January 30th, 2014

Rethinking Our Roles

Clay Shirky:

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

Those of us in the traditional academy could have a hand in shaping that future, but doing so will require us to relax our obsessive focus on elite students, institutions, and faculty. It will require us to stop regarding ourselves as irreplaceable occupiers of sacred roles, and start regarding ourselves as people who do several jobs society needs done, only one of which is creating new knowledge.

It will also require us to abandon any hope of restoring the Golden Age. It was a nice time, but it wasn’t stable, and it didn’t last, and it’s not coming back. It’s been gone ten years more than it lasted, in fact, and in the time since it ended, we’ve done more damage to our institutions, and our students, and our junior colleagues, by trying to preserve it than we would have by trying to adapt. Arguing that we need to keep the current system going just long enough to get the subsidy the world owes us is really just a way of preserving an arrangement that works well for elites—tenured professors, rich students, endowed institutions—but increasingly badly for everyone else.

Read the whole thing. 

There are similar pressures on the K-12 level that make supporting the current system difficult. To date, however, we’ve been stuck almost wholly in preservation mode. 

March 8th, 2013

Liberate the Learners

Seymour Papert (1998):

The presence of digital technologies is rapidly moving us into a period where learners can learn what they need to know on their own agenda rather than on the predetermined agenda of a curriculum. We will soon be able to give up the assembly line model of grade after grade, exercise after exercise.

It would be naive to believe this could happen without resistance from the education establishment—which includes several multibillion-dollar sectors of the education industry as well as huge bureaucracies with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I grant that most people who make and apply curriculums are underpaid and motivated by the welfare of children. But this does not alter the fact that present-day schools, to which…they have to cater in order to sell their products, are relics from an earlier period of knowledge technology.

I think the emphasis now has to be on the transition. We know from where have come. The question is where we end up. At the core, it’s about how we provide the cultures and systems and supports that marry the public good of community schools with the powerful freedom to learn which we and our children in connected spaces now enjoy. (And, importantly, how we extend that freedom to those who don’t yet have access to it.) 

Next week, let’s spring forward on more than just the clock. 

February 22nd, 2013

Other Questions for Teachers and Principals

Valerie Strauss:

Nine in 10 principals (93%) and teachers (92%) say they are knowledgeable about the Common Core.

Nine in 10 principals (90%) and teachers (93%) believe that teachers in their schools already have the academic skills and abilities to implement the Common Core in their classrooms.

Teachers and principals are more likely to be very confident that teachers have the ability to implement the Common Core (53% of teachers; 38% of principals) than they are very confident that the Common Core will improve the achievement of students (17% of teachers; 22% of principals) or better prepare students for college and the workforce (20% of teachers; 24% of principals).

Statistics from the most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, and just another piece of research backing up what I (and many others) have been seeing and hearing anecdotally in my travels around the country talking to teachers. And while I know we need to define “achievement” and “workforce,” those numbers are a pretty severe indictment of the Common Core if accurate.

But I’d love to be asking a number of other questions of these teachers and principals  (and I’ll put my guesses as to what the answers would be in parenthesis):

  • Do you have the skills and abilities to learn with online social media? (21%)
  • Are you knowledgable about and regularly engage in personal and professional learning opportunities online? (20%)
  • Do you regularly engage in discussions about learning with technology with your teachers (or with your principals)? (8%)
  • Do you take responsibility for your own professional development? (11%)
  • Are you “literate” as defined by the National Council Teachers of English? (5%)
  • Are you encouraged and supported to innovate with technology in your classrooms and schools? (18%)

(Add your own below if you like.)

Feel free to push back on those guesses, which, I’m sure, many will think to be too low. I’m basing my responses on visits to dozens of schools with thousands of teachers in the last year.

And please don’t read my guesses as “teachers suck.” There is no blame here; we happen to be teaching and leading and learning at what may well be the fastest, hairiest moment of change in education ever. It’s no surprise that we’re struggling to catch up. But I do think every educator has a responsibility to get moving in these directions.

The larger point is this: in three years we can get everyone up to speed on the Common Core, a set of standards that have problematic origins and implementation, for which we don’t have an assessment, and around which people are profiting bajillions of dollars, but we can’t seem to make much headway on getting our practice wrapped around a much larger, more profound, more important shift in the way we and our kids are going to live and work and learn with technology.

Disconcerting at best. 

February 11th, 2013

"Connect to New People on a Regular Basis"

danah boyd:

Building lifelong learners means instilling curiosity, but it also means helping people recognize how important it is that they continuously surround themselves by people that they can learn from. And what this means is that people need to learn how to connect to new people on a regular basis.


Are you preparing learners for the organizational ecosystem of today? Or are you helping them develop networks so that they’re prepared for the organizational shifts that are coming?

