January 29th, 2013

The Future of Learning Is…

(from EduCon via Christian Long…more here)image

…”asking better questions.” —Zac Chase
…”unlimited.” —Diana Laufenberg
…”self-organized.” —Will Richardson
…”unknown…and that’s ok.” —Jessica Ross
…”every classroom a Maker space.” —Jaymes Dec
…”There are multiple futures of learning. We all decide” —Rob Greco
…”fun, playful, always morphing and evolving.” —Ethan Bodnar
…”real work in a human context.” —Greg
…”them.” —Jeremy
…”communal.” —Chris Lehmann
…”close relationships between teachers and students.” —Lizzie
…”spontaneity.” —Ray
…”connecting the needs of our cities to our classrooms and the youth and multigenrational teams most apt to actually generate and implement innovative solutions.” —Alex Gilliam


January 28th, 2013

Educon 2.5-ish Random-ish Reflections

Just some quick reflections on this year’s most excellent EduCon 2.5 at SLA in Philly, an event I love for the conversations but also for the chance to catch up with a whole bunch of amazing educator friends who consistently push my thinking, and for the chance to meet a whole new bunch who I’m sure will do the same in the future.


(photo by Steve Ransom)

I’ll be blogging more about my session on “Why School?” which at the last minute turned into an attempt to come up with “95 Theses” reflecting the world of contemporary learning and schooling. It was a great discussion with some interesting results that I hope to suss out in the next few days. But until then, just a couple of quick snips.


At one point, Christian Long came up and asked me to take part in an informal, “anthropological study” that he was doing as a part of his design work with The Third Teacher. In essence the task was to finish the sentence “The future of learning is…” There were two other choices but that one leapt out at me. My answer was short: “self-organized.” Not earth shattering, I know, but an idea that I’ve been bouncing into more and more.

One of my mantras of late has been this idea that we can now “design our own learning,” one that is no doubt informed by the work Christian and others are doing in designing spaces but just as much by this moment of abundant access to teachers and knowledge that we find ourselves in. The reality is that we are now the central organizing force in our own learning and education. It’s not the school or in the institution any longer. 

I keep looking at my own kids and wondering if “Learning Design 101 (and maybe 102)” shouldn’t be a core class in their studies at school. (As a side note, it is happening to some degree at least with my daughter, who is struggling a bit with the inquiry approach of some of her teachers. “I don’t know what she wants” is a common complaint about her English teacher, one that I respond to with “That’s the whole point, Tess. She wants you to figure out what you want.” Getting there…) And I wonder to what extent teachers see their roles as “Learning Designers” in their own practice and as coaches in that for their students. 

But it’s not just learning. More and more I’m coming around to the idea that not only will my kids learning be “self-organized” or “self-designed,” so will the work that they do in their adult lives. And so will the education they cobble together for themselves to get to those work opportunities. When we have access to all that we do now, we can’t wait for someone else to do any of this for us. Or, at least, that can’t be our only option.

So, I’m wondering, are we preparing students for a “self-organized” world?


Some of that thinking was also spurred by the  Krista Tippett interview with Seth Godin for her On Being Podcast (which is one of the few I subscribe to, btw) that I listened to on the drive down to EduCon. In it, Godin talked about his belief that at this moment, it’s incumbent upon all of us to create art in the sense that we now have the ability and the tools to influence the world in ways that have never before existed, and that seizing and making the most of that opportunity is one of the keys to living well both professionally and personally. I find his argument compelling and relevant to another point I’ve been making of late, that we need kids to be makers and sharers. 

Godin makes the point that in Industrial times, one person designed something that thousands of other people then created. Today, one person can design something AND create it and share it and own it.

"We are all artists now." And, our kids need to be artists now more than ever. And it’s not art in the sense of fine art as we’ve known it. Art is creation that makes a difference in the world, a blog post, a program, a video, a connection. To quote:

"Now, one person working by themselves can make an idea, a product, a service, something in the world, and that shift in leverage means you’re not gonna make it as a worker bee. You’re gonna make it as someone who is figuring out what to do next. And more importantly, finding the faith, literally the faith to walk up to your tribe, your community and say ‘here, I made this.’"

That last part is not always an easy thing. As Godin points out, it’s fraught with fear of rejection, comparison, disappointment, etc. It’s a hard thing to do, even still for me, now almost 12 years into this blogging thing but still fretting as I write this if people will find it banal, boring, or stupid. That’s a part of the “artistic” process that many struggle with.

So, I’m wondering, are we preparing our kids to be artists?

I sat in on Audrey Watters session on “The Politics of Ed Tech” which, in my thinking, should be required context for every parent, educator and student. It was an interesting, wide ranging conversation which at the outset Audrey feared would become “exceedingly grim” and in that respect, it didn’t disappoint. We talked about the big players, their motivations, the visions, etc. 

