The people at Virtual High School, Liz Pape and all, have done a great job with the Advancing Online Learning Conference including some engaging speakers and breakout sessions. Dr. Mark Milliron delivered our keynote Wednesday morning, giving his take on current learners, the future of education and its relationship to the world. At lunch Dr. Jesse Harriott, VP of Research for Monster Worldwide spoke about preparing students for competition in a global workforce. Allison Powell from NACOLand Steven Ruscito from Middletown High School in Rhode Island took part in a panel and broadly discussed among the topics above the October 2007 Blackboard report Learning in the 21st Century: A National Report on Online Learning. Sessions I attended over the two days included Online Instructional Programs & Models; New Approaches to Online Science; Non-traditional or At Risk Students in Online Learning; Current Research in Online Learning; and using Virtual Classroom Tools.
Today’s (Thursday, 4/11) keynote featured Robert Currie from Michigan Virtual High School who discussed, among other things, Michigan’s online learning graduation requirement and the CareerForward initiative created in conjunction with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning ”to help Michigan students understand how to plan their work lives and career opportunities amid the implications of the global economy.” Specifically, students ask and attempt to answer the following “challenge” questions: What am I going to do with my life? What is the world of work like? What will I need to succeed? What’s next for me?
Those are compelling questions for sure and Mr. Currie gave his presentation in the context of 21st Century Learning Skills. However, are those questions really anything new? Do we see them afresh in the spotlight of the future? Ask Gary Stager about his take on 21st Century Learning and he’ll probably tell you something like those are nothing new. Ask Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, or Wes Fryerand they’ll paint a slightly different picture. Regardless of where you (or they) land, the spectrum seems to support a deliberate and reflective approach to purposeful, relevant, engaging, and meaningful education. Additionally, if you haven’t read Alan November, Scott McLeod, Mike Parent, Karl Fisch, George Siemens, Clay Burell, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Jon Becker, and others to get a flavor of the varying perspectives, you must and soon. Feel free to contribute “must reads” of your own in a comment.
I recently attended the Virtual School Symposium sponsored by the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers(CCSSO) in Washington, DC spoke about “Why Online Learning is Important to States.” In his talk, he said that “online learning is the fire, the wheel, the internal combustion engine of learning.” He also mentioned that education must make online education a priority in school reform efforts. In an impassioned plea for action, he said that educators are the entrepreneurs of education and we must leverage the power of online education to improve the learning of our students as it will become the great equalizer. He track record indicates that his is not the position of rhetoric; he is a man of action who, although claiming he is not a techie, knows the potential of technology -especially in education.
It’s refreshing to see that kind of leadership regarding online and all forms of Educational Technology and we can either drive the bus or be run over by it.
Educational Technology is a manifestation of our moral imperative (to borrow from Michael Fullan) to engage, encourage, and equip our students as they prepare for an unknown future. We must reinvent our thinking to understand that the very nature of technology is to produce something new or improve something that already exists. If we approach it with that wonder and energy, we will soon find that we are limited only by our imaginations and aspirations. To accomplish our educational goals, schools must teach and refine basic skills in core areas. On a pragmatic level, schools exist to develop skills in reading, writing, speaking, and computation. These skills can be measured, recorded, archived and easily evaluated. These core skills comprise the necessary fundamentals that allow schools and society to accomplish the more abstract tasks of producing and developing a critically-thinking, relationally-effective, moral populace.
We must not solely focus on educational technology to the exclusion of the demands of these other critical educational areas, but see that it has its own importance in the organic scope of education. Educational Technology is not an end in itself no more than the pencil or pen; it is simply the means by which we accomplish our educational goals. Even more says George Siemens on elearnspace -I agree and…
One of our critical responsibilities is to make educational technology as familiar as some of the more traditional tools of education. Educational Technology holds no place higher or lower than those of literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, or problem solving, but it can and should be the means by which all these are accomplished. Educational Technology should be so transparent that the underlying messages and meanings put forth by the lesson are not diminished or divided but enhanced and balanced.
The role for all educational leaders from the classroom to the superintendent’s office is the same: to use the tools both in the ways they were intended and perhaps in ways they weren’t for the success of our students. Technology allows us to discover our true potential and that of our students. Technology can free us to pursue our passions and purposes. The problem with technology is not with its implementation, use, or mastery; it is with our avoidance, misuse, and ignorance. Additionally, the threats of technology are isolation, distraction, and fatalism; the promises are community, engagement, and optimism. The only true power of technology comes in its ability to extend our own shortsightedness. Leaders, at all levels, must concretely orchestrate urgency, direction, and vision. Leaders are obliged to demonstrate the need and opportunity for improvement and guard against the potential threats and problems of technology.
Until we realize that the people and messages behind the technology are of the truest importance, all we will see is the technology itself. We are not to set up for ourselves monuments to technology; instead, we are compelled to reach our greatest potential as a community of learners focused on building a well-fortified foundation for the futures of our kids. The focus should not be just on the acquisition of new technologies, but on the ideas that the new technologies can set loose. We hope that technology is an extension of the best we see in ourselves and, in its application, the best we offer to our children. Every technology is a type of educational technology in that it has the ability to teach us about ourselves and provide educational opportunities. We must ask and be ready to answer the question of what happens when the promise of technology meets the power of the human spirit. Then, we will have taken the first step to making technology an essential part of the entire educational picture.