mixing and remixing to find a balance….
From a response I wrote today on the NYCIST listserv:
I find it so interesting how in some ways we all have such similar schools and in other ways our experiences are so, so different. There are schools that have dumped Dell and would never go back; other schools have nothing but praise for them. Some schools swear by HP, others by IBM, others by Apple. You find it more cost effective not to cover your iBooks, and we couldn’t possible survive without a 4-year warranty on our laptops. We get warranty repair on some 10 to 20 iBooks/MacBooks and on a similar number of Dell notebooks every week, and that’s not even including the failed A/C adapters that are also replaced under warranty. Granted, our situation is different as a one-to-one school with a parent-buy model, but I can’t imagine our managing the repair process if we didn’t have coverage for the full active life of the machines.
Vive la difference!
At the last NYCIST meeting, someone began a thought with, “We all accept that curriculum should drive technology use and not the other way around.” Heads nodded in agreement, and I found myself nodding along out of habit. He was only stating what for so long has been the bedrock of educational technology theory, especially in traditional independent schools. We’re not trying to change what you do; we’re just giving you new tools to add to you kit.
I’m sure I’ve said those very words in the past, but lately I’ve had the sense that the ground is starting to shift under our feet. Maybe we’re finally entering an age in which technology is developing in ways that can make it truly transformational for education. In certain subject areas, technology clearly does have a direct effect on curriculum. Computer Science, certainly. Science, sure. I could probably find examples from each subject, but perhaps the conversation we should really be having is the one about how technology affects pedagogy – not necessarily what we teach, but how we teach it.
The current buzz is the need to teach students 21st Century Skills. Time magazine even did a cover story on How to Build a Student for the 21st Century. But what exactly are those skills? They are not computer skills per se but are instead the skills required to stay afloat in a technology-rich, information-driven, global economy/community.
So it’s not about content and curriculum; it’s about managing time and information and relationships. Students need to learn to communicate and collaborate and innovate and connect and think critically, creatively, and holistically. They need to learn to access the incredible resources that technology makes available, which means that schools need give students the opportunity and training to tap into those resources.
Is the traditional classroom giving students the chance to learn these skills? Even at one-to-one schools like mine are we taking advantage of the incredible opportunity to turn learning into something more vibrant and participatory? How do we do make time for more exploration in learning and still continue to build the foundation of core knowledge that students need? What does the school of the future look like?
I visited the Barnes Foundation collection in Merion, PA last week. What an amazing place (and a fascinating controversy)! Barnes created his foundation as a school to educate people from all walks of life about art. He believed that art could change lives since, in the end, “art and life are inseparable.” It was not his goal to teach people the craft of painting ( “for that would be like teaching an injured person how to scream”) but to guide them to learn how to see.
I suppose that’s really the goal all good teaching — helping our students learn how to see. To see threads, connections, possibilities, and beauty in the world around them. To spot valid arguments and faulty premises. To separate fact from opinion, evidence from bias. To focus on the important details while still keeping the big picture in sight.
At one point in the audio tour through the Barnes galleries, the narrator described Cezanne’s impact on Picasso, explaining that Picasso did not imitate Cezanne’s work but “reworked its influences into his own unique forms.” Fast forward to 2006, and that same remark could describe what’s happening with blogging and the read/write web. Reading, writing, mixing, remixing. Learn from what others are doing, think about it, analyze it, synthesize it, internalize it, and go write about it.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about the product; it’s about the act of engaging in the process, of looking at what others are doing and then putting brush to canvas.