Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ To The School or Classroom 2.0 Advocates

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 02, 2007

Christian Long asked, by email, for input. Quoted text is his. Here is my reply:

Hiya Christian,

In advance of a major keynote presentation called "Designing School 2.0" I'm giving in 2 weeks to a room full of "school design" decision makers -- school architects, their educational clients (board members, superintendents, and administrators), and various stakeholders -- I'd like to ask each of you to consider sharing what you'd say to them if you have 5 minutes and the microphone.
The basis of my talk, if I were giving it, would be the alternative School 2.0 document I distributed in response to the 'official' School 2.0 document.

The image

You can focus your ideas from kindergarten through higher education, although the majority of my audience will focus on K-12 on most days. Likewise, you can think macro answers or burrow down to the library shelves. All feedback is good feedback.
There is no particular focus for this view of 'Scool 2.0'. The main point is that technology allows us to change our approach to education, from one where we segregate learners in specially designed education facilities (classrooms, training rooms, schools, universities) to one where learning is something we do (and what educators provide) in the course of any other activity.

The idea is that 'School 2.0' is the first step toward being non-school, and that our objective should be to use technologies to leverage our ability to personalize learning, and in so doing, facilitate students' learning while taking part as full citizens in the wider community.
Here are the areas I'd love specific feedback from you today (although I will have the blessing of extrapolating many ideas/resources from many of your blogs, wikis, research, writings, etc.):
  • Big Picture trends in the next 5-25 years that will have the biggest impact on what it means to be an engaged learner. This is the firecracker side of things. I'll be sharing Karl Fisch's/Scott McLeod's collaboration to this audience assuming they are in the Media/AV 1.0 world, at least. Never can be sure no matter how nice the hotel/conference center appears to be on the surface!
I have commented in the past, and I reiterate the point here, that from my perspective the predominate use of the term 'School 2.0' has been to promote a view of learning that is traditionalist, rather than oriented to the future, one that seeks to preserve the existing trappings of education, most notably, schools. We hear a lot of language like "the fact is, schools are here to stay," but there is in my mind no fact of the matter, certainly not in the time-frame of 25-30 years.

By way of animation, think back to the time of the one-room schoolhouse as they were rolled our across a rural agrarian nation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Within a generation society transformed itself from one in which 'book learning' was the exception to one in which it was the norm. Read Jane Eyre, and learn how schooling was conducted - if it was conducted at all - by tutors hired to live in and help raise the children. People my own grandparents' age would routinely not attend school at all. Only in my father's era, the war years, did schooling become the norm for the entire population.

Within a generation or so this was completely transformed. The school was the creation of the industrial age, and will pass into history with it.
  • YOUR definition of School 2.0 and/or Classroom 2.0...and how to help "school design" decision makers use it to inform their thinking, research, leadership, and solutions. Most will NEVER have heard the phrase...and are still beating the "School of the Future" and "21st Century School" horse over and over without really even understanding what it means besides the marketing pitch. Hoping to shift their semantic lens a bit, and also invest them in co-defining the end game as well.
Most of what is touted as 'School 2.0' or 'Classroom 2.0' is just the whole "School of the Future" and "21st Century School" thing warmed over. There is not mouch to it over and above marketing (and obligatory mentions of Web 2.0). Those who are a little more adept at marketing will trot out phrases today's business leaders are looking for - things like 'collagoration' and 'teamwork' - without any real understanding that they are describing a generation that 'takes orders well' and 'subsumes their own interest to the common interest' when, really, the opposite is the case.

Insofar as technology enables greater collaboration and group work, it does so only at the behest of those using the technology. You can connect people with computers but you can't make them talk. The predominate trend is not so much collaboration as a much increased sense of empowerment (and, at the more petulant ages, a corresponding sense of entitlement).
  • Best way to describe how 'kids' (all ages, really, but I'll use the cute version since most still default to it) are transforming as collaborators, creators, project team members, publishers, etc. I'll use Prensky language as a shot across the bow -- i.e "What is your digital accent?" questions -- but I'm looking for more nuanced language/examples from each of you. And also how we MUST respond as educators...and school designers (the entire community of stakeholders, really)...if we are to offer relevant learning environments/programs for our students/communities' future(s).
Honestly, there's no way we 'must' respond.

What is at stake is not so much our children's education - which, thanks to a wealth of freely accessible digital resources, is now more assured than ever. Rather, what is at stake is our own relevance. That if there is anything of ourselves we want to put into what children learn, how we are to go about it.

Educators need to realize that today's students are exposed to much more television, online communication, and other electronic communication, than they are to traditional classroom instruction. School, even as it is, makes up only a small percentage of their learning. It plays virtually no role in values formation, culture and self-identification, language learning and art. If school provides any learning of science, mathematics, geography and history, it is only because the students' cultural environment is almost completely bereft of those subjects. Their performance in those subjects - and especially the latter two - shows just how abject their learning has become.

Instead of bringing students to the learning, as the education system has done for about a century, we must now, if we wish to be relevant at all, bring learning to the students. This means setting students free to pursue their passions, and then being there when they need coaching, mentoring, or a safety net.
  • Start 'inside' a classroom, studio, lab, or micro learning space that exists TODAY. Offer a set of requests you'd make TODAY that can have a positive impact for learners and teaching guides/mentors without spending a fortune, and set up a mind-shift for bigger 'school design' investments in the future. You can imagine SmartBoards, new ways of teachers 'talking'/asking questions, or think in really wild ways. No limits. Just start at the scale of a single space for learning...and work up/out.
We need to stop employing students as fast-food servers and sales clerks. They are capable of much better than that, and an exercise in corporate demeaning is probably not the best way to introduce them to society.

We should begin offering students full-time employment in certain fields as alternatives to their formal studies. Such a program should logically begin at the higher grades (grades 11 and 12) as well as being brought on-stream as an alternative to college and university.

Most such employment involves the creation of some sort of content or another. The ranges of possible employment are covered in my diagram:

- students could provide ultra-local news, entertainment and sports reporting
- students could provide up-to-date surveying and inventories of civic property
- students could conduct scientific field-research such as bird-counting, ecosystem sampling, pollution-measuring and the like
- students could help supervise younger children

and more - the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

The trick to making this attractive is to present it, not as the dog-eat-dog struggle for survival that characterizes our existing economy, but rather as a large and complex game, played partially on the computer and partially in RL, in which they play an increasingly important role.

The task we should be undertaking is not one of trying to stuff more and more knowledge into students' heads, but rather, finding more and more ways they can make meaningful contributions to society.

(I'll post this to my blog - feel free to re-use however you wish)

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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