Recently, I have been viewing the HBO mini-series titled John Adams; a take on historian David McCullough’s book of the same title. The series begins with the Boston Massacre and continues through historical events that led to the Revolutionary War and the creation of a new government. It has been exciting to watch for various reasons (I love history, especially revolutionary history). However, what struck me in the series is the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence and the war itself. In other words, the moments that led to a dramatic change in thought and action in the colonies. Many of the founders, according to the movie portrayal and McCullough’s interpretation of history, were reluctant of drastic change. Some, if not a majority, wanted reform rather than revolution. It was the persuasive talents of a handful of individuals, as well as some actions by the British, that tipped the tides. As I ponder this perspective of the start of our nation, I cannot help but ask the questions: What is the best approach to initiate needed change? How am I a change agent? And, I frame these questions within the context of the current educational system.
Let me start with identifying, what should be, a mutual understanding; the computer chip and internet has dramatically changed and continues to alter our world. In a recent post, I viewed technology in the same light as tools such as a hammer, saw, and plumber’s wrench. I state that “technology is a tool and not a pedagogy,” and while I stand by those words, we as educators should agree that we live in an entirely different world because of these modern tools. There are plenty of examples of this fact; everything from Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat to the changing language and behaviors our students espouse on a daily basis. There are at least four key aspects of education, and likely more, that have been impacted by these new tools:
- Access to information. No longer is information scarce; our society is saturated with news, opinions and media of influence.
- Communication and collaboration. Modern tools allow one to connect on nearly any project from almost anywhere in the world with almost anyone in the world.
- Creation of products. Modern technology has eliminated various specialty skills. Products such as photography, videography, book creation, etc. are within reach of the general public with little skill.
- Privacy. The lines between an individual’s private and public life are blurred. Personal information is given freely to anonymous companies and individuals without much thought of the consequences.
The tools of the 21st century have altered these core aspects of education in such a way that curriculum and pedagogy must change to be in sync with the world we live in and attempt to be relevant for future generations.
These understandings have led me to question my practices as a social studies teacher. For instance, with information abundant, why limit my students to one source or one narrative? Why confine them to a textbook or the perception of one person (myself)? Why not seek out experts in the field and multiple sources? Better yet, why not make students seek out experts and multiple sources and prove the credibility of the information? When working on communication skills, why should I be their only audience? Hell, why should their products only be seen by peers, other educators, and their family? Rather, students could post their learning for the world to see and provide feedback. Furthermore, why limit evidence of learning to one format? Why not allow students options to write an essay, create a video, website, or other product? Within the context of these changes, I should be including instruction about rights in the digital world, digital citizenship, and how to partake in this new world without giving away privacy. But, I should not shy away from the use of social media platforms such as twitter, facebook, instagram, and snapchat as they are powerful tools and a reality in the world my students live. Using a model called SAMR (Substitute, Augment, Modify, and Redefine), I continue to reflect and refine my practices in the classroom. In addition, changing standards, such as the Common Core and C3 Framework from NCSS, have begun to redefine expectations that may be more inline with the 21st century, yet still limited (More on this in a future post). I reflect and reform accordingly.
Ultimately, I wonder if the reforms I make in my classroom are enough? Are changes in the classroom alone enough to bring the institution of education up to snuff with the changes that have occurred in the world? Does education need to be revolutionized rather than reformed? Consider the following slide deck I put together a few years ago. Also, consider the talks done by these individuals: Alan Novemember, Sir Ken Robinson, and Will Richardson. The changes in the classroom can only go as far as the infrastructure provided by the institution. Do mechanisms such as daily class schedules, letter grades, the architecture of facilities, and hundreds of years of experiences that have defined individual beliefs about what school is and should be, pose as obstacles? And, what does it take to bring about this change? In what way am I a change agent? Questions: Does our education system need to change to in sync with the 21st century world? How can change be accomplished? How are you a change agent? As always, thank you in advance for leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section.