School-In My PJs…Yes! (Thing 13)

The world's awash with stuff...

The world's awash with stuff...

Never enough time.  That’s my new mantra.  With this “thing,” I found so many conference lectures I wanted to listen to, but that “time factor” kept rearing its ugly head; well, that, and the 200 essays I need to grade, laughing maniacally nearby.  However, I chose wisely and listened to a very thought-provoking talk by Professor Stephen Heppell, quaintly engaging in an almost “fireside chat” at his computer.  His was the pre-conference keynote talk of 2008, entitled “It Simply Isn’t the 20th Century Any More Is It?: So Why Would We Teach As Thought It Was?” Both enlightening and frightening, I learned and confirmed several things.

Heppell began his talk with a time travel look at the past century, from the big factory schools where the curriculum was received and children read and learned by “inwardly digesting somebody else’s information.”  With the advent of big computers and basic technology, its creators and users were already thinking ahead, from “what could we make the technology do that was useful?” to today’s “We’re in a world where technology can do jolly well (that’s how you know you’re in Britain!) anything we want?  What do we want?”

From the beginning of technology’s use in the classroom and marketplace, the overriding facet of its usefulness and appeal was its “us-ness,” according to Heppell. We LIKE being part of a community, and we also like working together at a distance, paradoxical for sure, but true.  We don’t want mindless jobs anymore (because now we have robots to do that for us, or we outsource it); we want to connect and stand by our learning. Reflecting at a distance is also important.  In my opinion, we WANT a big world again.  In one sense, the world is flat and, while good for many things, we also like the idea of  “Oh, the places you’ll go” and “Oh, the places you’ll never see but can dream about in your imagination.” We hardly need to imagine anymore!

According to Heppell, “content” is not king, and never was.  One of my favorite things he said had an almost Shakespearian or at least a Browning lilt to it:  “The world’s awash with stuff, and your ability to critique it and…make judgments about it all depends on your ability to contribute….Knowledge is a free good.” Wow.  Think about that one for awhile.

This is a world of mutuality and exchange (which is why copyright doesn’t sit well in this world).

Heppell also discussed the recent and ongoing financial meltdowns around the world, connecting them to technology, in that technology is “allowing us to do things that we haven’t been able to keep up with…[such as] outgun the banks,” etc.  In tying that to education, he said that now, a multiplicity of people are supplying learning and soon enough, if not now, SCHOOL will be fighting for the attention of learners.  This is the age of project-based learning and mixed-age classes, learning 24/7, and democracies between teachers and learners.  After all, BOTH are learners, and a collegiate bond should exist between them. (This is where I got excited, but also panicked.  Will I have a job in the future?  Will I be needed?  How must I change my outlook and my curriculum to meet this new demand that is already upon us?  I’m already behind.)

He ended by noting that learning is going global; schools around the world are now swapping curriculum and ideas.  Factory schools are dead; it’s time to get rid of “cells and bells” and install “agile” schools.  Finally, people are rediscovering things that matter, like family.  Social indicators are being reborn (and yes, here you must include networks like Facebook, where, over the last year, I have reconnected with over 75 childhood friends and family, people I had always wondered about, and I’ve been having a blast catching up and reestablishing friendships and that sense of place that we shared).

Heppell ends with a warning: if we ignore the obvious (this IS going to happen), then the same collapse occurring in the financial world will happen in education.  We MUST adopt the new model of learning.

SO—my heart was beating a little fast here.  Is my own school and district realizing the writing on the wall?  Will we be prepared? ARE we prepared?  I know that without this class, I didn’t give much thought to it.  But then, I have a community approach to teaching (I kept reminding myself), but not a completely technological communal approach to teaching.  🙁

I think the 3 essential questions are worth sharing, because I’d love to discuss them with someone, or throw them out for your discussion with your school staff:

1. If Germany, Korea, Japan, and India are now the leaders in car production whilst the USA, China, India lead in cinema production, then which few countries will dominate learning in the 21st century, and why?

2. We put 25 children in a room because they are born between 2 Septembers. We ring a bell and expect 1000 teenagers to be simultaneously hungry. We teach biology, then ring a bell and teach technology, but have a global shortage of bio-technologists….What other aspects of our learning lives are simply for convenience, but have no relationship to standards in effective learning?

3. If a student was asked to define essential literacies for a teacher, what would he include? (An example from one student was being able to post and comment on a YOUTUBE video.)

I enjoyed being able to sit on my bed, drink coffee, and take notes while listening to this talk.  No arguments from me there!  I do believe in seeing my students, or at least coming together periodically.  I am conducting a seminar for middle school English teachers in a little over a week, and you can be sure I will bring this to the table.  I have already added a Web 2.0 component, and this will be right in the thick of it!

P.S. His talk can also be found on dotsub here.

2 thoughts on “School-In My PJs…Yes! (Thing 13)

  1. I really like the questions you pose at the end of your post, especially number three. Further to this, I wonder what students would list if asked to define essential literacies period. Is there a disconnect between what they percieve as valuable and what we do? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle but I think a better understanding of this would help teachers to engage their students.
    Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. Thank you for your comments! It was a really interesting “talk.” I just find myself looking around the school daily and wondering: how will this be different in 10 years? 5? 20? And I still wat to be a part of it all!

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