Thursday, March 29, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: Schools 2.0

We're all used to upgrades...the 2.0 concept that encompasses our technological society. Whatever is good can be improved in the upgraded version...2.0 and beyond. I've written before about Web 2.0, which is the Google-ized version of an Internet upgrade (see "Commentary: Web 2.0: Here We Go Again" 2/22 on the Instructor Blog ( . We've upgraded almost everything, but for some reason, schools lag behind, not necessarily in having technology, but in using that technology effectively.

I have to admit, even I get overwhelmed sometimes when I start reading my fav academic blogs and wikis about all the new technologies out there. It's relentless, and certainly taxpayers cannot afford to provide every new technology out there. However, as educators, we can, and should, make sure that whatever we do have is explored and processed and utitlized. Of course it all comes down to time. We have extraordinary time saving devices that our ancestors did not even dream of, and yet, we still complain of not enough hours in the day. Instructors, who deal with all the issues of the classroom, often find new technologies taxing and overwhelming. We're switching to Vista? But we've only just figured out the old operating system. Grades are now recorded on the computers? How much training does that require? Think about how many instructors still use overhead projectors, rather than transferring data to PowerPoint. Are both effective uses of technologies? Yes, but one is newer, and for instructors, newer is not necessarily better. The question is, what is better for our students? How do today's students learn best?

The idea for the Schools 2.0 project is to rethink how schools use technology to define the schools of the future, and more importantly, the education of the future. We also need to determine how we use that education as we continue our move from an industrial to an information economy. I've written about the movement towards online learning, free and open source software, Websites and streaming videos and podcasting. Check out the recent commentary I did on colleges and universities posting their curriculum online, free and available to anyone with a Web browser, anywhere in the world. We are, like it or not, a 24/7 society. We never close, and we never stop learning. The old education freight train, quietly chugging along has been replaced by a high speed bullet train, and if you don't get on board quickly, you will be left at the station.
What's an instructor to do? How do we add more hours to the workday to learn how to use the new technologies? Do we need to incorporate the new tech, or can we just teach? The answer is, yes, we can just teach, but we need to figure out how to teach today, and how to reach the students we have today.

I recently went out to dinner with friends. We decided to go to a movie after dinner. One person said OK, so stop at the convenience store and get a newspaper to get movie times. Another said no, I'll call my son and have him get that info off of his computer. I said, don't most of you have a cell phone or Blackberry with you? They said of course, we should just call the movie theater and get the showtimes. I then said there were 5 showtimes for the movie we wanted, and listed them off. Did I call the theater? No. I hit the browser button on my cellphone, went into the Yahoo portal, hit 'movies' and instantly had a list of all the the theaters near our zipcode that showed the movie we wanted, and listed the showtimes. Total time...about 30 seconds. I also read a review of the movie to make sure that it was the one we wanted to see. The same portal can get driving directions to those theaters. Instantly. Am I smarter than my friends? No (OK, maybe a few of them), but the point is that I do know how to access information from my cell phone. They all had the same technology, but only I knew how to access it. Having it is not the same as being able to use it.

Think about kids today. The old joke about hiring a 3 year old to set your VCR clock has been updated to hiring a 3 year old to figure out how your cell phone works. Same issues, different year. Kids instinctively know how to use the tools that surround them. They are natives, and the adults are immigrants. Teens can instantly access any information they need. Just in time. They also can get that information when they need it, via their cell phone or i-Pod or wi-fi handheld. They 'Twitter' and "Jaiku'. To teach them, we need to get them information just as quickly.

The theory behind the AELC has always been 'just in time' information, and upgrading is a constant for us. We all work hard to make sure that every student who walks into the Center has access to the information they need, instantly. All new programs are assimilated into the AELC whole, perhaps not instantly, but quickly. Tell us your class level and chapter that you are studying and any AELC specialist will be able to give you software or Websites that address the skills you are studying. Specialists know which applications fit by checking the cross-referenced IEP, know how to use those applications by reading the QuickNotes, and know they exist because they regularly access the Blog. Yes, we have expanded and refined the tools we use through the years, but the bottom line has always been the same. We give students the information they need, and we do it efficiently. The model we used has been upgraded, but it still delivers.

I realize that I am always pushing the technology envelope, and sometimes I drag you into the newest Blogosphere, like it or not. I just wanted to say thanks for allowing yourselves to be 'upgraded' regularly.