Things are getting interesting

Today I stumbled across a couple of pieces of content that for me, placed at the forefront of my thinking, the real challenges that face education today. First Chris Lehmann gave a presentation to the National Broadband working group at the FCC. Chris began by challenging folks to picture any high school at dismissal time and observe the mad rush for students to turn on their devices, the same devices that are banned in most schools. He argues that the more we continue to ignore the role these devices play in students lives, the less relevant our schools become. These devices will only increase in importance and use as our students become adults.

Later I read Tim Stahmer’s post about being careful what you wish for. Tim works in a very large district in the DC area and has long lamented the lack of access his own district provides. In this post he recognized the potential issue of allowing students to use their own devices in schools.

Those of us who are advocates for the potentially transformative effect of instructional technology are often caught up in the day-to-day, never-ending struggle to provide enough equipment, software, training and support to make large scale changes possible.

But sometimes we forget the old adage of “be careful what you wish for”.

Because if we ever did get to the point where every student is carrying around their own networked computing device, the traditional education model we’ve lived with for a century or more would probably fall apart very quickly.

This is largely about losing control. Control which today we want to believe we have but are increasingly seeing it slip away. As I commented on Tim’s blog, I work in a district that allows students to use their own devices and has very liberal filtering policies.  While it’s possible and allowed, very few schools and classrooms currently advocate and encourage students to bring their devices. I have had numerous conversations with principals who are trying to have more content blocked citing them as distractions. The bottom line here is that this is a battle of control. As Marc Pesce writes:

The computer – or, most specifically, the global Internet connected to it – is ultimately disruptive, not just to the classroom learning experience, but to the entire rationale of the classroom, the school, the institution of learning.

There are definitely two sides emerging. Those of us who understand the power of personalized, customized learning and those that are scared to death of what that means to all that they have believed.  I don’t believe this necessarily is an either or proposition. There are certainly times when we need control and narrow the choices, but those occasions are becoming fewer than they have ever been.

The challenge facing education today is to be able to provide a personalized, meaningful, useful learning experience.  For many this remains pie in the sky as their current environments are even close to being able to consider this due to standardized testing and lack of access to hardware and content. Some, however are opening up the doors to eliminate some of the current barriers. While this may seem like a step forward, it will certainly bring with it new challenges that are likely more difficult to overcome that the ones they just conquered. They better be thinking about Pandora’s box. Things just got interesting.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by dkuropatwa

Cross posted at the Tech Learning blog.

Facebook Comments
  • Dean,

    What advice would you give to school’s (at all levels) that are in buildings constructed of materials that makes use of these devices an issue? I work in a building with a lot of cinder block and have a lot of trouble get a signal for my cell phone (I often had the same problem in the College of Ed building at the U of S).

    We have wireless hubs around campus, but getting a signal on a laptop is often a challenge. Do we literally have to rebuild schools to improve education?
    .-= Heather Ross´s last blog ..I’m Not Advocating for Policy =-.

  • @Heather,

    That’s beyond my expertise but I know we’ve made it work in some of our older buildings. I’m sure the technology exists, certainly for wireless. When it comes to cellphones, I guess that’s more an issue with the carriers. I know many folks in San Francisco complain they can’t use their AT&T iphones in their homes. That’s brutal but certainly an issue that must be resolved.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the link, Dean, and for the insightful extension to what I was writing about.

    As to Heather’s question, there’s not a whole lot you can do about building materials that block cell signals, other than find a window to stand next to. However, our school board, which bans cell phones in schools, has ironically made it much easier to connect in some of our high schools by selling phone companies the rights to put cell towers on the football stadiums. My district is nothing if not entertaining. 🙂
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..Do Teachers Need Education Degrees? =-.

  • Dean,

    Thanks for your comments, I think you are right on. The dichotomy that you write about seems to be everywhere and one of the scary things about that is that our students are moving more toward connectivity than not. So what happens when one student is assigned a non-connected teacher and another is? Their respective learning experiences are going to be vastly different and I would argue that one child will be better prepared for the 21st century than the other. If we believe that education is meant to be the great “democratizer” we are vastly under serving the student who is the non-connected class and not serving its purpose.

    One more point – this one on the power of personal learning networks. I am in a Masters in technology cohort here in New Hampshire. We meet roughly once per month and are of varying degrees of expertise. I would classify myself one of the “leaders” of the class in that many are relatively new to the web2.0 universe and I have some. I have been espousing the values of web2.0 to the class and the importance of developing personal learning networks. The interesting point is this, the above post was sent to me by one of our least experience learners – yet she found it and shared it in our Ning. You just never know from whom you are going to learn!

    Thanks for driving the conversation.
    .-= Tony Baldasaro´s last blog ..No honey, Webkinz is not in my computer… =-.

  • Great post, Dean.

    I’m going to add the word “libraries” to everything you just said.

    WE gotta be thinkin about this!
    .-= Carolyn Foote´s last blog ..Did we miss the boat? =-.