An Open Letter to Educators

I just watched Dan Brown’s (not the author of The Da Vinci Code) thought provoking video on YouTube. His message is one that we really should take to heart as we discuss/plan/think about the future of education.

On a personal note I can’t help but be bewildered and frustrated. This message contains ideas I subscribe to in my educational/learning philosophy. I feel it is accurate in its call for a recognition that change is needed or else institutionalized education will find itself holding the torch of yesteryear. I am bewildered and frustrated because a program I feel is helping to bring this needed change is at risk. For those of you who don’t know, I teach at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Maine in the Instructional Technology program. To be clear, our program isn’t focused on leaning how to use technology. Instead it is focused on moving the art and science of teaching and learning forward using technology. Our program is about looking forward at what teaching and learning will become and engaging our students in that process. I am bewildered and frustrated because our program has recently been tagged for elimination by the recent UMaine “Achieving Sustainability” report. I am bewildered and frustrated because cutting a program such as ours (in a state with 1 to 1 access for grades 7-12 no less) represents a severe ignorance of the type of change that is needed to move learning into the 21st century. Society is moving and changing. How does institutionalized education move forward with society? We certainly don’t do it by burning the bridge that gets us there.

I certainly understand the budget constraints we are all under. There is less money to go around and something has to go. I certainly don’t profess to understand the complexities of the budgetary process at the University. I certainly don’t profess to understand how cutting a program with students in it saves money. However, I do understand that the future is here and change is needed now. If institutionalized education continues to stick its head in the sand and hope for the best it will find itself kicked to the curb and irrelevant. Getting rid of programs that are about engaging in the future will only hasten the process.

Raw notes: Tuesday Morning Debate: Bricks and Mortar schools are detrimental to the future of education.

Note on the video: The debate actually starts around the 53 minutes mark. Also, with the video, my notes are pretty much not needed. However, I blog for my own learning as well, so it helps me makes sense of things after the fact.

This session was moderated by NPR All Things Considered journalist Robert Siegal. It took the form of a formal Oxford-style debate. Here are my raw notes, uncorrected and without thoughts.

“Bricks and mortar schools are detrimental to the future of education”

Audience poll before debate
for 37
against 63

mike horn up for first – for
schools modeled after factories. don’t look that different
“learning by definition takes place in a physical place” how we define a school
brick boundaries restricts learning experiences we might other wise provide
people learn the same way, have the same goals, etc. argues agaist
online learning holds the potential to pull from many different learning oppotunities.
research show online learning can work. hybrid and online learning shows great success
limit socialization to limited community – local monopoly
-distance not obstacle anymore
-communities not defined by distance anymore
-easy to learn from other places, not expensive anymore
-must have the ability to interact with others in a global audience
most Americans won’t work in a factory, why school that way
learning happens everywhere
world has changed, schools have not.

brad jupp
us dept of ed – senior advisor – against
-teaching machine – gizmo that made a light go on.
-school are necessary to get together to learn
-helps community grow
-toss things away before we are done with them
-schools are the vessels of the wishes of our democracy.
-hold together our community
-hold the old men like me that play basketball in the gym
-place of access or Internet
-center of community
-education is our generations greatest civil rights issue
-cannot leave the house of learning

Gary Stager – pepperdine university  for
-problem lies with structure of school setup
-nclb = mid evil
-we are robbing kids of great learning experiences
-really going jugular
-need to make student focused learning experiences
-give kids some learning responsibility and that can change the relationship of student/teachers
-whiteboards encourage teacher in front of the room
-stop using “gadgets to sdo the same old things

Cheryl Lemke – against
-ceo metiry group
-not here to support the status quo
-here to support learning for all students
-social capital – reconnect student with local communities as well are global communities
-note one or the other. it is a conmbination that we need to provide our students
-need to redefine school to fit in today’s school
-students are not as self directed as they need to be
-nedd to build the ability to do this. teacher need to change for this
-students need to be connected to school. achievement go up  research shows this
-distance learning doesn’t have this ability
-research suggest hybrid models work best
-need the briding to global audiences and environmnets and opportunities
-face to face is needed as well
-build capacity for those global connections in school
-need to be connected at home
-need bricks and mortar plus online

marshall thompson – walt whitman high school MD -
-going beyond bricks and mortar
-argument against the local place – we are not limited o having these learning experiences in a physical location.
-why does the learning have to happen in a physical space
-no longer limited
-can live in an international connected place
-why do I only have to learn with people at the local level
-education shouldn’t be limited to my local community
-need a global perspective
-need to have a basis for community argument
-look through bricks and mortar lens
-b and m doesn’t facilitate that
-don’t want to only learn for 8 hours a day
why does learning have to happen only in shcool

erik bakke – west Springfield high school – Springfield VA – against
-schools are crappy – feels an excitement to come in because of an excitement with learning other people
-we see classrooms are adapting to meets needs of different students
-have classrooms for students of different needs
-coming together in these classrooms create strong connections to local communities
-all student have one need in common – the need to work as a team – only through local group do we learn this skill
-through dedication of teacher that students gain love of learning and subjects
-take these into the work force
-it is through schools that you learn passions in life
-teachers inspire him to love life and learning
-my thought, do you need that in a b and m building?

