The Journey to School House 2.0: A Perspective – Pt. Two

(I taught at both the middle and high school levels in Detroit. I also served as a teacher of teachers. I guess one could say that I helped educate the workforce that put the world on wheels. During part of my retirement I have worked for a virtual learning organization, implementing online learning in schools across in metropolitan Detroit.)

The industrial model school prepared American students for a prosperous life as highly paid wage earners. However, that economy is gone with the wind and a new one has been born. But what is the best path to prepare our young people for an economy based on innovative and the competitive forces of globalization? How do we, for the first time in American history, educate ALL children to a single, uniform standard?

Technology’s Promise
One promise of technology is to make learning appealing, to make it “cool”. But as a seasoned educator, I ask, “Why does learning need to be appealing? Why is it required to be cool?” Schools, teachers and parents are quick to point out that students are “engaged” when they are on the computer or using some new technology. The Hawthorne Effect is the term used to identify increased productivity over a short period of time in response to behavior that is being observed. The down side is that we keep having to come up with the next greatest, latest and EXPENSIVE cool thing that excites or keeps students’ attention.

 Must Learning Be "Way Cool"?

Must Learning Be “Way Cool”?

Why are we afraid to INSIST that learning is often hard work and that creating a strong economic foundation isn’t always fun or cool? Why do so many American schools and teachers believe they need to build classrooms that are indulgent when it comes to handling the conflict surrounding the real work of gaining new knowledge? Why are we afraid to PUSH our children? Why do we feel the need to provide them with a pain free existence? Most children prefer playing video games or channel surfing to getting down to the business of concentration and self-discipline. Computer technology will never replace the technology of a strong-willed parent or a strong-minded, efficient teacher.

Student-Driven Motive vs. Profit-Motive Driven
How much of the push of technology is student-motive driven vs. profit-motive driven? Is it really about student achievement or are our children pawns in a race to build the next great technology company that can be traded on a stock exchange? Are we crowding out the budget for art, music, physical education in a quest to spawn the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates?
What’s the point of learning PowerPoint in elementary school? Does it really promote cognition and discussion (oral rehearsal)?
Certainly Facebook, Google docs, Word Press and other social media tools can support students’ writing as they attempt to discover their voices and to engage an authentic audience; however, social media cannot replace the pedagogy of teaching writing and the myriad teacher decisions, actions, and questions that teaching the writing process demands. Our students are fast becoming aggregators of other people’s writings instead of becoming creators of their own ideas as they cut and paste their way to completing assignments. Organizing students in face-to-face collaborative groups promotes engagement and interdependence which honor writing as a social and cognitive act. A “technology” that is a lot cheaper because it comes with no expensive, “planned” obsolescence.


Each new piece of technology/software requires a steep learning curve for both the student and the teacher, a curve that competes with and sometimes supplants the instructional time provided to master the content. Thus, the technology can become an appendage to the math, science, or history that is being taught. We know that time-on-task is critical to learning; how much time is devoted to learning the content vs. learning how to manipulate a cool, new digital tool?

Is Technology the Answer?

Is Technology the Answer?

According to Dr. Larry Cuban, professor emeritus from Stanford University who was quoted in a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, there is no trendline that technology improves learning. The evidence is insufficient and that’s probably because it’s difficult to create five or ten year longitudinal studies for a tool/product that is not created to last that long. How quickly can you spell U-P-G-R-A-D-E? The detractors state that technology engages student in ways that cannot be measured. However, schools are closed each year and educators lose their jobs because of standardized test scores that ARE measured.

Getting to School House 2.0

The Journey from School House 1.0 that prepared students for a prosperous life in a industrial economy to School House 2.0 that prepares students to become competitive, contributing members of an information, innovation-based economy is uncharted terrain that we are still learning to navigate. Technology, for sure, is a path to the future and there is no turning back, no putting the genie back in the bottle. However, School House 2.0 must also craft a rigorous, robust, democratic community that is fueled by collaboration, communication, and cooperation. We must rethink our blind faith in technology as the panacea to educating our students for a 21st century, global economy.
We must take care that technology does not become like the spider spinning a web smothering and suffocating everything in its path: teachers, librarians, the arts, physical education. We must acknowledge that teachers are the greatest capital for rebuilding America; technology like pencils, pens, and paper is but a start.

Journeying to School House 2.0: A Perspective

During the industrial economy, schools’ primary mission was to graduate the masses from high school. Teachers employed a curriculum of basic skills that they blended daily with a mix of rigid conformity, obedience, and punctuality. A prosperous path waited at the end of the high school rainbow, generally in a plant taking orders from a foreman or in an office filled with repetitive tasks. The cognitively and economically elite attended examination schools or private schools and engaged in a curriculum based on critical thinking and problem-solving. A seat at the tables of power and/ or prestige awaited them at the end of college or graduate school.

The sunlight of educational opportunity beamed brightly on women and minorities during the latter part of this economy. Enjoying increased ACCESS to education, these groups began to complete high school and/or to attend college in greater numbers than in previous decades. Doing so empowered more Americans, including me, to participate in the greatest economic expansion America has ever known.

Journeying from Providing Access to Ensuring Achievement
Eventually, the sunlight of the industrial economy was switched off as a new economy emerged. A technological, innovation-based global economy moved the education bar from providing access to education to ENSURING achievement. Now ALL groups are expected to be provided with a critical thinking, problem-solving (Common Core) agenda. Educating EVERYONE to a single, uniform standard is a feat that has never been attempted at scale. Reforms abound across the land as all school districts hustle to meet the new and increased educational demands of the new economy.

Bridging the Abyss?

Bridging the Abyss?

Bridging the Abyss

Almost once a week I participate in a virtual chat that focuses on strategies to bridge the abyss between the old and the new models of teaching and learning. Technology’s role is always part of the conversation. Apps, tablets, software, videos, social media are the new next thing to disrupt the industrial model of education and to usher in one that is more student-centric. Every school district in America has jumped on the technology bandwagon without any solid proof (data) that it improves learning, improves test scores – ensuring achievement over the long haul.

Even with talks of fiscal cliffs and sequestration, school districts spend limited tax dollars to purchase the latest and greatest technology for its students in a desperate hope that it will give them an advantage in an increasingly competitive and technological world. Even as teaching positions are downsized, librarians (media specialists) positions eliminated, the arts decimated, nothing has slowed the technology march.

Just how important is technology to preparing students for the new bounds of prosperity drawn by the competitive forces of globalization?

In Part II, I will provide insight from an Owl Mountain perspective.