To The School or Classroom 2.0 Advocates

Christian Long asked, by email, for input. Quoted text is his. Here is my reply:

Hiya Christian,
In advance of a major keynote presentation called "Designing School 2.0" I'm giving in 2 weeks to a room full of "school design" decision makers -- school architects, their educational clients (board members, superintendents, and administrators), and various stakeholders -- I'd like to ask each of you to consider sharing what you'd say to them if you have 5 minutes and the microphone.
The basis of my talk, if I were giving it, would be the alternative School 2.0 document I distributed in response to the 'official' School 2.0 document.

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You can focus your ideas from kindergarten through higher education, although the majority of my audience will focus on K-12 on most days. Likewise, you can think macro answers or burrow down to the library shelves. All feedback is good feedback.
There is no particular focus for this view of 'Scool 2.0'. The main point is that technology allows us to change our approach to education, from one where we segregate learners in specially designed education facilities (classrooms, training rooms, schools, universities) to one where learning is something we do (and what educators provide) in the course of any other activity.

The idea is that 'School 2.0' is the first step toward being non-school, and that our objective should be to use technologies to leverage our ability to personalize learning, and in so doing, facilitate students' learning while taking part as full citizens in the wider community.
Here are the areas I'd love specific feedback from you today (although I will have the blessing of extrapolating many ideas/resources from many of your blogs, wikis, research, writings, etc.):
  • Big Picture trends in the next 5-25 years that will have the biggest impact on what it means to be an engaged learner. This is the firecracker side of things. I'll be sharing Karl Fisch's/Scott McLeod's collaboration to this audience assuming they are in the Media/AV 1.0 world, at least. Never can be sure no matter how nice the hotel/conference center appears to be on the surface!
I have commented in the past, and I reiterate the point here, that from my perspective the predominate use of the term 'School 2.0' has been to promote a view of learning that is traditionalist, rather than oriented to the future, one that seeks to preserve the existing trappings of education, most notably, schools. We hear a lot of language like "the fact is, schools are here to stay," but there is in my mind no fact of the matter, certainly not in the time-frame of 25-30 years.

By way of animation, think back to the time of the one-room schoolhouse as they were rolled our across a rural agrarian nation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Within a generation society transformed itself from one in which 'book learning' was the exception to one in which it was the norm. Read Jane Eyre, and learn how schooling was conducted - if it was conducted at all - by tutors hired to live in and help raise the children. People my own grandparents' age would routinely not attend school at all. Only in my father's era, the war years, did schooling become the norm for the entire population.

Within a generation or so this was completely transformed. The school was the creation of the industrial age, and will pass into history with it.
  • YOUR definition of School 2.0 and/or Classroom 2.0...and how to help "school design" decision makers use it to inform their thinking, research, leadership, and solutions. Most will NEVER have heard the phrase...and are still beating the "School of the Future" and "21st Century School" horse over and over without really even understanding what it means besides the marketing pitch. Hoping to shift their semantic lens a bit, and also invest them in co-defining the end game as well.
Most of what is touted as 'School 2.0' or 'Classroom 2.0' is just the whole "School of the Future" and "21st Century School" thing warmed over. There is not mouch to it over and above marketing (and obligatory mentions of Web 2.0). Those who are a little more adept at marketing will trot out phrases today's business leaders are looking for - things like 'collagoration' and 'teamwork' - without any real understanding that they are describing a generation that 'takes orders well' and 'subsumes their own interest to the common interest' when, really, the opposite is the case.

Insofar as technology enables greater collaboration and group work, it does so only at the behest of those using the technology. You can connect people with computers but you can't make them talk. The predominate trend is not so much collaboration as a much increased sense of empowerment (and, at the more petulant ages, a corresponding sense of entitlement).
  • Best way to describe how 'kids' (all ages, really, but I'll use the cute version since most still default to it) are transforming as collaborators, creators, project team members, publishers, etc. I'll use Prensky language as a shot across the bow -- i.e "What is your digital accent?" questions -- but I'm looking for more nuanced language/examples from each of you. And also how we MUST respond as educators...and school designers (the entire community of stakeholders, really)...if we are to offer relevant learning environments/programs for our students/communities' future(s).
Honestly, there's no way we 'must' respond.

What is at stake is not so much our children's education - which, thanks to a wealth of freely accessible digital resources, is now more assured than ever. Rather, what is at stake is our own relevance. That if there is anything of ourselves we want to put into what children learn, how we are to go about it.

Educators need to realize that today's students are exposed to much more television, online communication, and other electronic communication, than they are to traditional classroom instruction. School, even as it is, makes up only a small percentage of their learning. It plays virtually no role in values formation, culture and self-identification, language learning and art. If school provides any learning of science, mathematics, geography and history, it is only because the students' cultural environment is almost completely bereft of those subjects. Their performance in those subjects - and especially the latter two - shows just how abject their learning has become.

