The Global Refrigerator Door

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about tools, but today, I’m writing about tools. Tools that I use, or am learning to use. Tools that I think change the conversation when it comes to what we do in classrooms. Tools that make my learning world so different today from what it was even 10 years ago when a blog was still a “thing.”

And I’ll start with a tool that I just heard about yesterday via Don Wettrick: Anchor.fm. I’m not sure that Anchor will become “the Snapchat of radio” in the sense of all that implies. But it’s just kinda fascinating to me that anyone with a smartphone (read: any kid with a smartphone) can now create and broadcast their own radio station on the fly.

What does Anchor do? It allows you to record your voice. Allows you to record phone calls. Allows you to pull music from your favorite services like Spotify and Apple Music (with an account, of course.) Allows you to take call-in listener questions. And allows you to publish it all, from your phone, to anyone in the world via the app.

Real Radio

While I’m not sure that Anchor.fm is going to take off, be wildly successful, and change the world, just being able to do all that from your phone (and why do they still call it a phone, I wonder?) is pretty amazing. I get it’s not like a “real” radio station. But as I spent about 30 minutes thinking about a “Modern Learners Radio” channel, it felt like a fairly complex first step. In the hands of a 12 year old with a passion (and a healthy respect for the potentials), it gets interesting in a learning sense pretty quickly.

The world of learning today is no longer about “handing it in.” It’s about real life, real work, real audiences, real questions and passions.

But it’s not about radio per se as it is about publishing. And since we’ve started doing our Modern Learners Podcast on a fairly regular basis, I’ve seen how complex creating and publishing audio can become. I’m sure there are probably better tools than Audacity for podcast production at this point, but mixing up to eight different tracks (music, Skype, SpeakPipe, local audio, etc.) into one and getting it all to sound half decent is one of those flow-y, constructionist undertakings that I look forward to every week. (If anyone has feedback on improving the production quality, I’m wide open, btw.)

And, to push into video, do you think anything changes when you have an app like Zoom.us in your pocket? You can broadcast a Zoom meeting to up to 1,000 people (with a subscription), share your desktop, create breakout rooms, chat, record and archive, and probably a lot of other stuff that I don’t know about. I have to say that our Zoom sessions in Change School have been among the most powerful learning moments I’ve had in the past year.

And finally, while Facebook has it’s downsides, being able to push out video via FB Live (or, for you Twitter fans, Periscope or…) is also a pretty amazing thing. The idea that we’ve got over 2K views on a spur of the moment interview we did with Gary Stager and Micheal Furdyk at ISTE last week still tweaks my brain. All from a phone that we had propped up on a table in a conference room.

It’s Not Simple

I realize full well that as simple as all of this seems, it’s not simple at all when it comes to how we think about learning with these tools in schools. There’s a lot to think about in terms of privilege, bias, access, safety and more. I don’t want to give any of these short shrift as they define a big part of what it means to be literate these days. We need to be really thoughtful about how we employ tools like these, any tools in fact, when we bring them to kids, or, as is more often the case, they bring them to us.

But having said that, tools like Anchor.fm and Zoom and others can no longer be ignored as parts of a larger toolkit and literacy that all of us in education need to understand and employ in our own learning and, importantly, in creating opportunities for powerful, productive learning to happen in our classrooms. The world of learning today  is no longer about “handing it in.” It’s about real life, real work, real audiences, real questions and passions.

There’s no middle ground with these tools. You can’t hang the artifacts created with them on an old refrigerator door (although with the new smart refrigerators that I’m sure are in our near future, maybe we will soon.)  You can’t use these types of tools and not blow out the walls of the classroom in the process. They require a reframing of not just the work but the culture of our schools.

So, this is a big ask, no doubt, to let kids use the tools and apps that they’re already using in many ways to create and broadcast and publish in ways that look nothing like standard, traditional practice prepares them for. But if we’re not asking that, then we need to ask what world it is that we’re preparing kids for.

Image credit: Blakespot

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Will Richardson

Co-founder of Modernlearners.com and Change School. Author, speaker, instigator, surfcaster, husband, and father to two amazing young adults.

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