Sunday, September 25, 2011

Technology for Learning - A Moral Imperative?

On Friday I had the honor of sharing my thinking with some middle school teachers about the future, the role of technology, some current education technology practices, and new possibilities.  Actually, I didn’t quite make it to the new possibilities piece as we needed to move into the workshop stage.  There was some great dialogue during my presentation.  I asked the iStock_000017292157XSmallparticipants to respond to some “big questions” and that opened up all sorts of conversations.  One table group was lamenting how difficult it is to embed the use of technology into teaching and learning when there isn’t equitable access to good technology for students and teachers.  It varies significantly across schools.  One teacher shared a story of how her son (in elementary school) created a “glog” (at home) to represent his learning and then when he tried to share it with his teacher and classmates, it failed due to the state of technology and the network for his school.  The consumer side of technology seems to far out-strip schools and Districts ability to keep up!  We have these expectations based on what we buy for our own and our family’s use but there remain stark differences in our schools.

“A moral imperative is a principle originating inside a person's mind that compels that person to act.”, Wikipedia (Sep/25/2011)

Technology has made such deep inroads into our everyday lives in such a short time frame, it’s a bit mind boggling.  The power of technology today is really unprecedented in history.  How can we not ensure equitable access to such powerful learning and teaching tools for our students and teachers?  Would you not agree that it is now a moral imperative for education systems to “fix” this?  I do believe it is a shared responsibility – families and schools working together.  I believe that the everyday type technologies should become school supplies and will become affordable in time.  But how do we bridge that gap today?

This student makes a great point about knowledge sources and I would say that technology is the only effective way to satisfy this need:

Student advocates for diverse sources

If students and teachers don’t have ready access to fast reliable technology and the net, they are not plugged into the largest information resource of all time!  Education is a mind-altering “technology” and

“With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use.  At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book.” The Shallows (kindle 1991)

Learning is a process of rewiring or altering the brain.  New pathways are formed, old ones are trimmed, and so it goes.  This is the process that our education system is meant to stimulate. 

“Printing gave humanity the written word. The Web makes everyone a publisher. Printing enabled the distribution of knowledge. The Web provides a platform for networking human minds.  Printing allowed people to know. The Web enables people to collaborate and to learn collectively.” Macrowikinomics (kindle 566)

Education needs to shift from a filling of minds to a system the prepares young people to generate, synthesize, analyze, and share knowledge. 

“Answering questions like ‘When was the War of 1812?’ is a useless skill in an always-on Wikipedia world.” Linchpin (kindle 789). 

Some filling is certainly necessary to provide a core or base level of recallable knowledge and to pass on culture, but we really need to be thoughtful about what is necessary to “know” as there isn’t time anymore to learn everything knowable and this is accelerating exponentially.

“The more knowledge you generate, the more you can generate. And the engine that is driving prosperity in the modern world is the accelerating generation of useful knowledge.”  Rational Optimist (kindle 3466)

I hope we all agree that we have a moral imperative to educate the next generation.  Our prosperity has been largely supported through an investment in an increasingly educated citizenry.  The really cool thing about sharing our knowledge and wisdom with others (what teachers do every day…) is

“The characteristic feature of a piece of new knowledge, whether practical or esoteric, whether technical or social, is that you can give it away and still keep it.” Rational Optimist (kindle 3766)

So, if technology is as I believe, an essential tool today to connect students to the most vast diverse sources of information and knowledge, and to enable them to be knowledge creators, would you agree that it is a moral imperative for us to make this the case?  Every piece of knowledge shared, every diverse connection between iStock_000003104982XSmallstudents, every piece of knowledge generated, has a ripple effect on our world – it makes its impact in time and space.  Tablets such as the iPad are very good tools for enabling learning but are not affordable (yet) in an equitable way.  Fast always on access to the net is essential today, but is it affordable?  How do we get to a point where every learner and every educator has fulltime access to the best tools to support learning and teaching?  Reduced cost is the simple answer but priority is perhaps the other.  If this is a moral imperative, both obstacles should be things we can overcome!