Don’t tell the students but the revolution has begun

I’ve been able to catch up on some of my reading this past week although I still am looking forward to Christmas and the time to do some more with reflection along the way. One post that drew my attention was over at Jennifer Dorman’s cliotech. Her post Re-Learning Curve discusses an article by Mark Pesce discussing the whole idea of giving all secondary students a laptop.

Pesce has some interesting thoughts about what change this will bring –

curriculum designers have to accept the computer as a powerful, flexible, ubiquitous tool that can be integrated into the curriculum’s DNA.

The curriculum must be redrawn, so that computers are integrated into it, becoming a potent tool alongside the textbook and the chalkboard

Most teachers are digital immigrants, struggling to croak out a few words, while their students are fluent natives, rabbiting on in a language most teachers only haltingly understand. Dropping computers into that mix precariously flips the balance of power from teachers to students, unless educators are given the resources and the opportunity to re-educate themselves.

Other than the abuse of the immigrant/native metaphor, which really needs to  be buried or something so we can move forward but I digress, Presce has really identified the key problems with what is taking place in education:  curricula and its designers are still using the “knowledge presenting” model of design instead of the “knowledge understanding” model. In the first, teachers are to present knowledge to the students and then students are to present back to teachers what they remember.

EARLIER this year, a secondary school teacher from Adelaide told me about his physics class. “I was lecturing about current topics in physics,” he said, “when one of my students corrected me.” One of the theories he quoted had been recently disproved by an experiment, the results of which were reported in Wikipedia. The student, with one ear to the lecture and one eye on the universal web encyclopedia, helpfully provided the update. “How can I stay ahead of the kids?” he wondered.

In the presentation model, there is no hope. There is no way one teacher or even a few are going to be able to stay ahead of the knowledge curve that is going on. Heck, even my own system of gathering knowledge is changing as I move from doing a particular search using google to asking a question within the networks to which I belong and then using the responses to drive my future searching and learning.  With students and their ability to use networks, knowledge gathering and the sharing of information becomes much easier.  (*Note –  we do have to work with students to help them identify information that is reliable and help them develop literacy skills beyond reading and writing.) Students can find the information and report it back to us with ever increasing ease. The shelf life of knowledge teaching is almost up.

Instead, curriculum designers need to identify the knowledge to which students need to be exposed and then go further to identifying something they need to understand from having this knowledge. How they demonstrate that understanding can be determined in a number of ways and may actually require something besides a test. And, giving teachers some credit, I think they know this very fact. Teachers no longer believe they hold the keys to knowledge. In fact, I don’t think they ever really thought that but, instead, have been confined by a system that was designed to bring knowledge to the masses. Unfortunately, we accomplished that goal a hundred or more years ago and have been trying to figure out what to do since then with very little change because no one has been able to agree on what to do. Now, for the first time, we are not being confined by the knowledge anchor. Instead, we are free to explore knowledge and create – and it scares the goosebumps off of people in charge. Really, it does. It replaces the holy grail of power, the test score, with something less definitive but much more useful, understanding.

And this is where I disagree with Pesce. I don’t think it is the students who will be driving the revolution. In fact, the revolution has already started and continues to grow in strength. In more and more classrooms around the world, teachers are communicating, sharing, talking and collaborating using technologies. Yes it seems slow to those who have been pushing from the beginning but, as more and more teachers come to realize that the knowledge is there for the taking, they are seeking ways to develop understanding and, eventually, turn to some type of technology in order to facilitate that process.

The revolution has begun. It is taking place in classrooms around the world and being discussed in blogs and other social networking systems to which teachers are being drawn. Teachers won’t need to stay ahead as they create networks of professionals who will help one another learn and share the new knowledge and begin to develop ways to help students develop understanding.

I believe what is holding the whole revolution from taking off is the lack of teachers who have access to quality hardware, open access to information and, most crucial, the freedom to teach for understanding. With this, the revolution would be over before wikipedia knew about it and no teacher would have to worry about trying to do the impossible – know it all!

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