But the one thing we kind of danced around that I wish we’d had more time for was the “ok, so what do we do about it.” Two snippets spoke to that. First, at one point we began talking about the inroads that companies had made into education via the Apple Distinguished Educator or Google Certified Teacher brands, and whether or not there was a downside to helping to market companies that at the end of the day may not have the best intentions or visions for the type of progressive reforms that many of us are calling for.  Kevin Jarrett was nice enough to put himself in the crossfire, and he said if aligning with one of the big companies meant increased access to tools and technology for kids, it was worth it. (To be noted, SLA has a huge “Apple Distinguished School” banner hanging in the hallway, and Chris has taken the same path to get computers for his students as well.) Not sure how I feel about that, but it was a moment that gave all of us some pause, I think.

And finally, at one point I blurted out something along the lines of “ed-tech businesses have a vested interest in keeping education the same.” We’d been talking about buying textbooks and learning management systems and all sorts of other stuff that have become a part of the fabric of traditional education. I started thinking of the vendor floor at ISTE, all sorts of stuff that we don’t really need but we’re talked into buying because of that traditional thinking.

We don’t need textbooks anymore. We can make our own with our kids. But textbook companies need us to need textbooks. Other companies need us to need LMSs even though we don’t really need them. Etc. What, at the end of the day, are the products that really serve the vision of teaching and learning that we’re now talking about?

Still thinking about that…

Anyway, as always, two days at EduCon are two days really well spent. 

December 13th, 2012

You Gotta Go to Educon 2.5

Just a quick reminder, Educon, the most excellent unconferency conference held at Science Leadership Academy, is coming up at the end of next month. If you haven’t already done so, you might want to head on over and register as there’s limited attendance.

Not for nothing, but if you haven’t had the Educon experience yet, you need to. For me, it’s one of the if not the best conference I get to every year because it’s small, intimate, thought-provoking, features students, and brings together many of the good friends I’ve made over the years in this online eduspace. I’ll be running a fun session on how we’d like George Lucas to spend the $4 billion he’s putting toward education, but there are far more serious and important topics on the conversation list as well.

Anyway, hope to see you all there…

January 30th, 2012

A Couple of Bold Ideas at Educon

The past couple of Educon days at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia were, as always, packed with fun catching up with old friends (and meeting new ones) but, as always, also filled with conversations that have me thinking more about what “reform” looks like and what bold schools might do to get there. It was fun not to lead a session this year and just be an attendee (though I really need to stop putting stuffed animals on my head). Anyway, just want to share out a couple of what I think are compelling narratives around change to start the week.

First, I’d heard of the iSchool in NYC but as with a lot of other innovative schools, I’d never had the chance to get my brain around what they do. I’ll admit to a certain bias for learning the lessons of schools that have been in place for decades that have made a real shift toward more progressive learning. The iSchool is going into it’s fourth year. Nevertheless, the teachers and principals who presented two sessions at Educon made a great case for inquiry/challenge based learning in way that fits the “doing both” spirit of the bold schools I’ve written about. To get some sense of the culture, check out this 5-minute video on “Disastercamp" where students attempted to answer the question "How can first responders to disasters use social media to improve communication and coordination for disaster relief?" And here is another, the 16 Module, where students dive into the question “What does it mean to be 16?” It’s the type of learning that I’d like for my own kids.

But here, perhaps, is the best part. When it comes to prepping for the NY State Regents test, students get access to self-paced, online test prep courses they work through on their own that is then supported in the classroom. That means way more time is freed up to do the real learning work of inquiry in the classroom with teachers who are learners as well. (In one of the sessions, one of the iSchool teachers said they basically start with a theme for a class and then create the curriculum as they go, that they can innovate on the fly which, to me at least, suggests they are learners first, teachers second.) Interestingly, that’s the same approach I heard from Knewton a bit ago, and I’m starting to wonder what’s really wrong with tacking in that direction during the transition we’re in. I do find it kind of scary that former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein doesn’t take issue with this either. If we’re going to be stuck with the test, why not just offload it to technology and spend our time in more valuable learning pursuits? (That’s worthy of a post in and of itself down the road.)

And here’s the other story that I find interesting: I had a chance to chat with Chris Walsh who is the Director of Innovation and Design for the New Tech Network of schools. They’ve either started or refashioned 86 schools across the country at this point and they have an eye on 30 or so more next year. It’s a pretty interesting model for change, especially in the way that communities, not schools, fund their work with New Tech. Basically, through fund raisers, donations and other contributions, the community “invests” in the change that happens at the school which, no doubt, helps those changes weather the problems of leaders leaving, pressures from state governments, etc.  In theory, it allows schools to shift in measured, sustainable ways. I haven’t had the chance to dive into all that New Tech offers in terms of PBL and technology to know if their curriculum is truly “bold,” but that’s an interesting model nonetheless, and makes me wonder how to drive more community investment in change.

As always, the great thing about Educon is the sincerity you sense of everyone in the building in trying to figure out what’s best for kids in terms of learning and schools. No one’s trying to sell you anything or promote themselves or make it about anything other than figuring it all out for their unique spaces and for the larger community. Looking forward to the conversations continuing.

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Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!

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