Time to Change

Posted by on Dec 2, 2011
Time to Change

I’ve had many interesting discussions of late about technology in education. They’ve left me wondering.

About technology.

About education.

About how the one impacts the other. And the other, the other.

I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in a district that is now offering our students incredible access to technology in their learning experience. I’ve long heard about the exciting possibilities afforded students in a 1:1 program, but now having the opportunity to be part of it first hand, I’m rather shaken by just how powerful this all might be. Because this could change everything. That’s not overstating it.

My question now is, what is everything? What is it that will change? What is it that should change?

For so long, the perceived value of an educational institution was the access to knowledge and information that being present in the institution provided. Teachers were the experts of content and poured forth that content upon the minds of the masses seated in desks before them. Whether you believe that to be right or wrong, that was the experience that nearly all of us had going through school. I was taught a chapter of something, completed worksheets about the something, took a test on Friday about the something, and forgot that something shortly thereafter. This perception of the value of education is no longer relevant to the reality of life. Likely, it never was at all.

When I was a kid, I was also beholden to others for the answers to many of my inquiries. If I was at home, and I wondered about something, I typically had to wait until I got to school or went to the library to uncover the answers to my questions. More often than not, that meant the questions went unanswered.  Sadly, I was ok with that at the time.

Technology has fundamentally changed our level of access to anything. And, everything.

I’m now wondering how far this change can, will and should go. We’ve been having these conversations in my district. About moving beyond the digitization of old pedagogy.We’re collectively working to figure out what it means to have every student sitting with ubiquitous access to one of the most transformative and disruptive technologies in history at any given moment in the school day. About what that does to the notion of content. About how we can move to work in the lives of our students to create young historians. Eager scientists. Insightful mathematicians. Powerful authors.

That has me wondering.

What should technology change about the way our students engage learning? Truly and unequivocally change.

I think we need to start engaging this question in earnest. Because doing what we’ve been doing for decades, if not centuries, isn’t likely what needs to be done now. The landscape has changed. The tools have changed. The context has changed. We have changed. But in most cases, our approach hasn’t. Attending most conference sessions and professional development workshops on technology will demonstrate that almost immediately.

So, I’m hoping you’ll join me in this thought experiment. I’m also hoping we’ll be able to move it beyond an experiment quickly and put it into practice in a way that makes a difference for our students and their learning.

Give it some thought. I’m hoping, somewhere and somehow, you’ll share your insights.

I’m hoping we can get together, and wrestle with this idea. Collectively engage in the process and do the very difficult work that needs to be done. To reimagine what learning could look like. What it should look like. Because the technology really can, and should, change the way we are approaching learning.

It’s a huge task. But we have to begin somewhere. I believe we can do it.

I believe we have to.


  1. Time to Change | Special Education and Technology | Scoop.it
    December 2, 2011

    […] Time to Change […]

  2. Antoine RJ Wright
    December 2, 2011

    Awesome question. And one that means looking as much at the goals as it does at the processes me learning. To that end, why not using tech to open the why moments? For example a biology cool that a student colors into the virtual world the elements needed for an ecosystem? The methods don’t need to go away but tech’s access offer us to reconsider the paths to learning we give.

  3. Dave Truss
    December 2, 2011

    “What should technology change about the way our students engage learning?”

    I’ve been grappling with a similar question recently: If you could design a school from the building on up… what would you do with it? What role would technology play? Would you blow up what a school looks like now? Have a large learning commons? Be inquiry based? Can you do these things and still have rigour in that every child is both challenged and engaged? Oh, and make sure this is public education.

    What I’ve come up with so far is that technology should be present but ‘invisible’. When we pick up a pen or pencil, we don’t call it a ‘pencil activity’, the same goes for any other technology.

    This post has been shaping my thinking recently:
    http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/transformative-or-just-flashy-educational-tools/ (See Warlick’s #7 he suggests in the comments: “Give the learners a sandbox.” ~ I like ‘learners’ better than ‘students’.)

    I don’t have answers, but I agree with you that this is a big question we need to ask… and explore many answers for.