Instead of bringing students to the learning, as the education system has done for about a century, we must now, if we wish to be relevant at all, bring learning to the students. This means setting students free to pursue their passions, and then being there when they need coaching, mentoring, or a safety net.
  • Start 'inside' a classroom, studio, lab, or micro learning space that exists TODAY. Offer a set of requests you'd make TODAY that can have a positive impact for learners and teaching guides/mentors without spending a fortune, and set up a mind-shift for bigger 'school design' investments in the future. You can imagine SmartBoards, new ways of teachers 'talking'/asking questions, or think in really wild ways. No limits. Just start at the scale of a single space for learning...and work up/out.
We need to stop employing students as fast-food servers and sales clerks. They are capable of much better than that, and an exercise in corporate demeaning is probably not the best way to introduce them to society.

We should begin offering students full-time employment in certain fields as alternatives to their formal studies. Such a program should logically begin at the higher grades (grades 11 and 12) as well as being brought on-stream as an alternative to college and university.

Most such employment involves the creation of some sort of content or another. The ranges of possible employment are covered in my diagram:

- students could provide ultra-local news, entertainment and sports reporting
- students could provide up-to-date surveying and inventories of civic property
- students could conduct scientific field-research such as bird-counting, ecosystem sampling, pollution-measuring and the like
- students could help supervise younger children

and more - the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

The trick to making this attractive is to present it, not as the dog-eat-dog struggle for survival that characterizes our existing economy, but rather as a large and complex game, played partially on the computer and partially in RL, in which they play an increasingly important role.

The task we should be undertaking is not one of trying to stuff more and more knowledge into students' heads, but rather, finding more and more ways they can make meaningful contributions to society.

(I'll post this to my blog - feel free to re-use however you wish)


  1. Nathan pointed me to your blog.. I need some time to think about all of this but in the meantime there is one thing I think needs to be part of the equation.
    As I was reading, having read the original questions yesterday) I began to formulate my thoughts and then something struck me..
    In all of the talk I have not "heard" anyone ask why we should keep the assembly line approach to grades...that is should all 6 year olds be in first grade or 12/13 year olds in 8th?
    I will expand more on this later either on my blog or at Classroom 2.0 but thougt I would t least raise the question.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. I'm Kathy, a kindergarten teacher from Georgia, USA. Your post was pointed out on a webcast this evening. I would like to comment on the later half of your post regarding jobs for students. Are you suggesting that students take co-op positions in place of traditional education or in addition to some kind of supplementary education? Would students receive pay? Who would supervise them? I also wonder why bagging groceries is such a bad thing? The HS students I know are not ready for the kind of responsibility you suggest. They are more interested in making money to pay for clothing, eating out, saving for college and entertainment.

  3. Are you suggesting that students take co-op positions in place of traditional education or in addition to some kind of supplementary education?

    I think of them less as 'positions' (which imply some sort of employer-job type of relationship) and more as 'projects' (which suggests something they do because it interests them).

    And yes, in the long term, this approach should replace traditional learning (because sitting in a room of 30 people waiting while the teacher tries to impose order is really unproductive).

    Would students receive pay?

    Maybe. If they did something useful. Probably, like the rest of us, they would do some things that paid them money and some things that pay in experience, reputation or sheer joy.

    Who would supervise them?

    It depends. For many things, the children - especially the older ones - can work without supervision.

    That said, any adult in the same environment has at least some responsibility to watch out for the welfare of the children (note that I said it this way, rather than 'supervises', which connotes an environment of 'telling them what to do', which I don't want at all). In other cases, mentors and guides will pay such a role. In the case of younger children, who will more frequently do their projects in groups, specially employed matrons and coaches will assume the role.

    In other cases, such as I also wonder why bagging groceries is such a bad thing?

    Because it is basically unproductive labour performed in a coerciove work environment for a minimum wage. It offers no mental stimulation and produces almost nothing in the way of new learning. It is, no matter what age the employee, a complete waste of time.

    I would also comment on how we've developed an industrial grocery system - buy food in bags, put them in car, take them home, store then in fridge or freezer - which has basically destroyed the much more efficient concept of a local market, but that would be to digress.

    The HS students I know are not ready for the kind of responsibility you suggest.

    Because, since the days they were in kindergarten, they were told what to do any any sort of self-direction they demonstrated was positively beaten out of them.

    Expect students to behave like subhumans or drones, and that's how they'll behave.

    I have known many high school students who are perfectly capable of assuming this sort of responsibility - I see it outside school hours, online and off - and they are blocked by attitudes such as this.

    They are more interested in making money to pay for clothing, eating out, saving for college and entertainment.

    That could be because that's the only message they have ever received - from parents, from school, and especially from media.

    Again - things don't magically happen. You get out of your younger generation whatever you put in. If we want them to be knowledgeable, capable, responsible, empowered - then these are the things we need to make possible and to expect of them in their childhood.

  4. Hey Stephen,

    Doug Noon at pointed me to your post ... of course, I met your work when I was studying the logical fallacies for the GRE. :)

    Your student work idea reminds me of the project at St. Martin De Porres High school in Cleveland.
    It is a Cristo Ray model school.

    Check out what they are doing. Its a new program and is receiving accolades in the community.



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