Sunday, November 27, 2011

Through the Technology Looking Glass

“[Alice] ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror's reflection. Climbing up on the fireplace mantel, she pokes at the wall-File:Alice in Wonderland.jpghung mirror behind the fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she is able to step through it to an alternative world.  …Upon leaving the house (where it had been a cold, snowy night), she enters a sunny spring garden where the flowers have the power of human speech”, Wikipedia Nov 27, 2011.

I participated earlier this week in an #edchat where people from all around the world weigh-in on a topic via twitter.  It’s kind-of like some other world, it’s not “real” rather it’s a virtual exchange of ideas.  It’s an exhausting experiencing trying to keep up to the rapid stream of ideas and to contribute your own.  I imagedropped in a bit after it started so am not entirely sure of the specific topic but I believe it was a question of whether technology improves or is essential to learning, teaching, and assessment. I also dropped in on a 1-day conference held in Alberta at #jtc2011 – one tweet from that stream appears here.  I see a lot of debate in blogs, on twitter, and in person about technology being optional, essential, important, etc. for learning and teaching.  Comments like the above make intuitive sense today though don’t they.

The author of It’s Not About the Tech writes

“You may hold an exquisite musical instrument in your hands and make no melodic music. You may even know how to read a musical score, but without passion and flair, all that will ring out is a mechanical, soulless sound.

The same holds true for learning. If learning is only a mechanical regurgitation to be immediately forgotten after an assessment, what hope of inspiring learners to become life-long learners – a concept is so easily repeated, but so rarely questioned.”

They suggest that the elements of Experimentation, Collaboration, communication, Participation, Inquiry, and Engagement are required in a successful education.  They later argue that technology’s role is as a means, not an outcome.  I agree wholeheartedly but I think it diminishes technology’s role to “just a tool”.

George Couros recently wrote Technology is More than a Tool where he asks “If technology transforms the way we do things, is it ‘just a tool’”?  He quotes Neil Postman who talks about technology changing entire ecologies.  In other words, it is not simply an add-on (like we often view it in schools), it fundamentally changes everything.  He writes later “I have struggled back and forth with the idea of whether technology is just a tool, or is it truly transformative”. I think many people do have this struggle.  I think the challenge is thinking of today’s technology rather than tomorrow’s potential.  We need to increasingly “walk through the looking glass” to see the possible.

Five Big Changes to the Future of Teacher Education on the MindShift blog talks about the importance to prepare teachers to engage the digital generation.  They refer to a book Teaching 2030 by Barnet Berry (I have not read the book) that outlines specific skills needed to teach in the future.  I have an uneasy feeling that this still looks through a near-term lens rather than a truly future-oriented “looking glass”.  Will Richardson writes in My Teacher is an App about how traditional learning is essentially automated.  Will is right to worry about that future of online learning.  It completely misses the point.  Sure, online learning is what it is today, but it can be so much more than efficiency and automation of traditional packaged learning or courses.

I love this short piece by Seth Godin, Pre digital.  He describes a potential future digital environment for a visit to the emergency room after describing the current pre-digital experience.  He then refers to other institutions that are also pre-digital such a schools.  He ends with “this is just the beginning, the very beginning, of the transformation of our lives”.  This is a profound comment because it speaks to what most people don’t seem to understand.  That is, what we see today is merely a glimpse of what is possible and what is coming, on the other side of the ‘looking glass’.

I was intrigued by the title of Cindy Matthews post, Technology in the Classroom isn’t Utopia.  It’s a must.  Before reading it I thought, she might be on to something.  She starts out describing the perfect classroom by referring to the physical characteristics including technology.  “Students would be learning cooperatively on problems posed by the teacher facilitator.  Some would be tapping out text responses via cell phone on a blog”.  I like the description but to refer to it as a utopia I find odd.  It is a picture of what is possible today and what does exist in some classrooms already while missing the mark of the possible, the future of learning.  That said, her post is a good read for some options for today’s classrooms.

As long as we see the value of technology as ‘just a tool’, especially based mostly on what’s available in today’s classrooms, it really is ‘just a tool’.  Without a good or great teacher, technology isn’t going to transform anything.  But, even with today’s technology, control can begin to transfer from teacher to students.  I like the work West Van Schools are doing with their Student Dashboards (see slide 23 of Superintendent Chris Kennedy’s presentation).  They have gone direct to students, grades 4-7 I believe, to provide an in-house student space for blogging, creating social learning networks, instant messaging, and sharing.  This will unlock potential as their teachers shift control to their students who will “own their learning”.

I believe that as we walk through the looking glass we will see the real potential of technology to fundamentally transform learning and teaching.  I’ve seen glimpses of the possible in one of our classrooms where Our Students are Immersed in 3D Learning.  I have been on tours of 3D immersive learning worlds with Gord Holden.  imageimageYou have to see this to believe it!  This is a glimpse of the possible on the other side of the looking glass.  Via Skype, Gord took me to a world where two aboriginal students were re-creating their historic village (Musgamaw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation) artifact by artifact based on their research.  Traditionally, this would have been the typical research and write an essay for their teacher.  In CyberNet world, their heritage comes to live before their eyes!

I have written numerous times about what I believe the future holds for education on the other side of the looking glass:

In British Columbia (BC), the Ministry of Education has purchased and is setting up a BC based virtual learning world called Learning NEXUS. They have invited teachers to propose ways they would build learning inside this world. The next couple of years will be very exciting to track in this space. Two of our teachers in SD43 made a proposal that was accepted so I will get to ride along with them on their journey through the looking glass!  I do hope the debate about whether technology is needed, important, essential, transformative, etc. will subside as more people get more opportunities to walk through the looking glass to the possible.