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Right Words, But Something Doesn’t Fit

I’m glad someone I respect is having questions and doubts about the latest education-needs-to-change-in-the-21st-century video now making the email/blog circuit.

Learning to Change features a series of statements by education big wigs (familiar names, if not faces) about how our current idea of “education” doesn’t fit with the world that kids will be living in.

Lots of talk about communication, collaboration, 21st century skills, connectivity, creativity, which is all good.

However, it all feels artificial, flowing out of the video more as a laundry list of concepts and cliches than a cohesive point of view.

There’s little or nothing here to suggest that these people have any idea how these pieces could be assembled to create a new vision for teaching and learning.

Chris’ has some of the same and related concerns (he just expresses them a whole lot better than I can).

I just worry a lot that our ideas are being sold as panaceas, perhaps because they are being shilled by folks with a moneyed interest in them, and that makes it much harder to have an honest conversation about them. Because nowhere in that talk — which was produced and sponsored by Pearson Learning is there much of an honest discussion of just how hard implementation of these ideas actually is.

And I don’t know… perhaps under it all, I have a sense that these folks think, “If we just change it all up, the kids will all suddenly just start learning like crazy” when that misses several points — 1) we still have an insanely anti-intellectual culture that is so much more powerful than schools. 2) Deep learning is still hard, and our culture is moving away from valuing things that are hard to do. 3) We still need teachers to teach kids thoughtfulness, wisdom, care, compassion, and there’s an anti-teacher rhetoric that, to me, undermines that video’s message.

That add-tech-and-they-will-learn attitude is one that has permeated instructional technology practically since day one. It hasn’t worked so far and there’s no reason to believe that adding web 2.0 tools will instantly make a difference.

Without fundamental alterations to our educational structure, to what we think of as “school”, not to mention the shifts in societal attitudes that Chris noted, none of this will improve learning.

And then there’s the matter of the people behind the curtain, the ones who assembled the video. Like Chris, it was another factor that bothered me.

That would be Pearson Education and CoSN, both large organizations whose existence is very much rooted in very traditional concepts of technology use in education. I wonder how much change either of them wants to see.

Especially Pearson, which over the past ten years has bought up every edtech company they could find with little or no idea of how (or whether) they fit together.

Let’s face it, their profits depend on schools buying lots and lots of the same old thing.

But I could be wrong. Maybe I missed something or got the wrong interpretation.

Go watch the video, read Chris’ thoughts and see what you think.


  1. Josh

    I just started reading this blog in the last week and have to say that I LOVE this post. As a “no-name” in the blogging community or the national education seen, I see and hear so many people with these “great” ideas that are so impractical. I often times think that there must be a “magical, far-off” school where all of these ideas work and I’m stuck to trying to get my “old school” teachers to use ANYTHING from the web! Thanks to you and Chris for rocking the “establishment” a little bit. Sometimes realistic ideas and feelings are pushed aside too quickly as “the old way” of doing things. While “that’s how we’ve always done it” shouldn’t be a liability for change, there needs to be some common sense.

  2. Keith Krueger

    Tim – Since you have the same concerns as Chris Lehmann about our new PSA, I am reposting a message I put on his blog yesterday.

    I understand your suspicions that our new PSA was produced in dark corporate boardrooms by greedy corporate folks. Unfortunately, that is not the truth.

    As the national nonprofit association of school district technology leaders/CTOs, CoSN (www.cosn.org), I approached Pearson Foundation about this idea. We pitched the need to create this PSA…not vice versa…and we take total responsibility for the content. (ADDED NOTE: Descriping CoSN as a “large” organization rooted in traditional concepts of tech in education seems a stretch…factually wrong about size and fundamentally wrong about our mission.)

    The history of this PSA is decidedly less sinister than presented in some of the blog postings. At a retreat last December we were exploring how we might stimulate a conversation about the need to change education and the role that technology might play. We noted that a PPT by a tech director in CO (Shift Happens) had gotten lots of dissemination via the web, and we wanted to deepen the conversation with a compelling video.

    I suggested that we film some of the global leaders who were coming to the CoSN annual conf. in March which is what happened.

    Our hope is to stimulate a conversation…and clearly we have. Too many of our conversations about education reform are framed in a “U.S. vs the world”. We have tried in this PSA to point out that this is a global conversation, and everywhere they are struggling to redefine 21st century learning.

    Bottomline: This is an educational PSA, not a corporate pitch. It is nicely produced, and for that we thank Pearson Foundation.

    Hope this clarifies the situation.

    Keith Krueger, CoSN CEO

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