  4. Steve Ransom
    December 3, 2011

    This is a great question… and certainly not a new one. Many of us have been asking (and answering) it for a long time now. The problem is that those who set policies, laws, mandates… those who create curriculum and local/state/national assessments… those who are gatekeepers to higher education… most of these folks have not been and continue to neither ask nor answer these questions. So, if I was to offer anything remotely new, it would be the imperative to change the trajectory that puts everything into play for those on the ground – in the trenches. If we want the notion of sage on stage talking to students in desks to change, we will need to change the larger context within (and purple for) which we are preparing students. If we don’t, we’ll only have pockets of innovation and change of the sort we are talking about here… and those pockets will largely exclude many of the students who need them most.

  5. Ben Grey
    December 3, 2011

    Antoine- Thanks for weighing in. I actually do think the methods might need to change. In some cases, entirely. In most places, the American education system is still based on the notion of a teacher dispensing content knowledge to students in a pre-determined sequence of learning. The content is covered, assessed, and then forgotten. That’s what I think we need to change. And, I believe the technology is the catalyst to make that happen. Especially given the fundamental change in the way we now have essentially all information available at our fingertips no matter where we are.

    Dave- I agree that technology should be present but invisible, but I also think the potential of the device could change our approach to education. Should change our approach. Likely, eventually, will change our approach. The issue for me is that we haven’t established what that means. As your post states so well, we talk a lot about the tools and get excited about those, which in many cases can be positive given the ability the tool has to excite and engage a student, even if that ends up fleeting, but we never get down deeper than that. So here’s the scenario. Every student has access to a learning device (it’s not entirely relevant if that’s a netbook, laptop, iPad, whatever), that allows students to access the web, utlize collaboration and creation tools, and connect in ways we haven’t been able to before. They now have access to essentially all the information a teacher will present to them over a given course. They can now manipulate those data in ways that couldn’t be done before. They can potentially create and share what they are doing in ways they never could before. Yet, we keep teaching the same way. Only in some cases we teach the same way on a computer. I’d like to see us establish an actual, real, practical framework of what should change and what it should look like in a given class, or content area, now that we have access to the level we presently have.

    Steve- I do believe it’s not a new question in some regards, but I fear we’ve done a poor job of answering it. That’s truly not an insult or slam on anyone or anything, it’s just what I believe is the reality. Because we still see in far too many programs and environments where students have unfettered access to a device, nothing is changing. We keep doing what we’ve always been doing, only now we do that on a device. Where I’d like for us to go is like what I said to Dave above. We need to establish the framework for what this all should and could look like. A real, practicable, difference-making framework that shows what things should look like now. We need to remove the discussion about obstacles for now. Let’s not discuss all the reasons why we can’t. We need to establish, from the ground up, what this all should look like. We can disregard all the, “Yeah, buts” and create the vision. I truly believe if we create what is best for students, for learning, for the current reality, we will then be in a position to lead the leaders. They haven’t been provided the compelling case for what change should look like with this technology yet. That’s on us. I honestly believe we can do it.

    So, everyone, what should learning look like for today’s reality? This is not a taffy pull. We aren’t looking for the “Yeah, buts”. I honestly believe we can create something that will create change. It’s time.

  6. Steve Ransom
    December 3, 2011

    I’m all for “practicable, difference-making frameworks” – but as I said, if the “gatekeepers” to the operationalization of such frameworks are not [willingly] sitting at the table, then we won’t see any meaningful change on the scale that we are wanting here. That may come across as a “yeah, but…” – However, it’s also a stark reality.

    That being said, I really do believe it is also possible that a movement can gain enough traction and momentum to effect change higher up. How many are realistically willing and able to take that hard and risky action? I ask that question in all sincerity. A change camp with a handful of tents occupying a handful of city parks is not the momentum that we need here.

    I follow and support such discussion leading to action with all eagerness. If one individual like Sal Khan can stir up so much momentum in a direction (Note: supported from the top] that is so controversial, than surely it must be possible.

  7. Bonita DeAmicis
    December 3, 2011

    Okay. My plan for organizing an actual framework

    1. We brainstorm our thinking in a public brainstorm document, organizing the thinking by topic areas of agreement and disagreement
    2. We hold a”visualize” conference online and Face to Face like the librarians did and compile results and ideas into sharable formats
    3. We pull together the most promising 1-3 implementation ideas and create a group “push” plan that addresses making that implementation happen in all sorts of venues and locals, from local to national

    What do ya’ll say?

