Chris Lehmann and Marcie Hull created the ten minute video, “Planning the 21st Century School” for the 2006 K-12 Online Conference. I resonate with Chris’ observations that we need to restructure the school schedule and environment as a whole if we are going to effectively prepare students for the 21st century economy and workforce. It is not sufficient to merely try and overlay digital tools and resources on top of an existing school structure that is fundamentally organized around an industrial age, factory model of education. Perhaps nothing defines secondary education today in the United States as much as the bell schedule. Despite the ubiquity of bell schedules in U.S. high schools, it is amazing to see what diversity we have in schedules even across the same state. This diversity serves as a huge obstacle to collaboration when it comes to videoconferencing. Even states like Arkansas, which have a statewide videoconferencing network and three different providers for videoconference course content, do not have a standardized bell schedule. I know the school districts around Lubbock, Texas, (where I used to live) had worked out common bell schedules for many of the smaller districts for videoconferencing and course sharing, but this took many years of work to achieve that consensus. My perception is that in Oklahoma, where I now live, high school bell schedules are “all over the map” and there is not any regional or statewide uniformity.

Bell schedules define learning because they literally say, “learning starts now, the class period has started.” When the bell rings at the end of the period, the loud message is “learning stops now.” The assumptions in this accepted habit (bell schedules) can be understood as ridiculous and offensive from certain perspectives. Why should learning start and stop at the ring of the bell? I suspect the reason we have bell schedules is because at the turn of the twentieth century when public school systems become widespread in the United States, one of the primary goals of the school was to prepare students for work in factory jobs. The factory job often (or maybe always) started with a whistle or a bell, and ended with the same signal. Shift work began, and shift work ended. Widgets rolled down the assembly line, and worker bees performed their assigned, repetitive tasks to ensure that the widgets were produced on schedule and according to specification.

All educators should know that authentic learning does not take place according to a predefined schedule. Authentic learning is often organic, is always connected to prior knowledge and experiences, and continues long after “formal periods” of training and instruction end. Real learning involves conversations and reflections which are difficult or impossible to mandate from on high. They are also difficult to measure on bubble sheets.

A web 1.0 or traditional approach to the challenges facing videoconferencing collaboration might be to mandate a unified bell schedule for all the school districts in a particular region or state. I wonder like Chris Lehman, however, if what we need to do is entirely transcend the paradigm of bell schedule learning with a new model for our schools? We have a great deal of difficulty imagining an alternative to the bell schedule in schools, however, because that idea lies outside the educational experiences of the vast majority of our population. How can we help large numbers of people to even imagine, much less support, a model of education which is NOT based on “seat time” and “sit and get” learning according to a rigorously defined and enforced bell schedule? Maybe online/virtual learning can and should play a role in this pedagogic transformation?

In the video, I liked what teacher Gamal Sherif said about ethics and technology. He asked:

Can you make ethical decisions because you know how to use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint?

The answer to this rhetorical question is certainly NO– and the important point Gamal made with it is that we should not blindly advocate for technology infusion in schools– we need to advocate for the tools and instructional methods which will lead to the learning outcomes we want to support and promote. I think much of the consensus support that has advanced the high-stakes testing agenda in the United States and elsewhere has failed to do this basic thing: Consider the learning outcomes we want to see in school, the school environment which is most supportive of those outcomes, and the expectations which therefore should be conferred upon educators entrusted with designing and staffing the learning environments of the 21st century.

School 2.0 needs to transcend bell schedules. It needs to immerse both expert and novice learners in technologically infused and transparent environments where face to face and digital methodologies are blended and mixed. When it is time to “sit and get,” novice learners should have the option to access their content asynchronously. When expert and novice learners are face to face, the interactive potential of that instructional environment should be maximized with lots of dialog, questions, answers, and sharing. It is simultaneously frustrating and intoxicating to be living in what might be considered a “vanguard era” of blended and distributed learning. The potential harvest is plentiful, but the workers in the field of blended learning appear to be few and far between in many cases. It is great to have a chance to hear leaders like Chris and others at his school share their vision and operationalizations of what “school 2.0” means and should mean for the digitally-inclined learners in our midst. Some contend our task and personal mission statements should include engaging more educational stakeholders in our local communities about these issues and the ways our schools can transition from their 1.0 roots to their 2.0 future in evolutionary, rather than revolutionary ways.

Is evolutionary change in schools possible, however? Perhaps only revolutionary change, such as that ushered in by an entirely ubiquitous environment of one to one learning with digital curriculum, is the only catalyst that can start a broad chain reaction of reform? I am not sure, but I am convinced that we need to continue exploring these issues and ideas together.

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One Response to Reflecting on school 2.0

  1. Lynette says:

    Dare to dream.
    “How can we help large numbers of people to even imagine, much less support, a model of education which is NOT based on “seat time” and “sit and get” learning according to a rigorously defined and enforced bell schedule? Maybe online/virtual learning can and should play a role in this pedagogic transformation?”
    Many people do not even dare to dream of an alternate system, stepping outside the comfort zone of years of practice which has become ingrained within society is too daunting a task for a lot of practitioners. People take what they’ve learnt through their own experiences and teach (or expect teachers to teach) in the same way they were taught. (I am over simplifying and generalising to a large extent.)

    The bell system is only one component of a variety of structural issues which impede change. I agree with your following observations:
    “we need to advocate for the tools and instructional methods which will lead to the learning outcomes we want to support and promote… Consider the learning outcomes we want to see in school, the school environment which is most supportive of those outcomes, and the expectations which therefore should be conferred upon educators entrusted with designing and staffing the learning environments of the 21st century.”

    At the moment we should find stregnth from the tortoise in that old fable: “slow and steady wins the race”.

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