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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Climate Change?

Our current dinosaur-friendly environment has ceased to exist and has given rise to a new breed of educators -- ones savvy about affordable 1:1 computing.

Like many educators, I am impatient for the kinds of educational changes that will make schools better able to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's students. But unlike many change advocates, I am old and cynical about schools being able to change themselves. My experience has been that only forces from outside the established educational community create fundamental change in schools -- for good or ill. Schools, after all, are about preserving the culture and the current social structure, not fomenting revolution.

But changes are underway that have dramatically altered the school climate, giving rise to a new breed of educators. These changes have been driven by affordable 1:1 computing.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because just last week I was a part of a group of local educators who spent six hours attending a workshop delivered over interactive television. I noticed a few things about the day's stand-and-deliver experience:

  • Adults have no more patience with un-engaging material than kids have.
  • Everyone's standards for engagement are rising. Are we all becoming ADD?
  • Technology itself does not make an educational experience engaging.
  • Given the opportunity, learners will find a way to be engaged -- with or without the teacher's help.

About half of us at the workshop had laptops. Our venue provided guest wireless access. So work/learning continued for those of us with laptops -- even when the program was about something we already had heard; was something we already knew; or was simply not delivered in a style that invited attention. (I am trying to say this politely since the presentations were no better or worse than any one would see at any educational conference. But the MEGO -- My Eyes Glaze Over -- factor was about at 8.5.)

Those of us with our own means of engagement tuned out -- at least partially. We've all seen that happen at meetings and workshops -- anywhere people have access to computing devices and a means to get online. Marc Prentsky says "Engage me or enrage me." I don't know that the situation is that dramatic -- "Engage me, or something else will" seems more likely.

These days, parents both provide wireless access devices for their kids and demand that their children have access to them throughout the school day. Calls from parents demanding student cell phone access grow after every school shooting.

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Further, the line between cell phones and PDAs and laptops has blurred. We need to identify the skills and practices of teachers who survive this meteoric change of a classroom environment -- the new climate where engagement/distraction is always available to every student. I'd put my money on those who

  • are diagnosticians who use technology to help them create effective Individual Education Plans for all their kids using evaluation data that is accessed and manipulated electronically;
  • are masters of differentiated instruction;
  • can identify, organize, and prescribe online learning activities;
  • understand and use the concepts of gaming in learning;
  • communicate online effectively and easily;
  • lead dynamic and engaging discussions;
  • team with other educators to specialize in learning styles rather than content areas.

What do you do when you have their bodies in your classroom, but their minds are everywhere but? I hope our pioneering 1:1 laptop educators in Maine and Africa and elsewhere will be offering guidance!

The climactic shift brought on by that big meteor was bad for the dinosaurs, but where would we mammals be without it?

Oh, it's worth following the One Laptop per Child project. Nicholas Negroponte and his team are cranking out powerful but inexpensive laptop computers and seeding third-world schools with them. It's not whether, but when, the same thing happens here.


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Updated 06/10/2011