A couple weeks ago at the SITE Conference in Orlando, I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Mike Muir, a professor of educational technology at the University of Maine at Farmington. I attended the panel presentation on 1:1 laptop learning Mike facilitated, titled “Lessons Learned from 1-to-1 Laptop Initiatives: Reflections on the Critical Components.” This presentation is available both as a recorded podcast and as notes I took during the session.

Mike has written some excellent blog posts lately about disruptive technologies and our need to embrace them as educators. In his post “Do Something Disruptive” from yesterday, Mike wrote the following in relation to the idea of using technology to infomate/disrupt/transform education:

Each of these [“type 1” technology use examples] are more efficient ways of doing what teachers have done for a long time. But, since we aren’t really changing what teachers have done – we aren’t changing eduction – they won’t mean that we will reach more students than we have in the past or that our schools will achieve anything they haven’t done in the past. There’s an old saying that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten – even if you’re doing it more efficiently.

I completely agree with Mike: automating uses of technology (“type I” uses) can make education more efficient, but cannot transform it. Mike specifically advocates classroom use of many of the same disruptive technologies I have discussed in recent conference presentations, including “The Vocabulary of 21st Century Learning”, “Cultivating Digital Literacy Through Blogging and Podcasting,” and “Open the Door – Conversation, Complexity, and Messy Assessment.” In the same blog post, Mike wrote:

Other Type II examples of using technology in education include digital storytelling, or WebQuests, or using blogs, wikis, and podcasts to build community and literacy. These uses have been shown to get students excited about learning, to learn basic skills, to use and develop higher order thinking skills, and to motivate hard to teach students. These tools have the ability to change education.

Do we want to merely make education more efficient, or transform it into something better? I listened to the podcast of Angus King talking to the Maine School Superintendent Association (Thanks to Bob Sprankle’s link) last night. Angus makes a persuasive case that schools need to change. I think many people would agree with him, especially after reading/being exposed to the ideas of Friedman in “The World Is Flat”. As Miguel Guhlin has aptly asked, however, we should question if our school system is like Humpty Dumpty– fallen down, broken, and unable to be put back together again?

I think the answer to this question is yes (we can’t put Humpty back together again)– if we are merely trying to put “education back together again” as it has been constructed and conducted for the past 100+ years. We’re not going to be able to put those pieces back together. The information genie is out of the bottle. Pandora’s box has been opened, and it is not closing, no matter how much gatekeeper censorship schools want to attempt. Instead of trying to rebuild the old model (which is a factory paradigm and based on content transmission followed by student regurgitation,) we need recreate the model. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is famous for writing about “dialectics.” We need a new synthesis of education, which can emerge from a dialectical exchange both in the blogosophere and in F2F life.

As I’ve stated previously, when we look at “the big picture” of education reform in the United States it is easy to get discouraged and even depressed. But when we examine our individual roles, in our own spheres, it can be easier to remain optimistic and engaged in this struggle for educational improvement.

The message is very clear. Embrace disruptive technology use that can constructively promote the causes of literacy development and learning. And help others to do the same. Invite other teachers into the ongoing conversations in the blogosphere related to these issues. Don’t just talk about technology: Talk about improving teaching, learning, and assessment. Talk about providing the education students want, deserve, and desperately need for success in the 21st century. Use Blogmeister or other free tools that permit your students to blog safely, and you to moderate as well as facilitate their engagement with others in the blogosphere. Then talk about and champion the work of your own students who are blogging and podcasting. Follow the examples of innovative classroom teachers like Bob Sprankle and Mark Ahlness. Like Tony Vincent, share presentations with other teachers and talk enthusiastically about the outstanding work your students are doing, empowered (through level II disruptive/transformative technology use) to join in a global conversation about issues that matter to them.

Join your local Discovery Educator Network group and get involved: not just online, but also in face to face meetings with other teachers. We are and can continue to be our own staff development/professional development experts. The conversations we have here can continue to change our perceptions and thereby change our practices.

And that changes the world, one conversation at a time. Embrace disruptive technologies! 🙂

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