This is why we need to develop our own networks now. I know we’re in this hugely messy transition period into this self-directed, self-organized world, but at what point do we start making this a requirement rather than an option?

Read the whole post. 

October 8th, 2012

The New Entrepreneurial Class

Robert Safian:

For all the concerns they cite about the plight of small business, from tax burdens to health care costs and so on, what pols of all stripes are missing is that America is experiencing a wave of entrepreneurialism unlike anything we’ve ever had before. Inspired by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, by the incredible success of Steve Jobs and Apple, by nimble new industrial designers, by the myriad app-makers and startups populating Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, and every place in between, a generation of people—young and old—are enthusiastically and optimistically setting out to build new businesses and to invent new ways of doing business. Some of them tap into new platforms like Kickstarter, Etsy, and Indiegogo. Some tap into incubators like TechStars and Y Combinator. Sometimes these entrepreneurs are moonlighting, sometimes they work within huge corporations, and sometimes, yes, they are in a garage or a coffee house or a co-working space. But that doesn’t make this phenomenon any less real.

Wendy and I were talking the other night about the fact that very, very few of our friends are working for anyone other than themselves. It was kind of shocking when we started going through the list. Cabinetmakers, consultants, marketers, designers, app makers…the list goes on. I can’t remember the last person who came to our house with a real 9-5-ish job. 

Wondering, as always, what it will be like for my kids…

April 12th, 2012

Real “Work” for Real Audiences

Introducing my 12-year old son Tucker’s new website:

It’s all basketball drills for middle school players, and it’s hopefully just in the initial stages of becoming something that develops into something meaningful for him and others.

Right now, it’s just play. My wish is that for Tucker it might be a vehicle to learn all sorts of stuff around something he really has a passion for, and this stuff, too:

  • Networking with other kid basketball players
  • Video storyboarding and editing
  • Storytelling
  • Programming
  • Publication and transparency
  • Geometry
  • Collaboration
  • Curation
  • Writing skills
  • Website marketing
  • Presence
  • Dealing with strangers
  • Taking feedback
  • Patience
  • Revision
  • Dealing with failure
  • Etc.

I know, I know. That’s all me talking. He’s motivated by showing off his skilz, and, to some extent, by learning how to process and publish the video. But hey, a dad can dream…

I might be back at some point to ask for your help in getting the word out. ;0)

February 10th, 2012

"Open Network" Tests

I just recently ran across Jonathan Martin’s posts regarding the “Open Internet” tests that he’s piloting with some teachers at St. Gregory School in Arizona, and I’m just loving the thinking. In November of 2010, he first asked:

We know that content memorization must no longer [be] the goal of our learning programs; what our goal must be is that students can make the most sense of the voluminous and fast-accelerating quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and about which they must be able to think critically, to select, to evaluate, to apply, and to amend as they tackle challenging problems. So why shouldn’t our school-tests evaluate our students ability to do exactly this?  Why not structure tests appropriately, and then invite and welcome (and require) our students to use their computers on their tests? Isn’t this real world, and real life, preparation?

A couple of months ago, Jonathan wrote about a chemistry teacher at his school who was letting students use the Internet to take tests, (check out the embedded annotated example test) and he added this piece of reasoning:

Our students are preparing to work in professional environments where they must tackle and resolve complex problems, and we know that in nearly every envisionable such environment, they will have laptops or other mobile, web-connected, digital tools to address those problems.   Let’s assess their  understanding in situations parallel to those for which we are preparing them.

Then, this week, Jonathan added a third post that documents the experiences of a Theater History teacher, and he refined his pitch for “Open Internet” tests even more:

I think this assessment approach is a highly valuable one for promoting deeper learning, information literacy, and analytic and organizational skill development over memorization and regurgitation.  I think that many tests in most subjects can be, with the right intentional design, “open internet” and that they will be the better for it.  Some argue against tests altogether, but I still love a good test, and taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students.

The student feedback about the test structure included in the post is instructive. For instance:

I liked this test because it allowed me to show what I know. With multiple choice tests, that’s not always obvious (it could just be a lucky guess or limited knowledge of something).  Short answer takes too much time and also isn’t the best option for full explanations. I also liked how we had some input on the test, because not only were the suggested questions helpful for studying, but it also forced me to think about the test long before the morning of.

Read the rest.

Now a couple of quick points and then a push. First, as both teachers that are featured in the posts point out, the thinking is a bit different when creating tests like these. For instance:

In his Chemistry class, Dr. Morris recognizes how radically the questions he asks must change if he knows his test-takers have access to the internet, Wolfram-Alpha, and a myriad of other sources on chemical information.   His questions must require his students to genuinely sort out what information they require, get that information, evaluate it, and then apply it to solve his now much more complex and rich questions. This is assessment for genuine understanding, not assessment of recall and regurgitation. It is far [more] likely to be assessment of lasting understanding and future applicability than typical memorization based testing.

