Schools Need To Change – But When?

The edublogosphere has been pleading for an answer to how long it will take to make significant change in how schools do school.
From the time I started teaching 25 years ago there has been talk about schools needing to change – so this isn’t exactly new ground.

First I think the initial jump onto the tech-driving-school-change bandwagon fell on its face very hard. “If it’s done with tech it must be valuable learning!” attitude put many people off – especially when it was so obviously not true. This was followed years later by the “if they made a Powerpoint presentation about it they must be experts on the subject as well as world class programmers and problem solvers!” era – as well as the “They made a web page so they must have learned a ton!” stage and the…well you get the point.

Not long ago I sat through a Powerpoint presentation about Abraham Lincoln that the teacher had chosen out of all the presentations her class had made because it was the best. I asked the three student designers about what they had learned about Lincoln and it became painfully obvious that the answer was not much. They had cut-and-pasted images and facts from the internet and scanned some parts from books without much thought. The fact that they could cut-and-paste and scan was very impressive to the teacher and the students’ parents – they didn’t know how to do that – so this was very high level work to them – how could they help but not learn the content? The same will be true of blogs, wikis, video, and anything else we want to run at students if we don’t use the correct approach. The good news is I think we know that approach now and have embraced it – more on that later.

Second, when schools have tried to change that hasn’t always gone well either. I’ve had conversations with people that were supposedly mad as hell that schools were still doing things the way they did when they were in school. But as soon as you start making suggestions about what kinds of changes to make you find that they really don’t want much change.

The message becomes very clear – “Schools are a travesty – schools need to change fundamentally how they do things, as long as when you’re done changing them schools are pretty much the same as they were when I went to school!” Why? Because anyone that was successful as a student had learned how “to do” school – and the easiest way for them to tell if their child and their school are doing the job is if they see things they are familiar with and can help with. That is going to be a difficult wall to break through.

The point is this. The examples stated above point out that the problem was not Powerpoint or any other presentation – the problem was that tech was the content instead of Lincoln – therefore students ended up not understanding the power of either. When students design their work to teach or provoke meaningful discussion that’s when the content is leveraged by the tech, which is when those of us that have witnessed it happen get so excited and “tingly” about it. I agree with Will Richardson when he says:

“Not only can we ask our students to teach back what they know to a potentially large audience, it’s not a contrived audience, because the people who learn from it are motivated to do so. They will self-select it. And in doing so, there is the potential for connection and community building that can extend the learning that occurs in the classroom.
Ironically, this is especially true, I think, with the more multimedia technologies that we talk about. Podcasts, vidcasts, screencasts all give students the opportunity to take what they have learned and turn it into teachable content. That’s what I hear when I listen to Bob Sprankle’s or Tony Vincent’s kids. That’s what I sense with the Wheaton Academy vidcasts. And that’s why I am so intrigued with screencasting as a new medium for students to use to teach.
That’s an interesting shift I think. Instead of being focused on how well our students can test on the material, what if we focused on how well they can teach it?”

Read in the entire post –

We hear we should be telling the story – but maybe we shouldn’t be telling the stories ourselves but our students should – with high quality, thoughtful, thought provoking content, lessons and messages. Then change will sell itself, we will be beating them off with a stick.

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