The Institute for the Future has what I think is some of the best thinking on the future of education. Their pdf, From educational institutions to learning flows, is worth printing up and posting on the wall. Below is a summary of the big ideas from IFTF. It could be used to shape both strategic planning and unit/lesson planning in a school.
Disclaimer: I’m saying all this in full recognition of the financial and practical problems with implementing mobile programs.
If I had a do-over at my school, or any school, I would skip laptops altogether and build a mobile program. That would put my school in a much better position
At one point, I was arguing we should build an ∞ : 1 program. This was my way of saying 1:1 thinking is limited thinking because, wherever we happen to start the journey, we are all moving toward a single user working with multiple devices (a result of the consumerization of technology) and we had to begin building–now–ways of exploiting that in schools. 1:1 is not an end game.
I still say 1:1 is limited and limiting thinking but I’m reversing directions and saying I think we can dispense with laptops altogether. A laptop is a peak technology, a highly refined articulation of a mode of thinking and knowledge structure that is being disrupted by newer technologies, principally the web and mobiles. (See David Weinberger’s, Too Big To Know, for a discussion on the changing structure of knowledge.) They make sense if we want to continue doing things as we have, which is not all bad, but I suspect they might actually inhibit innovation in the classroom. Laptops have been around for a while now. While technically brilliant, their form is not appreciably different from a typewriter and, by and large, I don’t think they’ve transformed or moved our teaching and learning beyond typewriter thinking. (The usual criticism I get is that you can’t write an essay on a smart phone.) Oh sure, they’ve made things more efficient, which is good. But notwithstanding some innovative work by some brilliant teachers here and there, I’ve not seen any systemic transformative change come about by the implementation of a 1:1 laptop program.
Mobiles, and smart phones in particular, are products of the emerging knowledge structure.
Connecting ideas I need to think and say more about:
the evolution of the laptop; I think I can argue is it based on the form of very early books
per Twitter chat with @jonpratt, need to look at whether a laptop program is a necessary step, a catalyst for tech thinking, so to speak, or merely a circumstance of history; could a school go directly to mobiles?
Things I want to try:
A laptop v. mobile smackdown
It occurred to me in this session at the a16z Tech Summit last year that there is a parallel between CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) relationship in business and the IT manager and teacher relationship in schools. Historically, the two roles, CIO/IT managing tech and data on one side and CMO/teacher facing the “customer” on the other, have been at odds.
Business is redefining the relationship, recognizing that the the CIO and CMO have more in common than not. It was this session that convinced me education needs to rethink the relationship, too. At Mulgrave School, where I work, that means transforming the IT department from a maintenance team to a creative team of coders and developers working directly with teachers to come up with creative technical solutions for classroom problems. I see IT writing code to connect, say Twitter and SIS APIs, or writing script for a Google sheet crunching data gathered from students in different cities, or developing mobile apps for particular courses. Ultimately, my role of Director of Educational Technology should be replaced–and expanded–by the IT team.
Jordan Shapiro’s piece in Forbes, You Are Asking the Wrong Questions About Education Technology, is a great reminder to me that education is much more nuanced that we commonly acknowledge. We too often speak too broadly, forgetting or ignoring that K3 students are very different creatures from PSE students and that the immediate educational needs of the developing world are different from the developed world, for example.
We forget, too, that there is a difference between what teachers do and what schools do. Teachers teach persons and schools teach individuals. The gap between those is very difficult to cross and is an example of a well-known problem in the social sciences, namely that we are very good at understanding and predicting the behaviour of a group of individuals and very bad at understanding and predicting the behaviour of a single person. Misunderstanding that problem, as Shaprio points out, leads to the “plague” of high stakes testing or, I will add, to taking the value-added movement too far.
But we shouldn’t take that to mean education does not have some business-like aspects. In my new series of posts on my time at the ah16z Tech Summit that I am asking what can education learn from the business world. Because I think there is something to learn, especially on the operations side.
The trick, as Shapiro reminds us, is to keep that gap clear in our minds and know when we are talking about persons or individuals.
Posts on the ah16z Tech Summit:
Software s eating the world, says a16z’s Ben Horowitz, yet you can’t get the innovation you need for your business from tier one software vendors. The reason, he explains, is that the VC/startup environment has fragmented the industry creating problems of proliferation, scale, viability and incompleteness.
I see the same thing in education. We’re searching for a new student information system and so far we’ve found no fewer than 17 offerings. Yet, despite the proliferation, they lack localization. Generally, education software from big vendors is too generic and the companies that make them assume all schools work the same, or at least they’re having to pitch to the widest possible market. This creates two problems:
On the other hand, software from smaller vendors, which tend to be more flexible, aren’t scaling. The education market is huge. Canadian school boards spend $53-billion and the US–get this–spends a staggering $1.3-trillion. Yet, there is no focussed allocation for the development of software that might improve business. Instead, education seems to wait to be handed software developed by someone else. If Horowitz is right and software is eating the world, this is a significant problem. It’s a bit head-n-the-sand.
Horowitz’s solution is to create a business that curates solutions for you. I wonder if a group of similar-thinking schools, which incidentally could be geographically widely distributed, couldn’t form a curator/brokerage of sorts–the International Baccalaureate schools come to mind as they are a large body of like minded schools with common pedagogy and curricula. Alas, budgets are held to high and need to be pushed down closer to the users–schools–before this can happen.
I don’t know how we get the money out of existing budgets to do this. I do know that the big change in education won’t come from the classroom use of technology. It will come from the administrative use of technology.
Last fall I was fortunate to attend a Andreessen Horowitz’s TechSummit 2013, a gathering of some very forward thinking people and companies, in Sausalito, California. I mean no slight to the excellent education conferences I’ve attended, but it was refreshing get outside my field and see what other professions are doing with technology.
I get that in education our “product” is different and we are not manufacturing or selling like the companies that came to the a16z Tech Summit. Nevertheless, I came away thinking that education is five to ten years behind in using technology strategically. We have so far spent our time and money on developing a pretty rich conversation around the classroom, or tactical, use of technology. But, however innovative that is, it hasn’t called on us to make any substantive change to the way we conduct our business. The big structures of education remain largely untouched whereas business is creating new models.
I am not suggesting education blindly adopt everything I saw at the Tech Summit. I do, however, find myself asking questions like, Could the GitHub model form a pedagogy? Tests give us the equivalent of transactional data–what would gain from having the same volume behavioural data that Facebook or Amazon have? What might a cloud-based continuous user experience look like in education? What does a mobile eco-system look like in education?
I’ll be posting my sketchnotes and questions over the next week or so. All the sketchnotes are also archived on my Pinterest board, Sketch Notes. Feedback is very welcome.
First up, some opening remarks from Ari Emanuel. The writer is king again, he says, and the channels for distributing his content are changing dramatically. My questions:
I think the day of the computer use agreement is over.
Like most schools I know, my school, Mulgrave School in Vancouver, asked students sign a computer use agreement every year–this time of year actually. This was the document that spelled out what students could and couldn’t do with their devices either online or off. Two years ago we updated that–removed the thou-shalt-nots, gave it a more positive tone and called it a responsible use policy or RUA.
This year we tore it up.
Instead, we rolled the spirit of that document into the school’s general code of conduct. Technology is so tightly integrated into our day-to-day that we no longer make any distinction between teaching and learning offline or online. The digital space is just one of the places we work. And we expect everyone in our community to act decently wherever they are. That’s all there is to it.