Second, while the idea of going online to find answers may strike some as “cheating” and/or making things too easy, many of our students will find this more difficult:

This test does not have multiple choice or terms that we had to define. This is more about testing your ability to find resources that you need, write a quality essay under pressure. I find I like the multiple choice and defining terms better.

And now the push. What if we didn’t just make it about giving kids access to Google and Wolfram Alpha for test taking? What if we invited them to use their networks of peer learners and teachers as well? 


I know that this goes back to the “what do we really need to make sure kids are carrying around in their heads?” debate, and it speaks to the fact that not every child is going to have access to the Web at every moment (at least not in the near term.) But just think of all of the new ways we would be able to prepare kids to answer the questions that they will be asked in their real lives if we gave them a handful of “Open Network” tests before they graduated. I mean, why wouldn’t we be doing this?

And if you really want to go there, why wouldn’t we let kids access their networks for the Common Core assessments that are coming down the pike? 

Curious to hear your thoughts. Anyone else out there moving in this direction? Why or why not?

(Note: Jonathan will be presenting on these ideas at the NAIS conference next month in Seattle.) 

August 3rd, 2011

Then the Internet Came Along

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Cathy Davidson’s new book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Learn, and I couldn’t put it down during my five-hour flight to Calgary yesterday. I want to cover it more completely when I finish the last 75 pages or so (more flights tomorrow) but I wanted to just pull a quick passage that I think frames the struggle that traditional schooling as well as we as individuals are starting to wake up to right now. 

Keep in mind that we had over a hundred years to perfect our institutions of school and work for the industrial age. The chief purpose of those institutions was to make the divisions of labor central to industrialization seem natural to twentieth century workers. We had to be trained to inhabit the twentieth century comfortably and productively. Everything about school and work in the twentieth century was designed to create and reinforce separate subjects, separate cultures, separate grades, separate functions, separate spaces for personal life, work, private life, public life and all the other divisions.

Then the Internet came along. Now work increasingly means the desktop computer. Fifteen years into the digital revolution, one machine has reconnected the very things—personal life, social life, work life, and even sexual life—that we’d spent the last hundred years putting into neatly separated categories, cordoned off in their separate spaces, with as little overlap as possible except maybe the annual company picnic (13). 

What I like about her approach to all of this in the book is that she makes it pretty clear that we don’t have a choice as to whether or not we try to make sense of these shifts. We’re not going back to those neatly separate containers of our lives, that if anything, all of this is going to be more intertwined as we move forward. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a different thing, hugely different in some ways, but there is also great opportunity in the change if (IF) we begin to work to understand it more deeply than just a Twitter hashtag and blog post. We literally have to change the way we interact with the world.

And as educators, our struggle is especially acute. We not only have to “train” our kids for the twenty first century, we have to train ourselves. 

July 27th, 2011

"How the Hell Could They Have Let This Happen"

I mean really, can this be said any better than the way Alfie Kohn says it?

We are living through what future historians will surely describe as one of the darkest eras in American education — a time when teachers, as well as the very idea of democratic public education, came under attack; when carrots and sticks tied to results on terrible tests were sold to the public as bold “reform”; when politicians who understand nothing about learning relied uncritically on corporate models and metaphors to set education policy; when the goal of schooling was as misconceived as the methods, framed not in terms of what children need but in terms of “global competitiveness” — that is, how U.S. corporations can triumph over their counterparts in other countries. There will come a time when people will look back at this era and ask, “How the hell could they have let this happen?”

As Kohn suggests later in the article, educators need to drive these conversations, not politicians and businessmen. And I get the sense from the comments on my last post that people are looking for ways to do just that but are frustrated with the lack of scale. We can only start so many wikis…

One of the benefits of the Web is that everyone can have his or her own voice. One of the drawbacks is that everyone can have his or her own voice. Used to be only a few people started movements. Today, anyone can. So the question is, how do we pull our individual movements together into something that gets some real push behind it? Or do we even need to do that? Is there another path?

In other words, how do we not let this happen to education?

June 10th, 2011
Gov. Chris Christie proposed Thursday that private companies play an unprecedented role in public education, managing some schools and creating others from the ashes of dysfunctional ones.
The governor said the state would launch its experiment in five chronically failing schools where students are hopelessly mired in traditional approaches to education that have utterly collapsed.
“This pilot program will provide an innovative alternative for those children who need it most, bolstering our efforts to ensure opportunity for every child in our state,” the governor said. “This program will begin to restore hope in communities where failing schools deny children hope and opportunity.”

What he didn’t say: We can’t trust educators to fix this. We want to make money off of our students’ backs. I need more campaign contributions. I need a job after I lose the governorship next year. Etc.

Gov. Christie proposes private firms manage some failing N.J. public schools | NJ.com

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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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