Making Modern Learning

shifting-conversations-logoIt’s been about 16 years since I published my first blog post. I was there at the birth of Twitter and Instagram and delicio.us and most of the other social media tools that are in wide use today. And I’m sure I’ll be an “early adopter” of whatever the next great connective tool is. But even though my learning has been immersed in online networks for a decade and a half, I still have moments when I marvel at what’s possible these days with the technologies we carry with us.

In 2000, you couldn’t blog or take pictures or listen to music or read books or do much of anything on your cellphone aside from make calls and answer texts (I think…) Today, we have a multi-media studio of tools and apps in our hands that can capture and amplify the learning that we do. The potential of that hit home this week.

On Thursday, I published a post on Medium titled “Stop Innovating in Schools. Please.” Briefly, my thesis was that we’re putting the technology cart before the learning horse, if you will, that the real “innovation” that we need is to rethink schools to better support the type of learning that most of us know is going to be needed for our kids to succeed today and in the future. I was really pleased when in the first few hours, it got a couple of likes and a few comments, to which I responded. The next day, the likes and comments continued, and I watched as a slow build of readers came and highlighted and commented and then Tweeted about the post. It was great, I’ll admit, to see a post of mine getting some love on a grander scale. (I remember the days when some of my blog posts would generate 100+ comments and some really great debate…been a while.)

At one point, Don Wettrick, a teacher in Indiana that I’ve met a few times and the author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level (great book) came in and left a really thought-provoking comment. He was agreeing in principle, but he was pushing back in practice, probably because he is the creator of an “Innovations” class at his high school. He questioned whether or not we could make the shift that I was suggesting given the realities of school culture:

For high school students (usually middle as well), they’ve been trained to sit and behave for too long. When you ask an average high school student what they are passionate about, the answer is usually “An A in this class,” or worse, “I don’t know, just assign me something.”

And then he said that he was going to share my post with his students and discuss it with them to see what they felt about how technology was being used in school (the all have iPads) and their thoughts on innovation. I replied to his comment, thanking him for sharing, and saying that I thought the culture piece of all of this was huge.

Now back in the old days, that might have been the end of it. Blog post, comment, done. But today, at the end of my comment, I asked Don to share what his kids said, and wondered if he’d be willing to Periscope the conversation. (Yes, that’s a verb now.) I knew Don was using Periscope to broadcast his teaching, so I thought, what the heck. Why wait for the e-mail or the blog post. Let’s just see it in action. A couple of minutes later, Don posts to Twitter :

don jpg for eml

So, I retweet his Tweet, then I go and find Don’s Periscope account on my phone, and sure enough, within a few minutes, I and about 40 other people from around the world who had tapped into our Twitter back and forth are watching his kids debate my post live and in living color. And, via my phone, I’m asking questions about their answers, Don serving as the interviewer. (I realize that we could have done this on Skype as well, but…) And I’m learning…a lot…about their reality in school with technology. In case your interested, here’s a bit of what they said in very rough terms. (There’s another blog post brewing just on their responses. And, unfortunately, Periscope doesn’t archive their sessions.)

At any rate, if you’ve kept with me this far, here’s my point: this is what modern learning looks like. It’s connected, it’s live, it’s built on shared interests, it’s transparent, it’s fun, and it’s in the moment. This type of learning is serendipitous in many ways, based on the connections and reactions at the time. It’s not scripted or planned, but it is highly relevant and driven by questions and interesting conversations.

And, importantly, it’s learning that simply isn’t being practiced by more than 20% (if that) of teachers in classrooms throughout the developed world. In fact, most educators reading this would have no real clue as to what I was talking about. And that’s not a blind estimate/guess. That’s based on thousands of conversations I’ve had over the last few years with teachers in their schools and classrooms with their kids.

This is about technology, no doubt. But even more, it is about that culture that Don and I talked about. It’s ingrained. It’s not nimble. And it doesn’t look, act or feel modern. And, you know what? It won’t until more of us start practicing the type of learning we want our kids to get really good at.

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