  8. Ben Grey
    December 3, 2011

    Steve- I’m confident we can do it. I’m holding steadfast to the notion that we create the excellence and the compelling cause for change, and the rest will fall into place with implementation. We find the places that hold the current variables necessary to create the change, and we watch those places become the beacons for the others to follow. I know of several places already where it can work. We don’t let fear or frustration or what’s always been done stand in the way. As Seth Godin says, all great things came about by taking great risk. Being mediocre and following the status quo is safe. But it isn’t the way to excellence. That’s our play.

    Bonita- That’s exactly what I’m thinking. We start organizing the conversations. The venues. The outputs. We need to talk it through a bit before we really dig in, but in the end, we will have some product to show for the work to be done. Jim Collins talks a lot about this in Good to Great. Getting people together to fight and argue and shout and get ticked off at each other while working through the critical and paramount ideas necessary to move to greatness. We need that to happen. We have to get the voices from curriculum folks, tech folks, classroom teachers, administrators, parents, etc. It’s a huge task, but again, I truly believe we can do it.

    I’ll keep working to move this forward, and I hope you will as well. I’ll also start putting together some actionable steps for us to take so this doesn’t just fade away into empty conversation.

  9. Time to Change | Thinking about teaching English | Scoop.it
    December 3, 2011

    […] Time to Change […]

  10. Antoine RJ Wright
    December 3, 2011

    I deal with three questions when teaching adults SharePoint:
    – what are your goals
    – what are your issues
    – who/what are your resources to address those issues

    In every case, those questions instigate both self-learning and the creation of additional layers (politics, tech, people) to the item. However, I think that if we are recognizing that a movement is needed, this is how we’d address it.

    For education now, what are its goals? If it is to maintain current economic and social events, then we move to addressing the issues and resources towards that. If the goals are to prepare citizens (that’s students and their parents) for 2031 (taken from this piece http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/twenty-years-fore-aft/), then can any framework, conference, etc., address that. Or, do we literally need to do that in concert with louder/more grassroots-y activities that some of you are already doing?

    Judy Breck (Handschooling.com) used to instigate me towards this matter. I’m finally feeling up to the challenge of pushing in this direction.

  11. Steve Ransom
    December 3, 2011

    I just finished listening to David Jakes’s K12 Online presentation, “What If the Story Changed”. I think it’s worth a listen in this context.

  12. Ben Grey
    December 5, 2011

    Thanks for sharing the link, Steve. That’s one of the best presentations I’ve seen in a very long while. It’s exactly what we need to pursue.

    I’m going to keep pushing people to think about this and join in the conversation. I believe we need to start thinking specifically about how each aspect of education should change moving forward. As a very simple, yet incredibly important example, what does the presence of unfettered access to essentially any kind of information we could want through the use of a device that access the internet do to our notion of classroom education? We need to start breaking that down and talk about what it should do to change the way we approach teaching and learning with students. And, that’s just the start.

  13. Rick Fletcher
    December 5, 2011

    I had an interesting reaction to your post and the comments. I wonder if we share a similar learning experience – you describe your model as learn a chapter, do some worksheets, test and then forget the material.

    What struck me was that last part – forget the material. I was fortunate to have great teachers in my K-12 education and I didn’t forget the material. My education forced me to engage in the material and learning and it caused me to grow my world and experience. I was educated in a relatively small university town in the 70s and as I look at my classmates, I realize I had an exceptional experience – 95% of us went on to college and over half ended up with terminal degrees. Not only that – my school reunions are interesting and fun – the school system produced great adults.

    So my takeaway is the engagement – and of course, now that I’ve learned the educational literature in science learning, engagement is the key. That should be the goal of technology use – to increase student learning engagement. In fact, the greatest contribution technology can probably make is to assist a weaker teacher to increase student engagement.

    But this also means, things really haven’t changed – meaningful education is still about making the student engage. The core subjects don’t have to change. I hope what can change is helping educators learn how to use technology so they can more actively engage the students. The downside is that the teacher still needs to be well prepared in subject matter but now add to that an ability to use technology to reach more students better.

