I’ve been struggling with this post for a few days now. Not just the ideas, but the words, trying to articulate this niggling negativity in my brain without giving it more due than it deserves. Not sure if I got it right even now…
No doubt, 2006 was just an incredible year personally and professionally. And it feels like the conversations we’ve been having in this community gained some serious traction last year. There are many new voices in our midst.
But for a variety of reasons, I’m not feeling a deep reservoir of optimism for 2007. And that’s not just on the education front, either. The fact is we are mired in horrible situations all around. Iraq has become a disaster, yet I’m hard pressed to name one person on either side of the political spectrum that I would trust to fix it. Our Earth is under great environmental stress, yet our culture and our society is more interested in Paris and Brittney’s partying than they are about the millions of kids in the world who don’t have clean water to drink. And for all the great things that we have to say about these tools and the potential they might bring for real learning in our classrooms, all we’re going to hear about for the next week or so is the horror of Saddam’s hanging being captured on a cell phone and spread around the Internet.
In terms of education, while there are certainly more people who are starting to consider these changes and their implications, the fact is there haven’t been many inroads into serious change in the classroom. Yes, there are more and more examples of teachers and students using these tools in their practice, but the numbers of examples of students on the K-12 level whose learning is being transformed by these technologies is amazingly small, at least to me. I mean really, where are the examples of students blogging…and I mean blogging, not just using blogs…and building global networks of learners? There are some, yes, but not enough to make the case that these tools can work in the current school environment.
And to be honest, it feels like the conversation in our own community is losing its way of late, like it’s hit a ceiling. Maybe it’s because we haven’t yet found a way around the filters. Or maybe it’s because we’re just solidifying our gains. Or maybe the next level of the discussion is going to be more difficult, the questions harder, the expectations higher. Or maybe it’s just me… But lately it feels like there is too much static in the signal, that it’s more about navel gazing and top 100 lists and word counts than how we make this work for kids and schools. I know…I’m not immune to that criticism either.
To that end, I have a feeling I’ll be blogging less this year and writing more outside of this community. That’s not to say that I won’t still be spending a goodly amount of time here. But I’m not going to post just for the sake of posting. And let’s face it: the reach of these ideas is still very, very small in the larger debate. On some level, it feels like it’s growing quickly. But even a 100% gain when you only have 2% of the market doesn’t amount to much. Can we reach those non-bloggers by blogging? Obviously, no. And this year just feels like such a critical moment to get out of the echo chamber. Traditional media is not dead, yet, and is still the best way, I think, to spread these ideas. At the very minimum, it’s branching out to other online communities.
And while things have changed now that I’m my own boss, please smack me if what I do write on this blog gets more focused on my work and experiences as opposed to the work and ideas of practitioners in classrooms and schools. I’ve tried to focus on where the blogs meet the road…haven’t always done a great job of that, I know. I’ll keep writing about what I think, but less about where I’m at or what I’m doing (unless it’s relevant.)
Second, I want to focus (and expand) my reading…I’ve been working to cut my RSS subscriptions from 125 or so to about 40, and I can see going even leaner. I’ve come to depend on a few trusted filters as well as a smattering of practitioner bloggers who I think keep me grounded in experience. But I’m feeling the need to get some “fresh” voices in my diet, and I’m growing more and more interested in the larger cultural conversations regarding Web 2.0 tools. Much of what’s happening out there is relevant in here.
Beyond that, I don’t know. I’ve been feeling like things are going to get worse before they get better, and I think we’re staring that reality in the face right now. There is some new verbiage being bantered around, “new” panels and commissions coming out with “new” suggestions, but none of it, I don’t think, means much until the crisis gets more acute. What’s happening right now from a cultural and global perspective has a depth that few in education really want to admit. Until they open themselves to it, I don’t see much real change happening.
What optimism I do have I share with Howard Rheingold, who writes:
The tools for cultural production and distribution are in the pockets of 14 year olds…The eager adoption of web publishing, digital video production and online video distribution, social networking services, instant messaging, multiplayer role-playing games, online communities, virtual worlds, and other Internet-based media by millions of young people around the world demonstrates the strength of their desire â€” unprompted by adults â€” to learn digital production and communication skills. Whatever else might be said of teenage bloggers, dorm-room video producers, or the millions who maintain pages on social network services like MySpace and Facebook, it cannot be said that they are passive media consumers. They seek, adopt, appropriate, and invent ways to participate in cultural production.
No doubt, 2007 will have our kids leading us further toward where we need to go…
(Photo “Looking at the Future” by Amir Fathi)