his session). And Bruce Dixon of the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation made the point that the GenYES model fits perfectly with laptops. Laptop schools empower students by literally putting computers in their hands. What better way to “walk that talk” than by having students also responsible for teaching teachers technology and tech support. (Notes from his session)

Note about the session notes: Wes Fryer takes notes like a madman! It finally dawned on me what the title of his blog means, “Moving at the Speed of Creativity” – duh. Wes had to leave early, so he missed my session, darn. I wanted to be immortalized right next to all these other amazing speakers.

It was great chatting with all the terrific educators there, the stories of what you do each and every day to create amazing educational environments for students are wonderful and inspiring.

On to NECC!


Free and open source tools for student projects on Classroom 2.0

Alix Peshette has a nice post on the Classroom 2.0 blog about her favorite free and open source tools for the classroom or computer lab. Alix is in charge of technology at Davis Unified School District in California, which currently has seven GenYES schools.

She has tools and helpful comments for audio, graphics, a blog spellchecker (this I need!), video and web authoring.

Her top picks for audio are:

Audacity – Probably the most popular audio recording software in the K-12 tech arena. This software runs on almost everything; Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux.

Levelator – A great companion to Audacity for podcasting and radio theatre. Levelator adjusts the audio levels for variations from one speaker to the next. Levelator runs on Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) or 10.3 (Panther)

Sony AcidXPress – It’s easy to create original music-even if you’re new to loop-based music software. The power of the application stems from its ability to take any audio loop and make it fit into the tempo of a project. This fully functioning freeware has some high-end features, but pop-ups inviting one to purchase companion software can be annoying. But hey – it’s free!

Thanks Alix!

P.S. If you haven’t visited the Classroom 2.0 group site, it’s a new social network of educators talking about the use of technology and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. It uses a site called Ning that allows anyone to set up a social network (want to start your own MySpace?)

Classroom 2.0 has been an especially lively place, and it’s a really nice to practice blogging where you get feedback and comments. People are friendly and there are some great discussions going on. If you stop in, be sure to look me up and ask me to be your friend!