    This analysis leads to the conclusion that teachers will need to know more than they do now. Given the economic climate, are they willing to do that?

  14. Ray
    December 5, 2011

    If only we had the resources to build our own schooling system.
    If we had a plan, could we get investors?

  15. Rachelle Wooten
    December 6, 2011

    I like the plan Bonuta suggested! There are so many tools for us to get the change party started! I am glad to contribute in anyway! I will be presenting at TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) in February and I’ll be glad to plug in any info/actions needed while I am there! I do believe that this can happen and happen well!

  16. monika hardy
    December 6, 2011

    focus on process of learning (be.notice.dream.connect.do) as a self-reflection..
    no compulsory curriculum…
    mentor alongside…
    1-1 is pairing people…interdependency
    city is floor plan for learning space…

  17. Life in 2031: What Goals Are You Teaching Towards « Blog.AntoineRJWright
    December 7, 2011

    […] goals are you teaching towards? It’s time to change. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  18. Paul Enderle
    December 11, 2011

    Not to relegate the student engagement inquiry, because it is highly significant, however the bigger question lies in how technology changes the way adults engage learning? How else will teaching and learning in digital ubiquity really be able to engage kids and help them take charge over their own learning? School systems today are confronted with comprehensive teaching and learning problems. Students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach, which has actually been a problem for decades. Students now think differently than the previous generations because they are growing up immersed in the use of technology and have develop a more digital context to thinking. How can educational systems provide both engaging and meaningful learning experiences for its 21st century progeny, when those adults leading the system, including teachers, principals, parents, and school board members have a limited technology-related mental model or frame of reference. The model educators use to teach and learn is typically the one they were taught as students. Therefore, when faced with ideas like integrating “invisible” technology and 21C pedagogy, many adults lack the path of mind to even understand that their approach to teaching and curriculum development must change.

    This issue brings forth yet other considerations. Can the immersion of tech devices in classrooms, 1-1 environments, or the transformation of learning spaces guarantee that the adults in school systems have a solid conceptual understanding of how students learn best with these tools? Can it change the manner in which adults in K-12 schools engage in learning? Can it assure the level in which a 21C teaching or curricular approach is being practiced? If ubiquitous technology cannot ensure that teachers have a solid conceptual understanding of how digital “natives” learn best, or how they use technology to engage in learning, how can it ultimately change the way our students engage in learning?

    I feel any practical framework requires attention to the adult learning process, PLC’s, and meaningful in-the-moment coaching/mentoring, as well as consideration to how teacher education programs at the college/university level are preparing students who are entering in field of education. To get at the kids engagement, we need to first get at the adults who will be leading them! Otherwise, we will spend the next decade having similar “good” conversations about the “what” question.

    • Ben Grey
      December 16, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, Paul. I think you’re correct to some degree, but I’m going to push back just a bit on the teacher first focus.

      I do believe that without teachers embracing the change, it will mean nothing to students-almost to the point of making the conversation moot as the teachers in the classrooms are the ones who get to bring this change to the learning. However, that’s the second step.

      I still believe the first step is to establish the what in all of this. We can’t have the teachers leading the change if we haven’t established specifically what the change is. You pose a very poignant question in “Can the immersion of tech devices in classrooms, 1-1 environments, or the transformation of learning spaces guarantee that the adults in school systems have a solid conceptual understanding of how students learn best with these tools?” That’s what we have to establish. Exactly what the implications are for change with these devices in the hands of our students.

      I think we have to do this at every level, for every discipline, for all learning. We need to think about global learning skills and specific content learning outcomes and disciplines of thought and action at all levels.

      It’s a huge task. We’re already seeing some of it happening around us in our district, but I think that’s just the start. There’s so much potential here, and I fear much of it will remain untapped if we don’t dig deep and parse out what needs to change in the narrative of learning today.

      Because doing that will then lead us directly to your point. It will allow us to equip teachers with the necessary capacity to make the change happen in the classroom.

  19. My Quest for 1:1 Success | EdReach
    December 23, 2011

    […] bengrey.com Time to Change D123 Forward Learning- Our […]


Leave a Reply