Ramblings from NECC 2009

I had the good fortune of spending the last week with some really smart people and sit in on a few great sessions. During this time I was asked a few times if I was enjoying this or learning. The answer to both was yes. However, I could likely have been asked the same quesitons a week earlier and a week from now and I’d likely give the same answer. 

Not every conversation was outstanding, not every session was amazing. I can’t quantify the learning but can tell you the cumulative ideas and insights will continue to influence my thinking and shape my work.

On the weekend Will Richardson was asking if it possible to provide the kind of learning our kids need by improving schools or do we require a brand new system. I desparately want to believe we don’t have to blow up what we have but a number of things this week has me wondering.

Monday I was able to hear Tom Carroll speak about creating the schools our children need. A few months ago I read this article written by Carroll which was written 8 years ago and was challenged by many ideas. (If you read it and are choosing between finishing this post or the article, read the article) One of the most powerful analogies Carroll used on Monday was this:

"Asking how technology can improve student learning in our current schools is like asking the Wright brothers how the airplane improves the railway system"

That statement resonates with me as I am often asked to provide evidence or proof that technology is making a difference. I hate the question because the question is flawed in the first place.  The better question (I’ve posted about this before) is:

"Does technology support the practices that improve student learning?”

While that is a better question I’m still grabbling with the notion that the impact of technology is creating such a shift that those "practices" have to be re-examined.  Part of the very nature of school requires learning to be compartmentalized by time and content and subject. If I was asked to do that over this past week, I’d be hard pressed to provide you with that kind of data. I learned lots, some of which I’m discussing here and others which may not bear fruit for a while and other learning that will never be directly tied to this week but has undoubtedly been borne and fostered through these many conversations.

I’m seeing more and more that they way connectedness, sharing and access to media influence us and create opporutnities for great learning, often does not have a place in our schools today. Square peg in a round hole.

And yet through all that stuf that spins my brain in 19 different direcitons I’m inspired and encouraged by the many great people who are muddling their way through changes and making it work because of their passion and genuine concern and love of students. You have to have both. I think most of the teachers I work with care about kids. As Chris Lehmann talks about often, kids desparately need mentors. This is a great start and if that’s all teachers did was to be and find mentors for our students that wouldn’t be all bad. But combine that with a passion to learn and you have the makings of a great learning experience for anyone. It’s passion that drives people to seek better and more engaging ideas and content. It’s passion that inspires someone to learn and try things they never thought they’d do. This is when complexity and change occur.

The landscape of learning is changing. Rethinking what control means, understanding the power of sharing and transparency all work to topple many of the foundations our schools are built upon.  I know this, you know this but after spending 3 days amongst 18,000 in the educational technology field, I still say very few else know this. I made this observation (jump down to #4) last year at NECC and while the number may have increased slightly, those who really have any sense of the changes that are possilbe and perhaps inevitable in education is strikingly small. Yet sometimes the conversations amongst them would indicate they think everyone understands. A good example took place in the last session I attended on a panel discussion on Web 2.0. The panel was made up of all people that I and many in the audience knew very well either because we’ve spent time with them or know them from varoius online circles. The panel and audience were calling them by their first names and having a good discussion One lady stood up and felt frustrated since she didn’t know these people, these terms and most of the content of the conversation. That wasn’t her fault that’s ours. The assumption amongst folks who live and breath social media is that most teachers know about but they just don’t understand social media. We jump in with disucssion about Web 2.0 when they aren’t ready for that discussion since they have absolutely no prior knowledge. I"m not against having these kinds of discussions but it’s a bit like Christopher Columbus and crew arguing over how they would organize and structure the new world when most of the old world didn’t even know it existed and if they did, had no idea why or how they would get over to see it, let alone settle there. It’s not a totally useless discussion but perspective is important.