gary stager up again – summation
-students don’t learn the same way
-not b and m support learning with diverse group of students
-scares the hell out of him that students don’t have ties to others out side of their small groups – age and of other diverse groups
-problem lies within the bankruptcy of our imagination

cheryl lemke up again – summation
-we need online learning
-doesn’t have to be at the expense of a location
-don’t want fathers schools
-need to reinvent the school
-if not school we will lose our local communities
-listen carefully to Obama about a speech at notre dame
-there is common ground no matter what side you are on
-time to open classroom doors. technology can augment
-need that personal connection locally and globally

audience questions
-dave wells – pre k principal VT
-q to horn – we have a teacher. how do we support teachers as facilitator, whereever teaching akes place?
-a – that is the role of PD
-we send teachers to PD that are lecture based
-need to be more “just in time”
-can’t be top down model

-question from isteconnects
-q 2 jupp – what will the end of b and m mean for the socialization of students?
-a – if we were to imagine schools away would have to imagine a social space to engage in social learning that schools construct
-current social situations aren’t as good, but need to change that, can’t do it without b and m buildings
-flase dilema to think it is one against the other side
-hybrid is the way to go

-question from audience
-jm from PA – for jupp
-b and m carry burden of the fear of lawsuit whether real or imagined. can b and m break away from this or will the weight crush them
-jupp paused. Laughter from crowd. Jupp needed clarity. Someone in his position should really understand the threats of lawsuits schools face.
-hadn’t thought of it in that manner
-teacher needs to be vigilant
-clear code of conduct
-have to be rave enough to think we can do it without misbehavior
-not argument from other side
-not really answered that well

Final vote
for 26%
against 74%
very surprising outcome

I think there was a big problem with the way the question was asked. It seemed the “against brick and mortar” side took the statement to mean that the way schools are set up now, currently works against our students. The “for brick and mortar” side took it as a question of should we have physical learning spaces. The arguments came across not on the same point. I think most agreed that there is nothing wrong with a physical space for learning. That is probably why that side seemed to win in the end. I wish the statement they were arguing about was a bit clearer. We may have gotten a bit better clearer debate. However, the points made by all participants were great and well thought out. Gary Stager was certainly the most entertaining if not most passionate about his convictions.

My thoughts on the matter? Local schools are a great place for learning. However, we need to be future focused and start designing what happens within the walls around current students needs. If that doesn’t happen then yes, bricks and mortar schools are a detriment to the future of education.

UPDATED – Raw notes: NECC09 Tuesday Afternoon Session: Here Comes Learning!

Updated July 8th, 2009 with thoughts and fixes. My thoughts are in blue.

Here Comes Learning!
Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Session description: In a world of learning networks and communities, how do we help our students move from simple sharing to collective action in the world.

Thanks to, a recording of this session is available online.

We are going to be looking at how learning in changing in the landscape of web 2.0 tools.

What does learning look like now.?

Changes in student learning requires teachers to change they way they approach their own learning. I think this is often a difficult task. It require a teacher that really sees part of their job as being a learner. Not always easy when your model for teaching is the sage on the stage. As cliche as it is, education is starved for true life long learners.

The session was connection to Linden(?) NJ, through some type of Polycom device. I missed the explanation of this part of the session.

They started of by showing “help with bowdrill set” by YouTube user bushkrafft as an introduction. Here is the video:

  • asking people to post on Youtube to tell him what he is doing wrong.
    • powerful video – kids asking about things he is interested in. curiosity is showing its face
    • lack of structured classroom. great example of self-directed learning
  • audience discussed and presented thoughts
    • he wanted feedback
    • don’t know if there was parent feedback
    • maybe there is no one in is physical environment that knows how to fix it
    • he seems comfortable with the process of posting on youtube.
    • don’t see face, don’t know where he is,
    • there is an expectation in his voice that is “is” going to be solved
  • encouraging feedback from youtube
  • how did he know he was going to get a response?
  • things in the online environment can change the way we connect

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach:

  • talked about personal experience of using the wisdom of crowds
  • mentioned the teachers sometimes have a hard time showing that they “don’t know everything” and find it hard to step out of the role of knowledge pusher
  • got into knowledge mentoring
  • the community is where professional development should be taking place
  • I have heard this many times so far at NECC…”it isn’t about the tools. it is about what you do with them”
  • have teacher come out of the 4 walls of their classroom, and interact and grow with the community.
  • “My greatest insight as a fellow is recogntition of the urgency for change in the way we teach today’s students” – quote from a teacher that worked with SNB
  • this is always how I feel after a conference such as NECC or ACTEM or most PD opportunities. It is our challenge to bring that urgency to our collegues.


