The New School

Revolução dos netbooksphoto © 2009 Thales Barreto | more info (via: Wylio)
O.K., so there are a lot of people out there theorizing about what schools will look like in 10, 20, 30 years. With all this talk about the new, exciting technologies that will ‘transform’ education and educational reform that ‘has to happen’ for the sake of our digital ‘screenagers’ we are bombarded everyday with the needs for this change.  But, with all this talk there is still a very different reality for teachers and students in many schools throughout the world. This reality involves government mandates, accountability that is (in most cases) getting in the way of great learning, and the lack of money to offer our students the digital tools that motivate and engage them.

With all of these limitations, or barriers, it is easy to get frustrated as educators and administrators. But, there are things we can do NOW that can help.  For what it’s worth, here’s what I think we need to do now:

BlackBerry Storm Smartphonephoto © 2009 Cheon Fong Liew | more info (via: Wylio)
Priority #1: Create wireless space throughout our school campus so that students can use their own devices to access the Internet and open the door to digital possibilities.  I know what you are thinking, what about requirements on regulating access for students? (In the US, that translates to conforming to CIPA regulations) It can be done with the right policies, and good ole fashion staff responsibility and supervision. Let’s face it, we will never be able to keep up with the latest technology tools, nor will we have to. Why not let students bring their own in and use them to be actively engaged in their own learning, through devices they have on them 24/7? These devices might be smartphones that they are using their own 3/4g networks, or they might be an iTouch, iPad, other tablets, or netbooks that they bring in of their own that have wifi capabilities.  The time is coming when everyone will have their own mobile device, so why are we fighting it? The time has come for us to give them the door to the world, allow for flexibility on their ‘transportation’ and then facilitate their voyage. How can this be done? Instructional and IT leaders have to work together and end the internal ‘fight’ of who is in charge of what. We need to be open-minded and really, truly think through how we can make it happen. On all levels we need to start asking questions:  Do we have wireless hotspots? How can we get more? Why can’t we allow students to access and use their phones, iPads, iTouchs, eReaders at school? What kind of policies can we encourage our board members to write to allow more connectivity? What can I do to get the ball rolling?

Priority #2: We need to shift the importance from the tool to the purpose.  From specific applications/software to teaching our students how to navigate in many digital applications. What I’m getting at is that it isn’t about teaching students how to use Microsoft Office products anymore. I want our students to leave being able to trouble-shoot and problem solve their way through many platforms, tools, and software applications.  I also want them to know where to go if they can’t figure it out, to be self-motivated learners that turn to digital resources like youtube, Google, twitter and other digital networks to help themselves. So, yes I want them to be self-motivated to adapt from one application to another and to know when they need to turn to others for assistance. Imagine that, scholarly independence and adaptability.  Yes, that is what I want.  WE can do this, RIGHT NOW by exposing our students to many different tools, and allowing them to choose the one that best fits the task at hand. Give them the goal (to show evidence of learning) and let them run with it, using their chosen tool and project that can show their learning. We can facilitate student learning, without dictating the exact path.

Priority #3: Provide many different learning opportunities, including access to quality online learning courses. This goes for student and staff learning as well. We need to get away from ‘seat time’ and think more about ‘learning time’. Of course in some states (NY in particular) we have to wait for the state to relax some of the ‘seat time’ requirements in order to fully explore and start offering more elearning opportunities. As educators we can start by requesting our districts to offer elearning professional development opportunities for staff.

iPad on Tanmay's jeansphoto © 2010 Chirantan Patnaik | more info (via: Wylio)
These are just three of the big priorities I see and by achieving these it will open doors for other changes to occur. In order for any of these to happen we need everyone working together: instructional administrators, IT managers, educators, support staff, parents, and students. The learning environment can truly be an open learning environment where we all take responsibility for our progress to reach our potential.  Are you willing to work towards it?  Are you willing to push towards it? Am I way out there with these?  Let me know what you think… and add your priorities here.

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