Saturday, March 17, 2012

Out on the table

I'm putting my cards out on the table. The SXSW experience has shaken me up. I have spent the past three days unplugged to sort ideas (and catch some fish). I have filled up a notebook with ideas. I have rested to make sure that I am not just putting something out there because I am tired.

Nope. I'm not tired. I'm actually energized.

Don Tapscott spoke at SXSWi to the feeling I have felt for a long time about education. He said, "The world is broken. The future is not something to be predicted. It is something to be achieved."

I do believe the education system is completely flawed and corrupt. I don't believe I am alone in thinking or feeling this way. But I keep working in this system. I keep trying to apply technology and change to a system that cannot be fixed. I feel tired and that my efforts are worthless in the big scheme of things. I see glimpses of ideas and adoptions that help out a few but not the entire organism.

I look at our history of applying technology to classroom instruction for the past 30+ years and I see repetitions of what was done with similar successes. We aren't making bold changes. And can we say that our implementation of technology into learning has been good? Or has it caused more harm in ways we haven't even looked into?

But there is always a bottom line and to me, that is the learner. So what can we do to provide instruction to learners of all ages (preK-16 and adult) that is not only effective but is easy to access and an enjoyable experience.

To me, the answer is to take it out of the education system. If the system is flawed or if the system lacks the ability for peers to come together within an organization as well as without, then maybe we need to look at moving to a ubiquitous global-platform. (Tapscott)

Tapscott pointed to the need to use social media to rebuild our institutions on the principles of collaboration, sharing, inter-dependence, transparency and integrity.

Think of ALL the resources we have at our fingertips. We have bits & pieces available online and yet we haven't figured out how to mesh them all together to create a quality online education system. We are letting corporations do this and continue to sell horrible products and ideas to our decision-makers.

Originally, in Texas, there was a place for us all to work collaboratively in Project Share but it didn't work. It was a good idea at the time but it wasn't fully realized when we started into it. So we are now fractured using websites, Moodles, and other methods for organizing lessons and ideas. (see my November 2011 post about this)

The Khan Academy has started as a place for online learning but it lacks interaction. It is still one-sided, learn by watching. We need a place for there to be online interactive learning.

What if a group of educators put together a framework for online learning combining current (and in-development) technology to make learning available for everyone in a shared space. We moved away from the flaws of federal- and state-regulated education. We applied creativity and design to create learning that doesn't require grades, standards, measures, assessments, or attendance. 

The biggest part of SXSW for me is the Interactive part of the conference. You get out of the conference what you put in. I put in time meeting with people in lines, sitting next to me, sharing wireless at a table, or over omelettes from the ACC cafe. I interacted with the people running booths.

I actually had a discussion with a start-up gaming company about how their tool could revolutionize city historical data and historical markers for the travel business. This wasn't what they were looking for in their product, but the new idea definitely had their CEO thinking about possibilities. This is what Interactive is all about. They weren't looking to revolutionize their product. And I wasn't looking to step out of my job to work for a company. This was really two people talking about applying a product in a different way than it was developed. This was collaboration.

I met some CEOs, some COOs, some Directors, and a LOT of creative talent out there in the real world who are cooking up some great ideas. After hearing Dean Kamen and Stephen Wolfram, I was able to piece together the ideas from Ray Kurzweil and really get a glimpse into where these people see our lives going.

It is terrifying and exciting. You can read their stuff in my notes in other blog posts or check out their writings and presentations on their sites. 

This is why I choose to go to the Interactive part of the conference. I get more out of it than any of my education conferences. There is a different way of seeing things than being stuck in the system that is creating more system failures for itself.

 Now, I could be wrong on all this. I could be going down a tricky path. But the thing is, I'm willing to try. I'm willing to talk with whomever I need to talk with to get this going. I think there are people in the "real" technology world who want to help out. I know it. They all referenced education problems in their presentations but they know that solutions are hard to come by in this day and age.

I am putting my cards out on the table and saying that I am looking to partner with anyone who wants to try this out. I want to look inside and outside the education system to find or develop the solution for a new education institution. I say we stop worrying about today's problems and start building a future education system that rids itself of the anchors holding it down now. I want to build an online, interactive education system for all learners and I bet there are others like me out there in the world.

The bad thing about a conference of this nature is that it riles me up. I get excited with new ideas but then I return to work and get mired in all the muck that takes me out of the realm of possibility. But the reminders of what is possible are unfolding around me each day and I am staking my claim to start moving toward real change.

It is time for us to reach out to our connections and grab a shovel.


  1. Joel, I appreciate your summary of some of the conference sessions and related conversations you had while in Austin. I believe there is room for honest reflection even if it indicts us at the same time -- otherwise, we go through the motions and repeat out-dated approaches.

    Casting a vision is hard but it takes someone willing to look ahead and come back to the crowd and say, "Guess where we can go if we dare to climb that big hill over there?" I admire your desire to stay on top of emerging technologies and cutting edge educational strategies. I am trying to do the same from my perch point. I think the place to start is sharing your thoughts (as you have done), inviting others to dialogue about it, and motivating others to collaborate with you when you see a good window to bring about innovation and change.

    You are not alone. Many educators, parents, students, and community leaders see the need for change and share in the concern that we are bringing about change too slowly. Many of know that we are sending 21st Century students in 20th Century classrooms (for the most part). Of course, few people have any solid answers and creative plans to bring about change without everything going topsy-turvy. The realities are real and they often paralyze us as a result (even those of us wanting to move forward ASAP). The pressure of assessments, benchmarks, ratings, compliance with policies and requirements keeps real innovation at bay. New start-up schools committed to new approaches (like PBL/student-centered learning) have quicker success because of the entire team is already onboard and trained in the new approaches. As you painfully already know, it is a much tougher scenario with established schools. But I am encouraged to see evidence that more and more educators are talking about what is possible and that is something we can build on, right?

    I spent many hours last week reflecting on where I see myself in K-12 education in the next year or two. Part of me wants to go where the new is already happening while the other part of me wants to stay and help build a bridge so I can help others get to where we need to be (in terms of 21st Century learning strategies). So, I guess I just put my cards on the table too. :)

  2. Joel, you're spot on. Here's the mantra I use to tackle this problem:

    1. The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
    2. Never give up. Never surrender. Never turn back.
    3. Don't stop until the dent you've made in the universe is nice and big.
    4. Lather, rinse, and repeat.