  • mentions Clay Shirky’s Here come everybody.
  • techtonic shift – ease of creating groups around issues has forever changed our cultural landscape
    • with this makes it more complex to understand truth
    • defines the need for 21st century literacy
    • collective action is the holy grail of these connective apps
  • we have the ability to access so much raw data that wasn’t possible just a few years ago
  • richardson showed a tweet about him hating orbitz
    • obritz called them about it
    • now have the ability to force the hand of companies due to the connectivity we have and the ease of publishing
    • I liked this example as it shows true democracy in action.

Kids are using technology using for social reasons. Connecting in friendship based ways.

Starting to connect in interest-based ways

  • connecting with strangers
  • this is a good thing because accessing millions of potential teachers

Education should be interest based. Focus on strengths. Change form classroom structure to community structure. Teacher as co-learner.

Best practice in 21st century Skills

  • talks about the partnership
  • all focus on community

National Staff Development Forum

  • must check them out for model of PD

Define community

  • in short, a group that over time is focused on improvement and do so together

    Sharing communities of practice need to be designed in such a way that they evolve over time.

    • helps buy in with people if they have a stake in the process and feel like they have a say in their own learning
    • What develops is co-created and collaborative with multiple opportunities for member feedback and ownership.

    Mentioned a tweet from Scott Mcleods sessions:

    • “The real revolution here isn’t online learning, it is personalized learning.”

    Raw notes: Tuesday Afternoon Session: Winning Strategies to Conquer Information Overload

    Even more raw notes. It’s ama-zing! Have fun.

    Kathy Schrock

    Session Description: Learn how to get your game on from the gadget geek and Web 2.0 wizard who will offer tips or managing the information you want and need.

    alex courosa -
    talked about the change in getting information

    how to do you keep up with all that is being posted?
    how do you find your little niche to post your thoughts?

    Personal process
    -check email and respond, twitter blogs, facebook, etc.

    Plan your work and work your plan. -Vince Lombardi

    Simple ideas:

    • -email
      • -estimated that 2009 people will spend 41% of time on email
      • -she categorized emails. got rid of the ones she really didn’t need to look at.
      • -set up mail filters
      • -my thoughts – the interface matters here. FC sucks for this. gmail rules for this.
      • -talked about the diff betwqeen pop and imap – imap better – good for her
      • -gmail + multiple accounts + IMAP(mobileme) is good
    • -hardware to help
      • -netbooks – talked about reccomendations for them
      • -”very smart” phones
      • -she loves the iphone
      • -made a video to convince her admins to buy them
      • -peek – email only device
      • -chumby – pull info from websites. sits on your counter
      • -kindle    - including the ipod/iphone version
    • -take photos on white boards, flipchart, slideshow
    • -easy way to get notes to lots of people without recreating digital version
    • Online Tools (some samples)
    • -online faxing – Faxage
      -$7.95 a month
      -get an email when you get a fax
      -keeps stuff digital
      -my thoughts – who still faxes?
      -rss, feeds, and newsreaders
      -subscribing to data instead of going to get it
      -google alerts – receive an email when a topic is mentioned online
      -social networks
      -facebook, myspace, inkedIn, Ning
      -mentioned ning

    • -”Give back to the web. Don’t ever think that you have nothing to give back.”
    • -Facebook – talking groups and the ability to lock permission down. Privacy isn’t an issue if you just engage in how Facebook works.
      -twitter – microblogging – as most people, she didn’t “get it” at first. Only was valuable when other people joined and she expanded her personal learning network
      -”If a question can’t be answered in 140 charachters, don’t ask it on twitter.”
      -talked about tags
    • -showed a visualization of twitter during the last super bowl
      • -edmodo – like twitter but private
      • -twitter for education
      • -more like a social network
      • -mini moodle
      • -FREE!!

    -online bookmarks
    -she started on delicious then moved to diigo because of the organizing tools
    -mentioned foxmarks plugin to sync bookmarks
    -task-keeping and for groups
    -remember the milk – mobile multiple point accessible to-do list
    -google docs and google apps
    -google apps make it easy to keep things private within the domain. get around public sharing of data but still give the ability to particiapte with kids sharing of information.
    -free for 8 users
    -just send a url
    -no account needed
    -everyone can type live at the same time
    -cloud storage
    -storing all your “stuff” in the could
    -having all your files accessible all the time
    -mentioned netops – web based oses
    -glide os – os in the browser
    -just log in and ave all your stuff
    -also runs on mobile devices
    -means you have access to a desktop environment and files from everywhere
    -online file storage – her favorite – 100MBs of free online storage space
    -simple free file storage and collection service
    -Thinkature – voice or text chat. workspace

    Final Thoughts
    -Don’t get caught up with knowing or using everything. Be the filter for knowledge growth.