Schools 2.0 (or just more industrialization?)

As some of you may know, I read a magazine called “Geek Parenting.”

I have generally been pretty happy with the writing and material produced by the Geek Parents for my $2/month. This past month, I was a little miffed (to say the least) by one of the articles which was boldly titled Schools 2.0. Before I start my rant about the article, I feel like I must make a confession. I am not a geek parent – but I am aspiring. As it turns out, and as a Technology Director for a school of 500+ students, I am the Geek Parent of 500 youngins who are in my charge for 8 hours a day (and as a boarding school, I am their Geek Dad for nine out of twelve months). In my line of work, I have the privilege to work with some wonderful Geek Parents, and help them to implement the controls and materials that they want to see.

My biggest qualm with the article, is that it was based upon an article from Cisco: A Glimpse into the Future of School Infrastructure. Cisco writes great whitepapers, but this particular paper was  far from stellar. To top the list of gripes with, Cisco is a rather biased place to read about Ed Tech. Don’t get me wrong, Cisco creates some really nice hardware and occasionally some nice whitepapers, but at the core, Cisco is a for-profit corporation (which is why page two of their report conveniently details the Cisco hardware you can buy to upgrade to Schools 2.0). Since Cisco is a hardware company, who is it in the Ed Tech world reads these Cisco white-papers? The hardware guys! Few Tech Coaches and Integrators focus on materials put out by Hardware companies – because they have little relevance to the real world. I would be hard pressed to find a teacher that even knows Cisco writes white-papers, let alone trying to find one that reads them.

If you want a real look at where technology is headed, take a look at the resources and materials provided by ISTE and COSN in the Horizon Report (you will have to digest all 40+ pages of it though – which is good because claiming to predict the future of school technology with a two page report is almost disrespectful). ISTE and COSN are organizations designed to attract Education Technology Leaders. ISTE and COSN do have their own agendas (like staying around) but their primary – and blatantly stated – goal is to improve the quality of technology education. No matter what Cisco says, their goal is to sell some hardware! Saying, or implying for that matter, that Cisco is the future of Education Technology would be like saying that Coca-Cola is the leader in Environmental Sustainability. But enough griping, lets get to the real story, or…

The Real Schools 2.0

Schools have reached a very precarious tipping point. Even Malcolm Gladwell would be concerned about the state of technology in education. Instead of just tipping into change, we stand on a very precarious pinnacle with little room to maneuver. Our current plight is determined by the growing need to industrialize higher education, and somehow personalize secondary education. Maybe I have finally succumbed to my passion of watching and reading dystopian sagas, but what I see unfolding is the making of a dystopian education system. We have a very real choice to make, and if we continue to stop making it, we will be in real trouble. Lets start this saga with the story of a mind blowing invention I like to call the “Slide-Rule.”

Reach back in your mind and picture the late 16th Century (which, I am pretty sure, is when this guy was born – more on him later). Amid the candles, recently printed bibles, wars, and famine in Scotland, you will find John Napier. John liked to meddle with this thing called mathematics. He found that if you took some mathematics principles and mixed them with a ruler you could mcgiver a device that would easily add and multiply numbers for you (as far as I am concerned, this guy is a genius!). Various other sub-standard mathematicians (like Newton) made minor tweaks to the “Napier”, and the device eventually hit a design plateau in the 1800’s in the United States (again amid the wars). Why is this invention so awesome? Literally everything that you can thing of was made with the power of Napier’s device. Remember that awesome scene in Apollo 13…

Tom Hanks: “I just need someone to check my arithmetic.” (by your power combined)

Geek 1: [gets out slide rule – jots notes] Your good! [enthusiastic thumbs up]

Geek 2: [checking his slide rule] I agree!

Geek 3… you get the idea.

That is right, everything that was awesome before 1970 relied on that mystic McGiver’d ruler – also known as the slide rule. All of our geek heroes used it: Einstein – a genius with a sliderule, Schodenger – lost his slide when his cat died (maybe), and Maxwell invented a demon with it. The only reason that we do not use the slide rule today is because of Texas and their Instruments.

In 1967, Texas Instruments created the first calculator, revolutionizing the way that human beings (and some primates) could interact with mathematics. Within 20 years, calculators began appearing in classrooms and were subsequently banned from every standardized test and exam (which unfortunately started to gain popularity in the early 20th Century). Unbenounced to many, this simple challenge from the Lone Star State was the start of World War Tech. It started as all wars do, with some whipper-snapper subverting the trusted and established order with some new-fangled piece of plastic. Texas Instruments, refused to bow to Napier’s established order and continued to help all primates do math. To make the ridiculously long story short: kids like calculators, teachers didn’t, teachers banned calculators, students rioted… the new teachers embrace calculators but still ban them from students, and here we are 58 years later with the ghost of Napier trying to bring back his dead invention. Dude, move on – the rest of us have!

As it turns out, another war was raging in classrooms around the world as teachers battled the factory line. Streamlined factories are a thing of beauty, and I am sure that Edward Demming would agree – something that every workplace should aspire to… if you are making a product. Education, however, is not a product driven ecosystem and should never be, we are a service. In the industrialization model of education, we treat students as numbers that float in small and leave big and beefy. If we fail to make their numbers grow, we fail in our mission as educators. Industrialization does not care about critical thinking, voice, opinion, or entrepreneurship, and heaven forbid we allocate our precious educational resources for “Art.”

Welcome to 21st Century Beijing! Lecture, Drill, Test, Repeat – the model of Chinese Education and Higher Education around the world (which is why both systems are struggling). You only have to type PISA into google and you will find that China is destroying us on standardization and industrialization. 

This is the landscape of education technology – industrialization vs personalization. In Higher Education, they have answered the call of decreasing costs as any business would, by increasing productivity while decreasing overhead – hence the lecture based model of education. Colleges and Universities incorporate a Lecture based model so that they can increase the number of pupils (their profit) while decreasing the amount of teacher time (overhead). Secondary Education is going in the opposite direction! In Middle and High School classrooms, lectures are being phased out in lieu of differentiated, individualized education.

Education technology is currently supporting both models. Unfortunately, Secondary education is being forced to “Prepare” students for College. Which means that we need to prepare students for learning by “Lecture.” So Education technology specialists, if they want to follow the mission and vision of most schools, need to provide technologies that focus on lecturing and not interacting. If our current trend continues, interactive educational technology will die – because college and universities could care less. So it comes down to Students, Parents, and Teachers.

If you dream of sending your kids to the Ivy League, send them to China, it is the best way to prepare them. If on the other hand, you want your students to “really” learn, send them somewhere that focuses on the growth and achievement of students. Try montessori, or the liberal arts.

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